The first time I experienced Marv live was when they opened Cochonne’s tape-release show at Nightlight. It was back in November, when nobody suspected that concerts would soon be relegated to longing memories. 

My first thought before the show was that Marv, the Carrboro-based synth duo, was an unlikely pairing with Cochonne, the Francophile post-punk femme-fronted band. But once the lights were off and the fog machine was on, Marv’s otherworldly performance made me forget about context entirely. 

A minimalist, slow-paced excursion into sound created a deep, intriguing atmosphere before the music progressively opened up and enveloped me in a melancholy dream of new-age landscapes. At certain moments I was reminded of the utopian leanings of the dearly missed Carl Sagan-inspired duo Sagan Youth (aka Sagan Youth Boys). Active from 2010 to 2015, they released one of their albums on Tone Log, the local experimental label that released Marv’s self-titled debut album in July.

Available on vinyl and cassette, the debut lives up to the strong atmosphere created that night. The record has the mystery and distant beauty of a stranded spaceship being slowly devoured by glittering vegetation and time.

Marv consists of Geoff Schilling, a contributor to the Triangle music scene since 2007, and Nathan Taylor, also known as techno producer and DJ Sponge Bath. When they started rehearsing in 2018, they didn’t have a specific sound or aesthetic in mind. Schilling’s previous project had just disbanded, and Taylor wanted to begin a collaborative project after working as a solo artist for well over a decade. 

Their first set-up was radically different than what Marv is today: Taylor played bass and a drum machine while Schilling riffed on the keys. But this lasted for about two practices before boredom set in. So the duo decided to focus on synths, laying the groundwork for an experimental process that they still follow today.

“We fell into a weird routine of just starting practice without talking about a direction and noodling around,” they said in a recent email chat, “letting the machines take us where they may until we stumbled upon something that we were into.”

In late 2018, Marv opened for Cave and Object Hours, and right after stepping off the stage, they were asked to record an LP for Tone Log. They’ve been at work ever since—so much so that they’re almost finished recording the follow-up to this LP. 

There’s something about Marv that makes you think of Tangerine Dream, though they mention Cluster and Conrad Schnitzler as more direct influences. Above all, they feel indebted to the local electronic music scene.

“We’re heavily influenced by the local history of performers and labels from the Triangle, and we’re just trying to add to that ecosystem,” they say. 

During summer 2019, the duo experienced an intense burst of creativity, recording almost one track per week. Their goal was to record a lot of material and then pick through it all for cohesion and quality. They decided to record each track in just one session, and this decision of not overthinking the arrangements contributes to the immediacy and unpredictability of the album. Even if Marv is not fundamentally improvisational, they walk a middle path between compositional intent and structured improv. Their interest in experimentation is emphasized by the collaborative nature of Marv.

“We try to let the machines take the role of lead improviser,” they say. “We follow where they lead down the random path. Marv is totally different compared to our other projects. There is more of an openness to divergent ideas and more attempts to try out different techniques and processes. There are a lot of variables that we embrace.”

The pandemic has been hard on performing artists, Marv included. The experience of a live show, they argue, is irreplaceable.

“We’re not really into the whole livestreaming culture that has blossomed up,” they say. “It feels sterile, weird, and easily co-opted by the digital platforms that make them possible.”

The release show was supposed to be April 4 at Nightlight in Chapel Hill, with Hard Face and the Bowles/Bowne/Wagg Trio. But despite the sadness of all the shows that never got to happen and the myriad hardships that performers have had to confront this year, Marv demonstrates the resilience of our local music scene.

“It has been difficult to focus on recording and practicing with everything going on,” they say. “At the same time, it has also been therapeutic—a small response to the tragedy of it all. Music has got to be a part of whatever future we’re heading toward, and we’re committed to being a part of whatever that might look like in the Triangle.”

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