In 1989, Shawn Rudiman started production work with Ed Vargo as part of the seminal Industrial group T.H.D. (Total Harmonic Distortion). This EBM/Elektro unit became quite popular in the EBM/Industrial music scene of the early to mid 90′s. They released 4 full-length albums, countless remixes and compilation releases on both European and domestic labels. During these formative years, Shawn developed a fascination with vintage music machines. In 1997, he decided to stray from his Industrial-EBM roots to explore the depths of pure rhythm and sounds in Techno music.
Rudiman’s all live sets of non-stop, improvised techno became his trademark. His innate understanding of hardware drum machines, sequencers, samplers and synthesizers gave his performances the fluidity and smoothness of any DJ set, but entirely flexible in direction and tempo (well before the introduction of software live applications). These performances gained international attention throughout the Techno community and became the stuff of legend.
Today he resides in the Midwest, still releasing records and remixes. Always a consummate studio enthusiast, Shawn maintains, repairs and builds analog and vintage synthesizers while keeping a busy international touring schedule.
Photos by: Christa Majoras
I♥SYNTHS: What was your first synth and what made you want to get into electronic music?
Shawn Rudiman: My first synth was a Yamaha b200 M. That was what started me on this wild ride. It was a Prosumer FM 8 voice / 4 op poly. I got it for Christmas in 1990. I believe I was 18 and It was my first real love. That poor synth has had a lot of flight time hours on it. They keys have started to degrade and melt and the buttons are all in need of serious replacing as well. I still love it and pull it out sometimes. The next day after that Christmas, I went out and picked up an HR16b, with whatever money I had saved. I still have that as well and it’s been modified now with the patch bay-hack that scrambles the 16-bit data lines which makes the sounds totally into something new.
I♥SYNTHS: What got you into electronic music?
Shawn Rudiman: I was always into space and sci-fi TV shows and read sci-fi as a kid. Synthesizers to me, were almost like a tiny bit of that, in the here and now. Along with that, I was totally obsessed with synthpop and electro/freestyle or anything that had synths and drum machines in it. I was too young to go out to clubs and was totally in the wrong place as well (the backwoods of Pennsylvania).
I♥SYNTHS: Are there any songs that stick out for you?
Shawn Rudiman: The two distinct memories were hearing “19” and “Rockit” for the first times. My mind was totally blown, I had never heard anything like those two songs ever before. Wow, they floored me. Also, hearing Gary Numan’s “Cars” at a really early age. I was supposed to be in bed sleeping (I think I was in first or second grade), and I was listening to a radio station on a little transistor radio under the covers. The station must have been a college station that I somehow picked up or maybe had a new wave or synth dance show on. Needless to say, I was doomed after that. “Cars” is still haunting and a flawless song.
I♥SYNTHS: When did your obsession start with collecting synths?
Shawn Rudiman: The day after that Christmas in 1990! It was really fueled by diving headfirst into making music. My friend Ed Vargo and I decided we were going do this shit and try it out. We were so arrogant and had zero idea what we were doing. Totally green on every front. Long story short, we somehow managed to get a demo of industrial stuff to a label in Denmark. They liked what they heard and signed us for a full cd.
I♥SYNTHS: When you were signed, did you go out and pick up more gear?
Shawn Rudiman: Yes! The label gave us $3,700 as an advance. We used that money, which at the time would be comparable to $15,000 today, to purchase more gear. We bought everything we could find that was electronic. And then, we began learning what actually was made, the specs, etc.
The early 90’s were the time to buy analog synths and drum machines. It was really great. You really had to dig for that shit though. We scoured pawnshops and mom and pop music stores all the time. Also, we used newspapers. There was no eBay or Craigslist. You had to want that junk, and it was junk at the time.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you consider yourself as a collector or musician?
Shawn Rudiman: I still don’t consider myself a collector. Collectors don’t use them. I try and use everything I come into. Sometimes I buy them and sometimes I make them. They all get used and appreciated by being used in songs and tracks. Without them making sound, they’re kind of useless. They have to be used, to be the gems they are!
I♥SYNTHS: What was the best deal you’ve scored on a synthesizer?
Shawn Rudiman: Oh man. I’d say there were a couple of good scores in my time but, the prices were skewed to the early 90’s so, it sounds totally insane by today’s standard. My Roland 909 was only $325, minty in the packaging.
I♥SYNTHS: Any regrets? What synthesizers did you let go and wish you could get back?
Shawn Rudiman: First and foremost, it would be my Jupiter 6. I traded it (as a career move of sorts) in 2000 or so for my FR-777. They were new and I had zero money and really, I was playing a lot of rave gigs and I knew I was going to have to maybe fly one day to a gig. I needed something sound-wise that was equivalent to a Pro-One with an onboard sequencer. The 777 was exactly what I need at the time. I still miss that machine.
Also, when I moved to Pittsburgh, I split the old studio I had with my studio partner Ed Vargo. We had bought a Yamaha CS-70M together over the years and luckily when I moved we had things that were sort of comparable to split. It was an “amicable divorce” I guess, you could say. We each got the things we liked. He got the CS-70M and I got the JP-6. That CS-70m is one of the most beautiful sounding machines I’ve ever touched. It’s amazingly huge in size and sound. We put the Kenton midi kit into as well so its really super duper sweet.
I also miss my Octave Cat a lot. I traded that synth years ago for a 727 with trigger outs on all voices. Once again, another trade for gig machine, rather than cool studio stuff. I also miss my Avatar. I sold it to help pay for my Virus A in 1997. Oh, add my re-555 to that list as well. So, there’s always things I miss and probably won’t find again. Those days are long over for getting machines at humane prices.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s your most prized possession in the studio?
Shawn Rudiman: Hmm, that’s a tough call. All of the kids are loved equally but if I’d say the MPC 3000. He’s on every single time I’m in the studio. To me, it’s as good as its ever going to get. Also, add the Prophet VS, The 440, Sequential Circuits Pro-One and Oberheim Xpander to that list as well.
I♥SYNTHS: When did you get into working on creating your own synths?
Shawn Rudiman: Well, I don’t really create my own synthesizers. I’ll find DIY things and make them into my own look or I’ll modify the circuits to do more/other than intended things. I started doing this about 5-6 years ago. I never understood schematics or electrical engineering before that. I just wasn’t ready. It stemmed from things going bad and malfunctioning or finding broken things for sale and monkeying around inside with them to learn more. The first thing I’ve ever fixed from the dead was a Crumar Bit One. After that, I fixed my TR-909, which was dead for 3 years. Then, it was a cascade of things that just kept getting more and more intense.
I♥SYNTHS: Any shout outs to people or companies that helped you along the way?
Shawn Rudiman: I looked into DIY stuff and found the MFOS site. Wow. I dove head first into their hardest project and spent a year making a bank of sequencers and modding them to do new things! I seemed to really have a knack for figuring things out from a user standpoint. Then, I spent time learning how to electrically make that happen. Ray Wilson from MFOS is the man. He was very patient with my constant questions and learning. He’s truly an awesome guy.
Then it was synths. The Doepfer DIY synth was my first. Then another and another and the mutable instruments stuff as well. All of the Meeblip stuff which is all modded and built into crazy custom cases and faceplates. I see them as synthesizers I cant afford to buy so, I just make them. I guess I’m also a fan of the underdog and unknown or raw sounding things.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s next for you? Any current builds or something you have your eye on?
Shawn Rudiman: I’m currently working on another extra-modded Doepfer DIY synth (2 subs, 2 extra envs and tons of extra cv patch outs, a mutable Anushri with several mods (that shares the cabinet with the DIY #3), My Arp odyssey 2800 (MKI) which is totally patched and modded with a new rotary potentiometer faceplate. Also, I’m adding switchable res/pan mod to my studio 440. I’m also replacing the power supplies too. Things are reaching that time when the capacitors and regulators are just getting to the end of their designed lifespan. I need to finish the projects on my bench before I go looking for anything new in the DIY area. They are easy to find and hard to finish.
I♥SYNTHS: We love that you’re a hardware guy. Can you share a live set link and tell us why is it your favorite?
Shawn Rudiman: Sure this is a video of a live set from the legendary TRESOR club in Berlin, Germany.
It’s one of the best sets I’ve played in a very long time. My performances are always off the cuff and sequenced, programmed, mixed on the fly. It’s 20 minutes of a 2.5 hour set. Some Detroit techno business, as for why it’s my favorite. I didn’t over do things and rush things along or ruin it with too much. I let things groove and be what they could be.
I also did an “industrial “ album a couple years back that was a lot of fun to do. It was a great break from the techno aesthetic and allowed me to return to songs again. It’s called THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) – “ The Evolution of Our Decay”
It’s a fave because I really enjoyed making it. From the song writing to lyrics to production, it was a breath of fresh air for me. It was just really what I was trying to get out.