In Alfa Centauri Magazine issue #37, February 2004, Rudy Adrian interviewed Mark Shreeve. Below you’ll find a transcription of this interview.
- Mark: Hello, with Mark Shreeve
- Rudy: Hi Mark, this is Rudy Adrian – is this a good time to do the interview?
- Mark: Uhh, no. Not today, and tomorrow the cat has to go to the vet, but Tuesday is fine….
In the 70’s, after my experiences with regular pop music as a child, I came into contact with rock music more and more . The first music I really liked was from Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and all those other ‘normal’ bands but especially Emerson Lake and Palmer. I especially found the way they used synthesizers and that characteristic sound fascinating. In the course of the 70’s, I became familiar with more bands that used synthesizers as their main instrument, the most obvious of which was Tangerine Dream and quite a few other German artists, such as Klaus Schulze. And so towards the end of that decade I realized that those guys were actually having a lot of fun buying and playing those nice synthesizers because I bought myself poor at their records. So I decided that I should do that myself. Actually, that was the main reason to start making music myself.
And yes, it worked: on Tuesday December 30 (2003) I chatted on the phone with Mark Shreeve for an hour or two. The famous band member of Redshift (along with Mark’s brother Julian and James Goddard) and of ARC (along with Ian Boddy), says:
The Cassette Albums.
One of the three biggest weekly music magazines at the time was ‘Sounds’. In the back of one of the issues was an article about Archie Patterson’s ‘Eurock’ magazine and I immediately called the UK distributor, Martin Reed. He told me that he was now also working on his own magazine ‘Mirage’ and he asked me if I was interested. I don’t remember exactly why but before I knew it I told Martin that I could make sound on my cheap synthesizers and he immediately asked me to send some recordings “I’ll be happy to listen to them and I’ll tell you how good you are – or not…. So I did send some recordings to him, intending to get him to listen, I had no higher ambitions. The music on those tapes was actually composed as a good joke…. Until Martin called a few days later “this is really good, can I release it?”. And these became my first cassettes ‘Ursa Major’ and ‘Embryo’. Martin also had a label and he sold the issues on that label through his magazine, they probably weren’t huge editions (cassettes and magazines), but Martin called me at one point and he told me that ‘Embryo’ was really went very well. So I started to think “great!, now I can quit my full-time architect job and just live off music and there will be a big house and a lot of girls and… all those things more” And then said Martin: “yeah of course, we’ve already sold 35!” (lots of laughter…). I still thought “if that is a best-selling cassette…”. From that moment on I developed a better sense of realism. In the following year I made more music for Martin and my contacts in the electronic music world started to increase. Until then I was the only one in the whole UK listening to electronic music, until I found out I wasn’t alone at all (more laughter…). None of my friends could appreciate it, they hated it. But I met more and more people within the genre and I got in touch with guys in Norway who involved me in a vinyl release ‘Thoughts of War’
Look back at any musical genre. Go back to the 1970s when rock music was at its peak: there were really only a very small number of really good bands – the rest were mostly worthless and soon forgotten. Right with the punk music – I was really into the early Sex Pistols, but I also think I fell into their target age group at the time – I was also busy with electronic music. Most punk music was horrible, horrible! There were only a handful of punk bans that were good and I think the same goes for electronic music, at every stage of the music’s development. Most of them were worthless and that caused a lot of clouding. I’m just saying, here in the UK the idea arose that electronic music was a kind of ‘easy listening’ music made on synthesizers. What people call ‘melodic electronic music’ really isn’t at all! To me, melodic electronic music is Jean-Michel Jarre, or Vangelis. Those guys know how to make melodies! (more laughter), so not some kiddie tune played over a poorly programmed rhythm section, using the synth presets that have been played gray by now. Unfortunately, this has been widely understood by electronic music since the end of the 80’s and with that the original music has become almost invisible. What we now call electronic music, it really isn’t at all. When someone says ‘electronic music’ to me, I think of strange sounds…..I mean ‘Mirage’ which to me is electronic music: a lot of strange sounds, not trying to imitate a pan flute or a 12-string guitar is poorly imitated. It is precisely the unknown, the strange sounds or the arrangement of the music that makes it unusual. In ‘Mirage’ Klaus makes the classic mistake of making a song 10 minutes too long, but it was so good that I forgive that….
Klaus Schulze’s “Mirage”
Obviously this is a personal opinion, but ‘Mirage’ is by far the best electronic release. I think it’s the pinnacle of electronic music. I’m a big fan of Tangerine Dream and to be honest I don’t find much of what Schulze makes that interesting, but ‘Mirage’ is as perfect as it gets. Even now, without nostalgic ears, it’s still a solid piece of music. It’s almost classical and it doesn’t sound like a work from a certain era to me, which is the case with many electronic albums, even with an album of my own, like ‘Legion’ (laughter again). Here in the UK ‘Timewind’ is the album that made Schulze known (and is kept), personally I don’t like that album at all. There are parts on the album that are OK, but I think it sounds too ‘hoarse’ or too thin, while there are so many Schulze albums that are really much better. But perhaps I am in the minority in this regard. There was once a good review of ‘Mirage’ back in the days of Punk’s heyday and anything synthesizers and keyboards was almost routinely ignored by the music press. Still, it was in ‘Melody Maker’ where this album got a surprisingly good score, and then from a journalist who I expected would dig the album into the ground. Imagine we were in the peak days of the New Wave in the UK and the rest was dismissed as ‘hippie’ music (and Schulze’s music certainly was) and any album would be criticized by definition.”
Making music in the 80’s.
My love for rock music has never gone away and there is almost no music I don’t like. I’m not a big fan of Rap, although I’ve heard Rap songs that I liked. But Rock was really the biggest influence and I actually thought Sex Pistols music was another form of Rock (call it High Speed Rock). Of course, when I started making music, the influences were limited by the technical capabilities of the equipment I had. In those days it was the case that the equipment for the most part determined the style of music you made. I only had basic equipment at my disposal so I had to content myself with simple musical structures that quickly resulted in lengthy pieces, as opposed to the chorus-verse chorus-verse structure that was virtually impossible on synthesizers.
In the 80’s we got more advanced sequencers: in the past they were just analog (music changes through preset steps), while now we got sequencers that behaved more like a digital recorder. You could suddenly store thousands of notes. And those helped me to make more structured music, the format was much more rock or even pop based. And I’ve always loved creating a ‘wall of sound’ – given the choice, I’d never use one keyboard, but rather about eight with stacked sounds – and I did so wholeheartedly. I’ve never made one piece where I used just one sound to play a part. Even with a bass sound I used 4 or 5 sounds stacked on top of each other. It was a good way to drive the sound engineer crazy…
This is how I made the ‘Legion’ album. In fact, ‘Assassin’ was the first structured album I made, mainly because of the use of Roland’s TR808 drum machine, which ‘forced’ me to make more structured music. And when I finished one album, I believe I was in my early 20s, I felt the need to make the next album sound even bigger and louder. That went on until the album ‘Nocturne’ I think, where I just couldn’t go on without exaggerating.” made an album. I rop the sound engineer ids stacked on top of each other. I swear heartily. akendie always a steering spa
The Tangerine Dream sound.
Go back to the 70’s and listen to the Tangerine Dream albums, compare ‘Phaedra’ and ‘Rubycon’ with the later albums (where ‘Ricochet’ is a transition album) you will appreciate the big weighty Moog sound on the older albums. immediately stand out. I think it happened that way that they toured with those big Moog synthesizers at that time – and I myself have some experience with touring and giving concerts with such equipment – that in the end they were so sick of those devices that they became increasingly disgruntled that they decided not to carry and use it anymore. They had Project Electronic make modifications and they added Project Electronic modules to the Moog system (especially oscillators) and you can hear that on the ‘Stratosphere’ album, the sequences on that album sound much thinner and ‘pinny’ . They really lost the ‘weight’, the distortion and most importantly the warmth of the original Moog sound, all because of the struggle to keep the equipment tuned for live use.
And then the time came when we were all impressed by the Yamaha DX7 – a synth that couldn’t get out of tune – great! never again mood problems – and I had mine for about two months and I thought to myself ‘actually I don’t like this, it doesn’t sound good’. I really started to miss the mood issues (laughter). Basically I bought a new synth every 2 weeks and kept searching passionately for a modern synth that sounded just as good as the old one but didn’t have the tuning problem. I have thrown away a lot of money with this for years and have now come to the conclusion that that synth does not exist.
Mark Shreeve’s Moog Modular Synthesizer
When I got this – about 10 years ago – it changed the way I made music. I went all the way back to the beginning. If I had had this instrument in my early days… (laughter). It made me stop with ‘formulated’ music and it made my music much more organic, both to make and to listen to. And for the first time in all those years I was inspired in a special way to make music.
So to me a Moog synthesizer was just as important to making music as a Wing is to a classically trained musician. I stood behind that machine and made stupid noises all day long…it was really much more fun than a regular job, and from there came the inspiration to create good pieces of music. There’s only a certain amount of time you can stand and listen to a particular drone (a persistent noise, ed.), but I could endure listening to a great drone for two hours, changing it up and thinking ‘I should be here. have to make a recording of it’. It’s the kind of machine where you can listen comfortably even to a raw waveform.”
“I listened to an old Roland 700 modular system and it didn’t have the sound I was used to from my modular Moog system. It looked just as good, it seemed to have the same features, it stayed in tune better and it even had improved features over the Moog, it really was a 2nd generation modular system. They had learned from the “mistakes” their American colleagues at Moog had made. But still….it didn’t sound as good as good old Moog”
The live performance.
“When I’m preparing for a live performance, and I have a great sound effect on my Mini Moog or my old Yamaha CS30 or even the big Moog itself, I record that on hard disk, add some echo, etc. and then I sample it. That way we (often not myself, but one of the other guys in Redshift who uses the sampler) added a sampler full of different sounds at multiple pitches with different effects, available. It’s not the most ideal way of working, but I think it’s an acceptable compromise to be able to play live.
When we play live, the large Moog modular is used for the sequencer work. So I divide it into 4 different parts. Now if I had to use sections for just live sound effects, it would be a waste of the machine’s capabilities, since it ‘s nearly impossible to switch programs quickly. Finding the right sound often takes a lot of time and then I want to be able to change it a lot while playing.”
“During the two times I played at the Alfa Centauri festival, in 1999 and the year before with Ian Boddy as ARC, we – insanely – brought the whole bunch of equipment. The second time I played on Alfa was with Redshift. Normally I have the Moog modular on for an hour or two before I do anything. This time I had it on for a few hours and put on headphones to go through the first tuning and put together the basic sound I wanted to use that day. Once I listened through the headphones I heard a strange buzzing sound, instead of a nice raw oscillator. Now I am not a technician but I could hear that something was not right. And when I looked at the modular – it was a really special sensation – all the lights went off from left to right, one by one. And the device started making the most horrific noise and it seemed like it ‘died’ before my very eyes
I sit in my seat and – it must have lasted me an hour and a half but it was probably only a few minutes – for the first time I looked at the machine without a single sensible thought entering my mind. I was completely flattened and I started to realize that we had to bring an ‘unplugged’ version of Redshift. The Moog was the heart of our rhythms.
The problem turned out to be the difference in electrical voltage in the Netherlands compared to England. It took about an hour for us to solve the problem, and during all that time I thought to myself ‘all those devices, that traveling of the past few days and practicing, is now going to get nowhere’…..and I thought already on ‘sorry, we’re going to sing you a song now because this machine refuses to make a sound tonight’. Incidentally, we had provided some kind of backup just in case. I have a Studio Electronics Midi Mini Moog. With foresight – rather unusual for me – I recorded some midi patterns with my Atari computer and played them on the Midi Mini and my Oberheim Xpander synthesizer. That sounds nice, but compared to the Moog modular it was still a poor substitute. And it would certainly result in a lower performance.”
The founding of Redshift, with Julian Shreeve and James Goddard.
Julian and I are brothers, so we argue all the time. He started playing around the time I was doing my first UK Electronica gig. It was the first time I played live. It was 1983 and I needed at least 2 other keyboard players to be able to reproduce on stage the sound of the ‘Assassin’ album and other earlier work.
My base was a backing tape with the drum machines and the main sequences on it, and even then I had relatively simple equipment. And that’s why the question arose whether you go on stage and have to play different music due to limitations of your equipment or do you accept the compromise of playing along with a backing tape? We started from the method with the backing tape and we played live chords and solo parts over it.
There was another young man, Rob Jenkins, who wanted to help me with that. And knowing that Julian could play – I felt he was technically more skilled than I was (he’d taken a keyboard course once and I hadn’t) – it might help me psychologically to have another one which I enjoyed playing with. After all, for me it was quite a frightening experience, playing live like that for the first time. And for Rob it would be scary too, so that made me feel a little better because I wouldn’t be the only one…(laughter). And really every time I went to a concert, James was there too. The moment I wanted to form Redshift I asked James if he wanted to join and his answer was ‘Yeah’. The first Redshift album was really just me – it was really a solo album – but when we played the Hampshire Jam for the first time, while rehearsing, the ideas came up and the other members of the band started recording their own pieces. fill and play.
Basically I did all the sequencer work and Julian did more of the chords and solo parts. And that was when James and Julian joined the band.
Our practice is not like ‘ok, play 8 bars of this tune, then another 16 bars of date…’, it’s more like ‘well, if you do something in this section that you think is right suits….’ And that way it grows and mutates as we rehearse. That way we get a rough idea of what’s going to happen and when, but what we do is never the same twice. We can have a piece that lasts about 15 minutes during rehearsal, but suddenly turns out to be 25 minutes during the concert.”
Redshift has released 5 albums so far: ‘Redshift’, ‘Ether’, ‘Down Time’, ‘Siren’ and ‘Halo’, these titles spell out ‘REDS-H’, so ehh, 3 more albums coming up now to finish name? Will Redshift go that far?
“It takes as long as it takes. It’s still a lot of fun to do and I love the music as we make it now more than anything. Now I think I will never stop. But you never know, maybe I’ll suddenly get in the mood for Country & Western music, who knows…..but it’s unlikely”….says Mark.
- Redshift 1996
- Ether 1998
- Down Time 1999
- Siren 2002
- Halo 2002
- Redshift World 2002 (CD-R, limited edition 100 pieces)
Please note: this discography is the situation in 2004.