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.
Michel van Osenbruggen also known as Synth.nl is a producer, composer and synthesizer collector from the Netherlands. Developing software, installing computer networks and repairing electronics led to his obsession with synthesizers. With influences from Jean-Michel Jarre and Vangelis, Synth.nl creates beautifully melodic synthesizer electronica.
I♥SYNTHS: What was your first synthesizer and how old were you when you started collecting?
Synth.nl: I still remember exactly what my first synthesizer was, the Yamaha TX81Z. It is a rack module so I had to buy an extra midi keyboard, that at that time wasn’t even velocity sensitive. It must have been around 1987 when it was just released. So, I was 17 I guess. That adds up, since I bought it from the money I got to buy a moped from my parents, when I didn’t smoke until my 16th birthday. I guess their trick worked since I still don’t smoke. I also still have the TX81Z with my original sounds I made back then. I can also remember well, that FM programming was not easy and still isn’t easy.
I♥SYNTHS: What is your process for recording synthesizers onto the computer?
Synth.nl: Well, first of all, I always record midi to start with. Usually my tracks start on some of my newer equipment and often later in the process of producing tracks I replace the sounds or layer them with one or more of my older analog machines. I don’t like to have them switched on all the time. I’m trying to save them as much as I can. For AD converting I mainly use two Lynx Aurora 16′s that go with ADAT to a RME 648 and that outputs MADI to an RME HDSP MADI interface in my studio PC. I use Cakewalk Sonar X2 Producer Edition (soon to be replaced by X3) on my PC to record and produce my music.
I♥SYNTHS: How many synthesizers do you currently own, do you have them catalogued?
Synth.nl: I used to catalogue them, but I actually just stopped with that. I had a complete list on my website, but it was too much work to keep it updated and recently I removed the whole studio part from my website. Unfortunately it brought me more negative reactions than positive so I was fed up with it at one point. It is a shame for the people who liked it, but it wasn’t really motivating. There is still a lot to be found on my blog though. I will try to keep updating that from time to time. The last time I counted There were a bit over 100 synthesizers in the studio including the module versions.
I♥SYNTHS: Is there a synthesizer out there you’ve yet to find?
Synth.nl: Well, not that much. The ones I’m still looking for are quite rare and expensive. I recently added an EMS ‘Putney’ VCS3 to the collection. That was a machine I looked for a long time and is truly a very unique synthesizer. I would love a Yamaha CS-80 but they are becoming so rare and expensive. Besides that, they are very heavy and they take up a lot of space. What is missing a bit in my collection, is a classic Oberheim. So maybe an OB-Xa or OB-8. I also love the looks of the Yamaha DX-1, but again the price. And, what I’d really like is a Walfdorf Wave but they are hard to find. People that own these machines know what they are worth and the real collectors don’t part with them easily. Like myself, I hardly ever sell a synthesizer. That is why I have so many. Now I’m at the point when something goes in, something has to go out. The studio is full.
I♥SYNTHS: What is your favorite synthesizer company?
Synth.nl: I guess as whole company, Roland. I like most of the synthesizers they’ve made and they take up a large portion of my studio. My first synthesizer with a keyboard was a Roland D-10. So I learned to play with their joystick modulation and also, the light keys that they have. I still prefer those keys and that joystick over any other keyboard and I still don’t like playing with a mod wheel. My master keyboard in my studio is also a very cheap Roland midi keyboard with that same joystick on it.
I♥SYNTHS: If you were stuck on an island with one synth, what would you bring?
Synth.nl: I better bring an acoustic guitar since there probably will be no power. But, let’s say there is, my favorite synth is the Moog Minimoog but I wouldn’t bring that, since it is very limited on it’s own. So, I guess I’d bring the most versatile machine at the moment and that is the Korg Kronos, in my humble opinion. You can jam very nicely on it and all the different sound engines give a lot of freedom in sound choice.
I♥SYNTHS: You’ve rebuilt your studio a couple times. Do you think redesigning your space is another passion?
Synth.nl: Not really my passion, no. I think you have to do it at least three times to get a decent feel for the ergonomics of your setup your workflow. And, the cabling takes time to get it right. I always try to be as efficient as possible and use the shortest possible analog cables to avoid hum and noise. The latest studio, I even designed it upfront in 3D to get a feel for the ergonomics of it. I think I’ve gotten the maximum potential out of the room now. People who know the fish-eye pictures think the room is huge, but actually it is only 4 x 7 meters. So, it is packed very efficiently. I wouldn’t like to to it again, actually. I’m happy as it is now and I’m only re-cabling and rearranging some stuff now because I think I can get even more MADI inputs into my studio PC. That will save me some patching. I really like to have everything running as much as possible, hooked up and ready with both midi and audio.
I♥SYNTHS: How long did it take to build your latest studio?
Synth.nl: Well as you might know, we dug a large hole in the garden and put the studio in a basement. That project took about 6 months to complete. After that, I spent another month with the guy that did the furniture and 2 or 3 months after that, to get everything in and wire it up. Of course, I had to do that next to a very busy day job, so it wasn’t full time work. I’m still not completely done actually, but the end is in sight. I guess, all in all, I’m not exaggerating when I say it was almost a year.
I♥SYNTHS: Who is your biggest influence on your music?
Synth.nl: Two names pop into my head right away. What influenced me equally: Jean Michel Jarre and Vangelis. In the beginning, it was more Jarre and later on I got to appreciate Vangelis more. I think he really is one of the greatest composers, not even only for synthesizer music. But the music I heard first was by Jarre. Oxygene and Equinoxe got me turned over from hard rock into synthesizer music. I guess, also with age, you start to appreciate more melodic and relaxed music more than when you are young.
I♥SYNTHS: Space and the ocean seem to be a common theme with your music. Would you say that nature is your biggest influence?
Synth.nl: I’m a very restless and stressed person by nature, unfortunately. I’m always busy and hardly ever rest. I even hate sleeping. I think it is a waste of time. But in 2005, it got me into a burn-out. I was a year off from work completely and only started to produce music at that time. Until then, I collected synthesizer and made a lot of preset sounds on them, but never music. I don’t have a musical background and still can’t even read notes, actually. If you like the whole story, there is quite a nice documentary that a student of the film academy in Rotterdam made on this topic on my YouTube channel. But bottom line is that, I started to create music to relax myself a bit and get my mind empty again. I’m very visually oriented so I had a story and the pictures in my mind that I made music to. It was like taking a journey of myself. I think nature and space are very good sources for inspiration and relaxation in that way. I think the ocean and space makes you realize how tiny and insignificant we humans, actually are and how tiny our daily problems are. That actually helps me to see things in perspective again.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s next for Synth.NL?
Synth.nl: Well, last year I did another vacation with my friend and record label owner Ron Boots. We brought our synthesizers along again, so we made some new music. That still has to be edited, mixed and produced into a new album. So, I guess that will be a project for 2014, hopefully. Besides that, I really need to work on some solo material again. Well, not completely alone. My friend Hansjan Landman usually helps me with that. I also did a collaboration last year with another friend Remy Stroomer. We are planning a follow up on that as well, based on retro computers and game consoles. And then, I still have my classical project and planetarium music laying around to finish up and release some day. So, I guess I have no reason to be bored the coming years. Unfortunately, my work takes up a lot of my time so, I have no idea how to get it all to fit in between. I guess it will mean even less sleep next year.
Synth.nl OFFICIAL WEBSITE
I♥SYNTHS: When did Jam open their doors?
JAM: We first started out as a small used synthesizer store in early 1997.
I♥SYNTHS: What got you interested in selling synthesizers?
JAM: There really wasn’t any business thinking behind it. I just wanted to be around really cool music gear all day, preferably things you had only seen in Peter Forrest’s A-Z of synthesisers or Mark Vails Vintage Synthesizers-book.
I♥SYNTHS: Were you primarily a synth shop and then expanded to other instruments?
JAM: Yes, that’s correct. We have a specialised store for guitars right across the street and a PA-equipment store, just round the corner. JAM Syntotek is specialised in synthesizers (and some studio gear). We are also one of the few stores in Sweden that has both used and new gear, which is sort of how I think a music store should be. It should be fun to visit the store, not like going to your local supermarket.
I♥SYNTHS: What was the coolest synth to walk through the doors?
JAM: Oh, there’s too many, really. We had an original Buchla Music Easel for a day, just visiting from the Royal Music Academy collection. Apart from that, I would say the Technos Acxel (which we’ve had one of before and now just got another one in stock, there’s supposedly less than 40 of them around), the Synton Syrinx Special Edition (super rare, only six made), the super obscure swedish modular Dataton, some EMLs which I am really into and a huge Moog Modular IIc.
But, the coolest piece of gear will always be the EMU SP1200 sampler for me.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you collect as well, or is everything for sale?
JAM: I do keep gear for my self periodically, but usually everything in the store is for sale.
I♥SYNTHS: What is your rarest synth in the collection?
JAM: At the moment it is the Technis Acxel. We really don’t know how to put a price on it.
I♥SYNTHS: Have you had any celebrity sales? What did they purchase?
JAM: Mostly swedish celebrities, although Daft Punk bought an MaM sequencer in the late nineties. Philippe Zdar, who I really like as a producer, bought a couple of Neumann mikes and turned out to be about the nicest guy we’ve ever met.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you do repairs and maintenance too?
JAM: Yes, we do. We have a service technician who shares space with us, who is really good at fixing stuff without schematics. We also know most of the repair guys around so, whenever we’re too busy or if it is too hard, we call them in.
I♥SYNTHS: Modular synths have exploded onto the scene in the past few years. Are you noticing more traditional keyboard players getting into it or is this a whole new breed of music makers?
JAM: I would say both, really. There’s these guys who use them only for production, and those who make modular sound just for the activity, I guess. Both is ok in my book. I think the dubstep kids etc are mostly into soft synths though.
I♥SYNTHS: Thanks again for the interview! Care to share some original music or a popular album you’re into at the moment?
JAM: You should always plug your friends so I will have to say, Andreas Tilliander / TM404, his stuff is great, check it out on https://soundcloud.com/tilliander
Also, Smutskatt is a really good swedish beats producer that I tend to play at work a lot http://soundcloud.com/smutskatt
The represses of Eliane Radigues fantastic drone music is also well worth checking out.
Oh, I would also like to plug our instagram account where we put up all the goodies as they come in;
Jam on INSTAGRAM
Dallas Campbell: is a synth nerd and general gear fanatic from West Virginia, USA. He has been in many music project over the years, usually playing bass and or vocals. Over the past 12 months, he has focused more on making electronic music. Drawing influence from the sounds of the late 70s and early 80s, Dallas continues to obsess about hardware and sometimes even finds the time to record a track or two
I♥SYNTHS: Tell us a little about your music project and how you go about recording.
Dallas Campbell: My music project is really just me messing around while my family is sleeping. I don’t usually have any goals or anything, I will just pick a synth I haven’t used in a while and start programming a patch until I get an idea, then hit record and play something. Generally, I’ll write most of the song with one synth and I’ll go back and replace a lot of the parts with other synths or bass. Then, I’ll write the drums. Last, I’ll send all of the instrument and drum tracks to external fx gear, which is a total pain right now because i only have two inputs so, I have to do every take one at a time. It’s not efficient, to say the least.
I♥SYNTHS: In a world filled with virtual instruments, what draws you to hardware?
Dallas Campbell: Glutton for punishment? haha Virtual synths just never worked very well for me. Other people are great with them, but I’m just more inspired by an actual piece of hardware that I can touch. It’s kinda cool to ponder all the shit these 30-year-old pieces of technology must have been through!
I♥SYNTHS: When did you start collecting gear and what is your prized possession?
Dallas Campbell: This dude I knew in college let my roommate and I borrow a four track cassette recorder. I was pretty much hooked on gear and music after that. I started buying synths about 10 or so years ago. I’m guessing the rarest thing I have is a Yamaha SY20. I don’t think it was ever released outside of Japan. All the writing on the synth is in Japanese! My favorite synth is probably my SCI Pro-One for mono and the Korg Polysix for poly. As for favorite fx units, I would say the Dimension D Chorus, Multivox Multiecho Delay, the Eventide Space Reverb, and the Roland SBF-325 flanger.
I♥SYNTHS: I see you are also a bass player? Did you start playing before or after getting into synthesizers?
Dallas Campbell: Yeah, bass is fun. I had been playing it in some Screamo/Metal bands years ago, before i got into synths. Actually, i bought a Roland Alpha Juno to use in the metal band, that’s when I started learning more about what the heck a synthesizer was.
I♥SYNTHS: What is your favorite synth for bass tones?
Dallas Campbell: Thats a tough one, i have a few pretty sweet bass synths. The one that really stands out and impresses me almost every time is the Roland SH-09. The deep low bass tones you can get with that thing are ridiculous.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you mostly you use keyboard synthesizers or do you use rack gear as well?
Dallas Campbell: Oh, I love rack gear too, I’d actually prefer all my synths to be racks just to save space!
I♥SYNTHS: Do you rearrange your gear a lot to create a better workflow and do you have any future plans to build a bigger room?
Dallas Campbell: I spend probably half of my time moving gear around while I’m recording. I don’t have anything wired right now so I’m moving synths every time I record a track, it’s slightly tedious. I plan on moving to a bigger space at some point in the future, because not having to move 10 things just to get like a bell sound or something would be incredible!
I♥SYNTHS: Have your kids shown an interest in all of the pretty knobs and lights?
Dallas Campbell: For sure! My daughter is obsessed with banging on the keys and turning the knobs. I usually pull up some VST synth and let her bang away on my midi controller.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s next on your list? Are there any rare synths you’ve been looking for?
Dallas Campbell: The quest for gear is never ending! I’ve been wanting an OB8 or OBX for a while, but damn those prices these days are not nice. Oh yeah, maybe a Jupiter 4 to compliment my ProMars! I’ve also considered starting a modular, but i fear that would open up a whole new can of worms to be obsessed about!
I♥SYNTHS: We’d love to hear some of your music. Is there anything you’d like to leave us with?
Dallas Campbell: I’m currently writing a couple EPs that are synth based. The material sounds a bit like the last couple tracks I did for a compilation and an online comic book.
Dallas Campbell: Also, last week my friend Geoff Hoskinson directed and edited an awesome video for one of my tracks called “Return to Earth” and I have a bunch of other tracks up on my soundcloud.