[Reviewed by Damiano Lanzi]
ARC is a duo composed of Ian Boddy and Mark Shreeve, each of them active also as solo artists since the ‘80s, in the field of ambient and Berlin School electronics. “Umbra” is a series of six new long pieces recorded during their concert at E-Live Festival 2013 in Oirschot, Netherlands. Live recordings are a constant in ARC’s discography, but apart from the applause between the tracks and a taste for improvisation that’s peculiar of the duo, don’t expect the classic rock live album. “Umbra” shows an approach to live music that is much more similar to a piano concert of classical music, and even the audience seems to be aware of that. The cleanliness and purity of the sound are astonishing, and the experience of these two trained musicians is evident at every note, both in the execution itself and in the flawless use of instrumentation.
Boddy and Shreeve easily switch between vintage analogue synthesizers as the Moog Modular and modern digital samplers as Ableton Live. These long compositions (from the 10 minutes of “Panthera” to the 18 minutes of the title track) slowly progress in entrancing soundscapes. “Arcadia” opens with an ambient part, then a sequencer kicks in and accompanies all the evolution of the piece, that later grows in intensity with a country drum pattern curiously carried out of its context. The drum pattern stops for a long middle section with cavernous synth modulations and then starts again with the sequencer and some heavenly synth pads. As the title suggests “Proxima Obscuro” is centered on darker moods, suggested by the gloomy church organ and atmospheric synth effects. The central part with the sequencer sounds like an apocalyptic John Carpenter soundtrack.
“Umbra” is the longest track and presents many changes in mood and intensity, growing gradually from the ambient intro to an epic theme, played with a picked instrument effect. The theme is later reprised, adding snarly synthesizers and further alternated to ambient parts before the orchestral coda. Also “Autostratos” with its obstinate arpeggiators and choir effects, has a sci-fi soundtrack feel, while “Panthera” juxtaposes Wagnerian strings to heavy sequenced basses. The harmonies of the conclusive track “Cherry Bomb” show some similarities to the 70’s psychedelic prog-rock of Alan Parsons, Mike Oldfield and Pink Floyd, an impression that’s later enforced by the electric guitar solos. One thing that may not appear as a compliment, but in my experience of music is actually a positive fact, is that this record helps bring about a relaxing mood, and if listened to while sleeping it helps an intense dreaming activity.