Ian Boddy is one of the most important musicians of electronic music in England, in twenty years he published many innovative albums and also participated, as a protagonist, in various important live musical performances during several years. Around the end of the Nineties, Boddy funded his personal label, DiN Records, by which he continues to produce his own music and also the works of other artists involved in the electronic music. One of the most recent Ian Boddy's works is "Lithosphere", the second one with the ambient music master Robert Rich. We took the chance to make some questions to Ian, an extremely kind and friendly person, this is what he answered: enjoy!
You started your activity as musician in early eighties; "The Climb", your first album, was published in 1983, when the spreading of electronic music, often mixed with pop elements, reached a number of listeners maybe unthinkable ten years before. Surely, those years must have been very exciting for you... can you tell us anything about those early days?
In fact my first official release was Images on the UK cassette only label Mirage in 1980. I was studying Biochemistry at Newcastle-upon-Tyne University from 1978 - 1980 and during this time I was very into the early albums of Tangerine Dream & Klaus Schulze. A friend told me about an arts funded studio in Newcastle called Spectro that had studios for screen-printing, photography & sound so I visited their sound studio and was amazed to be confronted by VCS3/AKS synthesisers & Revox tape recorders. I was shown how to use these and within a few weeks I was recreating some of the amazing sounds I was hearing on albums such as "Phaedra" & "Timewind" - I was hooked. I had no formal musical training so in the early days I concentrated on experimenting with pure sound on the VCS3's and using tape loop/delay systems with various reel to reel tape recorders. This led to me performing a few experimental concerts at Spectro and then in 1980 the release of Images followed up by a couple of more tapes, "Elements of Chance" & "Options".
I was learning various synthesis & compositional techniques all the time and this led to my first major release on vinyl in 1983, "The Climb" as you mentioned in your question. This was a big step up for me not only in exposure but in terms of the complexity of sound I was able to create. I was now recording onto 8 track reel to reel and was using an analogue Roland System 100-M modular system plus several other keyboards as well as sequencing and even some early Fairlight sampling on a couple of the tracks.
In the last twenty years you published a good number of albums and you have been able to see the development of technologies and the constant introduction of computers inside the musical composition: do you think that the ever-increasing use of computers inside the creative and artistic process in the realization of an album could have radically determined a different approach towards composition compared with the past?
Yes I think the use of computers has really changed the way that you create music in both good & bad ways - but isn't that always the case with new technology. Firstly they give you total reproducibility of a performance down to the minutest detail. Of course this can be desirable at times but what I still love about the old analogue gear that I still use is their inherent instability, often you can produce a sound or patch that you can never ever get exactly the same again. This leads you to having to actually create a performance that is fresh and vital and that you have to capture there and then. I love this approach and I think there's a whole generation of musicians using computers who miss out on this - the closest thing I've seen that reproduces this is the approach that the software Ableton Live takes. I do hope software evolves in a way that can lead to more spontaneity.
Related to this is the interface that you have to work with on a computer. Despite all the advances in software synthesis I still don't see the point of a software recreation of something like a Minimoog. I still don't think the virtual version sounds as good and for me the Minimoog is such a joy to sit in front of and just play - just fiddle and tweak the sound and play for hours & hours - no mouse to operate or minute screen graphics to peer at or software revisions to have to worry about. For me software is far more interesting where it takes you sonically where you've not been before - things such as Absynth, Reaktor & Metasynth.
Through your personal label, DiN Records, you are exploring various branches of electronic music, from ambient-minimal music to the most sophisticated techno: are you playing electronic music as a specific musical genre, bound to precise rules, or do you mean electronic music as a simple starting-point to explore music in its artistic shapes?
I think the latter half of your question is closer to the truth. Firstly I never impose rules on any of my work. I may impose some artificial boundaries to help me concentrate on a certain idea but that is not the same thing as imposing rules. For me one of the strongest themes I have, running through all my music, is a love of pure sound. Using abstract sound textures as part of the compositional process. I also like to explore the boundaries of what peoples expectations are of various genres or styles of music. So on DiN I have often combined several sub-genres of electronic music to see what happens if for example you combine the feel of Berlin school analogue sequencing with IDM style drum loops. This I guess though goes back to me not imposing rules on how I work - for me anything is up for grabs - any combination of sounds can be utilised and explored to see how they work musically.
Many of your compositions seems to be close to a kind of cosmic-psychedelic feeling, making us see a particular vision of the existence... Can you tell us about your sources of inspiration?
My inspiration comes from everything I've ever done, seen or heard. It's difficult to analyse and pin down and in some ways, I don't try to, as if I was able to quantify, it would probably reduce it's mystery. That's not to say I have any particular spiritual or religious feelings about it: I just often go by instinct on what I think sounds right. Having said that, I am often in awe of the sheer scale of the universe and man's apparent insignificance to it all and I often try to get this feeling into my music. Listen to something like the title track from Aurora and you'll see what I mean. Here I was interested in creating the feeling of a piece of music that lasted for ever and we have just intersected it for a brief time before we go our separate ways. Again with my latest collaboration with Robert Rich on "Lithosphere" we were exploring our thoughts & feelings about the inner earth, an environment almost totally hidden from us. This is music that could exist whether mankind was here or not.
At other times I have a more abstract view of the music in that I am looking at how to combine different sound elements from different styles to form a new whole. This is done on a more
analytical level and the music doesn't necessarily conjure up any specific images or feelings. Often I just aim for what to me seems to sound cool - for whatever reason that may be.
What artists and albums lead you to music composition? Between the end of the sixties and the eighties, England experienced a big number of musical and custom changes; has your music been affected by the vastness of a musical scene so much rich and heterogeneous?
Well it's always difficult to know specifically how much a particular artistic experience has influenced you. I've certainly never consciously tried to mimic another musicians style. For sure in the 70's whilst at school I first got into prog-rock with bands such as Camel, Focus & ELP and also heavy metal bands like Black Sabbath & Led Zeppelin. Then I discovered "Phaedra" & "Rubycon" in about 1977/8 and fell in love with their other-worldy atmospheres. I also enjoyed the music of Ashra, Vangelis, Jarre & Kraftwerk so you can see where my musical roots lie. However I have always listened to and explored classical music. It's such a huge, diverse field of course but I particularly like J.S.Bach, Debussy, Ravel,Vaughan-Williams plus lots of other pieces by various composers. I think at times this influence shows through on my more orchestrated, grandiose compositions. These days I tend to listen more to music as background. There's lots of ambient artists who I enjoy although their music often is quite interchangeable. Most recently I've been impressed with the Icelandic band Sigur Ros as I think they capture a fantastic passion & emotion in their music.
The act of writing music is for you a source of sensory pleasure, a way for trip and journey with our minds… or also a way to communicate any peculiar messages to the listener?
First and foremost I compose the music for myself. It often arises from a question - what if I do this and then combine that with this? I then really feel the need to try this and see - sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But it's this constant exploration of the world of sound and music that keeps me going. I've also been working with many other musicians with the DiN label that has taken me into new and fresh sonic territory. I always leave the interpretation of the music up to the listener. I learned many years ago that no matter how specific a feeling it generates in me as the composer I can't expect the listener to necessarily share the same feeling. But then again this ephemeral nature of music as an artistic form is one of it's great strengths and is endlessly fascinating.
"Lithosphere" is your second collaboration with the ambient music guru Robert Rich. Regarding your first work, "Lithosphere" is perhaps a bit more ancestral and worldly... How did your collaboration started?
I first got to know Robert in I think 1999 or 2000 when we met at one of the NAMM trade shows in Los Angeles. We had heard of each others music but not really thought about it much. We just seemed to get on and had a good time chatting about music. We're both very different people which is good in that we have different approaches to things but we seem to combine well when working together. Again it's nothing you can really quantify - sometimes you work well with another musician sometimes you don't. Anyhow we both agreed it'd be good to do an album together so Outpost was released in 2002. This had a very 50's sci-fi film feel to it so when we came to work on Lithosphere we decided to try and work within a different sound world. I was also keen to explore the alternate tunings that Robert is well known for as for me this was new territory. As with Outpost though we physically met up in Roberts studio to work on the album. We much prefer this approach as working virtually is never as good, as being physically present in the same room leads to all sorts of ideas and musical paths that you would never otherwise have come up with. It was great fun, on the first day of working we had no idea how the album would sound but by the end of 10 days Lithosphere had arrived - well almost, after I left Robert added a few overdubs and mixed the album but it's very rewarding to work together fresh on a project like this and end up with what we think is a very strong work.
In the eighties you took part to the first festivals of electronic music held in England and you performed many special shows like the improvised seven hours of music in an art gallery... Can you tell us anything about your live exhibitions? Are you going to be on tour soon?
I've always loved playing live although in the early days I used to get terribly nervous. I've now played over 100 shows so it's a lot easier. There aren't that many opportunities for concerts though in the style that I play so these days I play maybe 4 or 5 shows a year. In the 80's & 90's I used to spend a lot of time trying to reproduce my albums exactly as they were on CD but I ultimately found this to be very tedious and not so much fun in the long term. So after Continuum, which for me was a breakthrough album and in some ways a precursor to what I have been doing on DiN, I now tend to play in a more semi-improvised style. Sure I pre arrange various sequences & loops and sounds & textures but I combine these elements together live in a way that is organic & fluid. That way the performance is never the same twice and I can try out different ideas depending on the hall, the audience or how I feel. I often like to try out compositions first in a live show before I commit them to CD, that way I can live with the piece first and try out different arrangements before I set it in stone onto a CD.
I'd like to know your opinion about the most recent audio formats like mp3 etc... general attention seems to be more turned towards technological details; the music instead seems to pass gradually in background of our daily activities in a world that evolves more and more in a frenzied and unforeseeable way...
Like my answer on computers in music above, MP3 is a new technology and it has a both a bad & good side. Bad, well it definitely doesn't sound as good as a non-compressed audio file but then again how many people actually sit down in front of a good hi-fi these days and actually listen to music, and I mean really listen? Also it has democratised the world of music making in that anybody with a few virtual synths can create a track and put it out on the internet as a MP3. Of course getting people into making music is a good thing, however the downside of this is that there's just sooooooo much stuff out there. I mean there's literally millions of tracks floating about the internet - how can anyone possibly listen to all of this or even begin to decide what is good and what is bad. But the genie is out of the bottle so there's no going back. So for many people I think music is now just used as a sonic wallpaper for their busy busy lives and consumed like any other product in vast quantities where the quantity counts more than the quality.
Of course though there will still be discerning listeners who will seek out the music that stands out from the crowd and will want a bit more from their music. Hopefully the readers of your publication will be in this category. For them there is still a healthy world of interesting & thought provoking music to explore.