Feature of VoLt

“The Far Canal”,“Star Compass” and beyond:
The fascinating electronic music of VoLt

Date: 2006/2007

The English band VoLt, aka Steve Smith and Michael Shipway, introduced itself to the electronic music public as they put out their first cd “The Far Canal” in 2003.
Ever wondered what happened to them previously?Steve Smith started playing in pop bands back in 1972. He mainly played guitars, but later on moved on to keyboards. During that period, Steve quotes his main influences as the Moody Blues and Cat Stevens.He played in various bands, and still does today – playing keyboards in a rock band and guitar in a traditional Jazz band. He made “Sax Machine”, an album of instrumental music based around a saxophone sampled into the keyboard which is only available on cd-r.
Next to this he composed some music using the pseudonym Steve Van Maarten, available as a 4-track cd-r ep from: .
Steve also did a pop album with his band Bak On Trak. Mind that these recordings are not electronic music.Steve and Michael met in the early eighties as they were introduced to each other through a mutual friend, who knew they both wrote music. This friend thought it a good idea if they would try to join forces by writing together and maybe even form a band.
Things worked out well between the two, and for several years they made pop/rockmusic (Steve playing bass, Michael playing guitar) as the band HiFi.
This lasted until 1984, when Michael stopped playing live to concentrate on writing and recording instrumental tracks at home with synthesizers only.

Around 1990, a friend recommended Michael should submit a demo of his solo music to the label Surreal to Real. They replied they liked the stuff, but would like him to play live before releasing anything, so it was arranged that he would perform at “Electronica ‘90” in Sheffield.

To make the most of it, Michael put his demo- tracks together onto a mc titled “Into Battle” to sell them that day if anybody would be interested. Things turned out better than expected as Michael sold all tapes, after which Surreal said they were interested in releasing a cd with new music.

Steve started writing new material that would become “Beneath Folly”, an album based around the legend of a Fiend that lives beneath the Folly tower close to where Michael lived. Surreal accepted the music and put out the cd in 1992. On the album Steve Smith played piano on 1 track (Anthony Thrasher of Surreal to Real used to call him Steve “Mr Piano Solo” Smith!)
The following music-pieces were shorter, more “song length” instrumentals, which became the ’94-release “Spirit of Adventure”.
This same year, Surreal remastered the MC “Into Battle”, and released the album on cd with the remixed title-track as a bonus.

During that period Michael and Steve collaborated once in a while as the duo Artificial Intelligence, based around using a sampler Michael designed for the Sinclair Spectrum. There are several recorded tracks, but they remain unavailable as they don’t have sample clearance for most of the samples used.
Michael suggested to Steve to completely improvise a track, preparing only some sequences beforehand. While Steve started playing chords, Michael added atmospherics, lead lines and sequences, which ended up as the first VoLt-track. Some more music was created the same way, and after several good reactions the duo decided to put them together on a cd-r for E-LIVE 2002.

Michael and Steve realised that the outcome was quite different from Michael’s solo-albums, so they invented the band VoLT, introducing themselves as Stefan Schmidt (Steve) and Brian Raymond (which are actually Michael’s middle names). Mick Garlick of Sequences magazine sold the cd-r’s on his stand at
E-LIVE 2002, which delivered some positive response.

Therefore, the duo asked Mick to approach the Dutch label Groove Unlimited on their behalf to see if were interested in an official release, but insisted he would not reveal their true identities to them. Kees Aerts and Ron Boots both agreed they would like to release the album on their label.

Kees and Ron played the same trick on the subscribers of Groove’s weekly electronic newsletter in which they put a link to some online soundbites of the album. Later on, Michael and Steve revealed their real names as their debut cd “The Far Canal” was released in fall of 2003.
Due to the success of the album, Groove asked for a second cd, which the duo was only happy to record.

So spring 2004 saw the release of “Star Compass”, offering 70 minutes of slightly more melodic music. The album had the most editing as the two musicians found some of the recordings to be overlong, meaning that at least 20 minutes were cut out of some tracks. This led to some very tricky editing as everything was recorded to audio tracks.
That meant editing to a note and trying not to produce to many noticeable clicks. But in the end this recording proved the duo really enjoyed the absolute freedom of creating improvised music using both new and old technology, not restricted to song format or commissioned music.

The seed for VoLt’s 2007-album “Nucleosynthesis” started with a phone call. The duo were asked by Steve Jenkins to play at his Hampshire Jam 5 (HJ5) event that took place in the UK in October 2006.
They agreed to play and decided it would be more fun to write a new set of material to perform for the one hour they were due to be on stage – which would be better than rehearsing to re-create earlier tracks that they had made.

Steve Jenkins had told them he was a fan of their sequencing, more than the more ‘spacey’ style they had done sometimes, so Michael and Steve immediately knew the kind of ‘album’ they were to write! Also, as it was intended for live performance, they both decided to start with a ‘Big Bang’ and not with atmospheric sounds as they had done in the past.

Having set the scene for the tracks, they thought the performance should be continuous for the hour, with three new tracks of approximately 20 minutes each that would merge into each other: part 1 building up the sequences until part 2, when something more gentle should take over and finally part 3, where the sequences should be most prominent and exciting.
In their basic idea, this would replicate the ‘Big Bang Theory’ where everything starts from nothing in a mighty explosion and evolves for some time before collapsing back on itself to nothing in a reverse explosion.

Eventually, they changed the ‘Big Bang’ working title to “Nucleosynthesis” (the chemistry of The Big Bang) with the three parts being “Explosion”(18:08), “Evolution” (19:21) and “Implosion” (25:18) to reflect the stages of the theory.

Steve and Michael treated the whole writing process just as they had with earlier albums: first the duo created sets of sequences that gave the feel they were looking for in the three parts.
Then they got together in the studio, selected or programmed the lead and pad sounds that they wanted to use and ‘jammed’ with the sequences for about 30 minutes each. Following this, they edited the tracks to around 20 minutes each, keeping the parts that worked the best. This then gave the hour of material needed for the album.

VoLt’s original intention was to record the set at HJ5 and make this the first fully live VoLt album….. but the plans didn’t work. The duo didn’t have the time available on the day to set up the multi-track recorder so there only was a single stereo recording of the performance. And although they were pleased with it, they both did not think the quality of sound was good enough for an ‘official’ VoLt release.

Steve & Michael live at Hampshire Jam 2005

However, Michel and Steve had such a good reaction from the audience at HJ5 that they decided to re-record the tracks in the studio so that they could mix and produce the sound as they wanted. They eventually did this and tried to include all the parts that worked well at HJ5. Keep in mind both musicians rarely play the same thing twice so it were difficult tasks to perform. This then became the tracks that were given to the Groove Unlimited label for mastering and release as “Nucleosynthesis”.

The only track missing from “Nucleosynthesis” that the duo played at HJ5 was the encore. The HJ5 audience really liked the encore track (a small part of “Far Canal” plus the sequencer parts from their E-LIVE 2006 encore performance) but Steve and Michael could not create the same excitement in the studio.

So, looking forward, VoLt will be playing at Hampshire Jam 6 in October 2007 and hopefully performing a new set of material but with the same encore (if needed)…… and if all goes well, a multi-track recording that will be the first live VoLt album.


The Far Canal (2003)








Star Compass (2004)








Through the Rings (2006)








Nucleosynthesis (2007)








Website: www.groove.nl

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