British producer Ian Boddy emerged from the post-Tangerine Dream/kosmische music generation, but has sustained his role in electronic music for more than three decades now. An early champion of analog synthesis and tape manipulation, the DiN label head’s 50-plus range in sound from melodic neo-classicism and soundscapes to ambient and electronica.
Over the last two years, Boddy has created multiple sample packs for Beatport Sounds. His latest entry, Analogue Workshop Volume 1: Distortion & Feedback, focuses, as its title suggests, on feedback and distortion loops. And with 300 loops of subtle rhythm effects to add limitless dynamic to your studio productions, Boddy’s wealth of knowledge in sound design is on full display here.
Below he tells us about his love for all things analog and embracing new forms of synthesis.
What got you initially interested in synthesis?
My first introduction to the soundscapes possible with synthesizers were the early albums of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Kraftwerk, etc. However, in those days (the mid-’70s) it was really, really expensive to get the gear that could produce those sounds, and with no formal musical training, that aspect of artistic creativity wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. At school I was good at both science and art, but was really pushed to pursue a career in the former so ended up at Newcastle University (1978-1980) studying biochemistry. However I wanted to pursue my interest in art and found a local arts-funded center called Spectro that allowed me to do screen printing. A chance remark with a friend who was also interested in these German bands, though, led me to discover that upstairs in Spectro was a sound studio that members of the public could use for a nominal fee. Opening the door to that studio for the first time I was confronted with a labyrinth of VCS3’s and AKS synthesizers, Revox tape recorders, and mixers. I knew that this was some of the equipment used by the artists I liked so I asked to have a try and was blown away by the wonderful organic textures and sounds these instruments could produce. That was it—I was hooked. Within a few weeks I packed up my screen printing materials and for the next two, three years spent as much of my university time as I could spare embedded, often late at night during studio downtime, in this wonderful arena of sound creation. I literally haven’t stopped since then.
How do you feel about the current resurgence in analog synthesis?
Well, it makes me smile and rather happy. For me, analog gear has never gone away. Sure I used both digital synthesizers—I had one of the first Yamaha DX7s in the UK—and later computers DAWs and plug-ins like most other people. However, as my musical inheritance and first love in sound was analog, it’s never left me. I’m not going to get involved in the facile debate of whether analog or digital is best, because they can both sound great, but analog can provide some really nice meaningful musical experiences. Apart from being able to sound truly wonderful, the two most important aspects for me in many instruments, especially modulars, is non-reproducibility and secondly the user interface. Let me expand on these two points. In terms of the former, we’re so used to multiple undos and being able to defer musical decisions ’til very late in the recording day that I often find it refreshing to patch up my modular gear and when I get a great sound know that I have to record it there and then. Often this is a happy accident and I know I’ll never get it again. So you have to make a musical decision and record a performance. Sure you can edit the best bits out later, but you have to commit that unique moment in time as a recording. I like this aspect as it can give what you record a really fresh and vital feeling. In terms of the interface, well, for me I’ve not come across a synth that is so immediate as the Minimoog. Sure you can get reasonably close to it in software, but with an instrument like that, it’s not just the sound, it’s how you play it, and those relatively limited but immediately tweakable knobs and buttons on the front face are just so much fun to play with.
There’s also been a real increase in modular synthesizer use with the Eurorack format championed by Doepfer, giving many people a reasonably cost-effective way into this wonderful world. There’s many other companies involved though, such as Buchla, Serge, Modcan, MOTM, etc., producing an incredible arsenal of musical tools that can be assembled into your own personal musical instrument. There’s so much fun and value in these instruments, and I always feel they are the best way to explore and discover the basics of synthesis.
What is your favorite analog synthesizer that has been released in the last few years? And your single favorite analog synthesizer of all time?
Well, in terms of the former, I’d say the Moog Voyager. Although it does have some digital control and of course patch memories, it is, for all intents and purposes, analog. It’s such a beautiful instrument in terms of sound, how it looks, and how it plays. I’ll stress again, that latter point is important—these are instruments, not machines, and are meant to be played.
Trying to choose a favorite analog synth of all time is really tricky, but for both personal historical purposes, it was the first synthesizer I ever learned to program, but also in terms of just how wacky and cool it both looks and sounds, then I’d choose the VCS3. Whenever I use it live I still gets astonished looks from people with its weird L-shaped case and Battleship-style pin matrix. Through a big PA it can produce sounds that really can take your head off at 50 paces whilst with careful programming it can produce beautiful, delicate, yet eerie feedback tones.
Where do you see synthesis moving forward from this point?
Well, I’ve talked about analog a lot in this interview, but it’s only reasonable to assume as computing power increases that the real developments will be in software. There seems to be a growing trend with such instruments as Iris by iZotope and various apps I’ve seen on the iPad where musicians can interact more directly with samples. Whether it be exploring the inner harmonic world of sounds as in Iris or using the touch interface of an iPad to be able to literally touch and interact with samples, I can foresee a path whereby sound itself will become as malleable a sonic resource as clay is to a potter. What is really needed, though, is an interface as simple, intuitive, and fun to use as a Minimoog’s to be able to really play such instruments.
Anything you are currently excited about or would like to share with our audience?
My own personal sonic explorations in the last couple of years have been with a nice five-panel Serge modular that I have acquired. This name is probably not so familiar to many, and along with Buchla is often dubbed a “west coast synth,” as opposed to the “east coast” instruments of Moog, ARP, and Oberheim. Whilst this distinction is somewhat arbitrary, one of the main differences is that on the latter, a device such as a filter or envelope is by and large just that—they do only one job. This could be viewed as a molecular approach to a module, whereas on the Serge (and Buchla), many devices have more of an atomic nature. So something like the Universal Slope Generator on the Serge can, depending on how you patch it up, behave as an oscillator, non-linear filter, VCA, AR envelope, LFO, slew limiter, etc. Furthermore, its patching is done with banana cables, which, apart from being very robust, are stackable. This makes patching very easy and the creation of feedback loops really easy to do. All in all, it’s a great instrument and I have posted up a bunch of sonic explorations on my SoundCloud page. The Serge was extensively used in the creation of Analogue Workshop Volume 1: Distortion & Feedback, and has quickly become the sonic hub of my modular system.