I♥SYNTHS: Can you tell us a little about Custom Synth? When did you get started and what made you get into the business?
Custom Synth: A while back, I got involved in music because one of my brothers, Toby Toman, played drums in various British bands (The Nosebleeds, Ludus, The Durutti Column, Blue Orchids, and Primal Scream) so I grew up around rehearsal rooms and studios. I started Custom Synth several years ago, mainly restoring vintage equipment, rack gear, rusty keyboards and more. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to customize hi-tech equipment? Fender and other guitar companies have custom shops so, that kind of started me off. I now notice Roland, Korg and other companies have started to do it. Then, I was commissioned to customize a Nord in black, so it could be used in an orchestra pit and not stand out. Red Nords are cool but having a black option would be handy for something like this.
I♥SYNTHS: If someone wanted a custom synth, what’s the best way to get started?
I♥SYNTHS: Can you explain a little about your process on customizing?
Custom Synth: Once the project is started and the colors/graphics are worked out, the equipment is stripped down. Then, the parts are prepared, sanded, resprayed and screen printed. I work with friend who has a screen printing company (they used to do all of the Joe Meek gear).
I♥SYNTHS: Do you get any other instrument requests besides synthesizers?
Custom Synth: I do mostly hi-tech instruments and rack gear. I did work with Native Instruments for a while, customizing the Maschine for the artist series and a few one-offs. I also worked with Novation with the dicers and launchpads in chrome/gold and more. Really, anything that can be sprayed and printed can be customized or restored.
I♥SYNTHS: You’ve done some custom synths for celebrities and famous musicians. What was your most unique or original project?
Custom Synth: One of the most unique projects was for Tom Rowlands (The Chemical Brothers studio). I built a midi controller keyboard to sit in the bumper rail of a large SSL mixing desk. It has a detachable cover to match the rest of the desk and two modular cabinets. One was for the Serge modular system in a two piece metal arch and the other was a MOTM system to match the Roland 700 system.
I♥SYNTHS: Any other unique stories or projects?
Custom Synth: The restoration work I do for RL Music is rewarding and the finished instruments always look and function beautifully. You can see more at http://www.rlmusic.co.uk/
Custom Synth: Also, the Kaiser Chiefs have a white keyboard set up for their world tours including Peanut’s custom Nova-modded 808-style SH101.
Custom Synth: Howard Jones has a great looking sci-fi Deco chrome keyboard setup.
Custom Synth: Pete Watson, a session musician (Hurts, Lily Allen, Live), uses mainly Nords in black with reverse keys.
Custom Synth: Keane uses a custom Roland SH-201 in yellow.
Custom Synth: Rachel Furner uses a Roland RD-700 GX piano with blue and white stripes.
Custom Synth: Chromeo has a few all-chrome pieces like the MS20, Nord Modular, Nord Stage, a Roland SH-101, Akai MPC, Moog Voyager and Simmons Drum pads.
Custom Synth: Mike Skinner (The Streets) urban camoflage tr 909, a custom white Logan string machine, a white ARP Axxe and pink Fender amp.
Custom Synth: Gary Go has a custom black Nord stage and microKORG.
Custom Synth: Major Tweaks Studio (Roger Lyons) is the north’s leading analogue synth recording studio, custom SH-101s, MS20s, a CS and modular racks. Other customers include: Goldfish , Robbie Bronnimann , Tom (Editors), Shadow Child, Spoony, Funkagenda to name a couple.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you have a favorite synthesizer to work on?
Custom Synth: Anything is great to work on. Seeing something in a sorry state or rusty and beat up and then refreshing them and making them usable again is worth it.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s been your most challenging project?
Custom Synth: I recently had a Jupiter-8 that had been in its case in damp storage. The lining of the case had turned to sludge, eaten the paint off and bubbled the paintwork. That took a lot of refinishing and it came out rather well.
Custom Synth: Similar with a TR-909, that had sat in a puddle for a year. Someone had a go at painting it which kind of reacted and the finish became bubbly. I gave that an 808-color makeover.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you have a large personal collection of custom synths?
Custom Synth: I used to but not now. I just use a Roland Fantom G6, a Eurorack modular (which is growing) and a laptop with Reason on it, for my music
I♥SYNTHS: Have you ever fallen in love with a project and wanted to keep it for yourself?
Custom Synth: Yes, I love everything I do, but you have to let the kids leave home. They can always come back.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s next for Custom Synth? Do you have any future projects or new ideas you’re looking to do this year?
Custom Synth: I have been making a few t-shirt designs, which I sell on eBay. I try and keep the designs unique. They change all the time and helps pay for the projects.You can check them out here on http://www.ebay.com/usr/customsynth
Custom Synth: I’m still finishing a duo SH-09 which is a work-in-progress but, it’s getting there. I am also going to make a few Custom Synth one-offs this year and continue to experiment with different colors and finishes. I did have a plan to make some speakers for modular systems but, I’ve noticed people have started to do that. Perhaps customizing Eurorack modulars would be great! Maybe a rainbow modular? Different colors used for functions might be nice. I’m also working out a way to mount effects pedals into Eurorack formats too.
I♥SYNTHS: Thanks again for the interview! I hope to one day own one of your amazing pieces of equipment.
Richard Devine is an electronic producer/sound designer based from Atlanta GA. His focus is on musical composition, sonic mnemonics, field recording, sound effects and specialized sound design for T.V/Film, web media and video games.
I♥SYNTHS: When did you get into electronic music? Was it a certain musician or piece of gear that got you interested?
Richard Devine: I started getting into electronic music back in high school. I was a DJ at local clubs and raves back in the early 90′s, and became fascinated with making music after hearing a Aphex Twin remix of “Mind stream” EP from Meat Beat Manifesto. At age 17 I started to build up my studio, which around that time was mostly early analog drum machines and synths. I would go to the local pawn shops here in Atlanta every weekend to see what I could find. It was a great time to buy this stuff as it was at a point when no one wanted early analog gear. My first proper synthesizer was the Arp-2600. This was a completely life changing moment for me. I was completely blown away by the semi modular format of the synth. You could also use it to process other sounds via filtering, ring modulation, and spring reverb. I still to this day have and still use the 2600 for my day-to-day projects. It taught me the basic fundamentals of building and shaping a sound from pure synthesis.
I♥SYNTHS: How do you go about recording your hardware?
Richard Devine: I run all my synths/drum machines/modulars into a Yamaha DM2000VCM digital mixing console. It has 56 physical inputs, all running at 24/96khz so it in a way works like a large mixing digital matrix. I have the flexibility to route any channel anywhere I want, and play around with some of my favorite outboard effects units like the Eventide H8000FW, and Lexicon PCM96. Then I have two ADAT optical light pipe cards running 16 channels each digitally to two different sound cards, the RME UFX, and Universal Audio Apollo Quad. I like to switch back and forth between the two for different recording sessions. Everything gets recorded into the computer using either Logic or Nuendo at the end of the day.
I♥SYNTHS: What is your go-to synthesizer when writing music? Is there one synth that defines the Richard Devine sound?
Richard Devine: My go synth would have to be the Nord G2 modular. This is hands down one of my favorite synthesizers. The concept is that its a virtual modular software environment where you can create basically anything you want. You then can assign multiple pages and knobs over the the synthesizer for all your patches. So ahead of its time, and I wish Clavia would bring it back.
I♥SYNTHS: You have a pretty massive collection. Have you ever sold anything and then repurchased it because you missed it?
Richard Devine: Yes, this has happened many times actually, I just recently bought a Roland Jupiter-6 back that I use to own. I bought back the Roland TR-808 drum machine a few years ago, and many other classic machines.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you have a vintage synth you’re still searching for?
Richard Devine: I am still on a hunt to get back the EMS Synthi. It’s another one of my favorites from back in the day. I used the Synth AKS on the first three records I did. I miss that thing, I sold it to buy the Kyma system. The Kyma is great but its no Synthi.
I♥SYNTHS: What happens when you run out of space? Will you move into a bigger space?
Richard Devine: Well, I built a new studio at the beginning of January 2012 which is basically two rooms, one large mix down room and another guest room connected to it. There isn’t any equipment setup in the guest room now but who knows, I might turn it into a modular room of fun at some point.
I♥SYNTHS: Now that you are building modulars, do you use less of the your other keyboard synths or is that more for getting lost in sound design? Do you find it as an obsession?
Richard Devine: I find it to be a bit of both. It can be really inspiring to work on a modular as you have no presets or way of recalling the sounds, exactly the same way, every time. It’s all about doing what you can do in that particular moment in time. Once you pull the patch cables, everything is gone and the ghostly floating electrical voltage of sound disappears forever. I love that. You can’t hold on to anything and over analyze things, like you do with composing on the computer. I like that it’s an entirely different experience then playing on keyboard synths or drum machines. You are basically hunting around for something unexpected and interesting. I am often trying to find something I haven’t heard before with the modulars. It’s interesting that no two systems will ever be the same. Everybody will build their system to fit their needs. I have felt that the modular is an amazing platform for creating new sounds effects. It’s also insanely fun to use, which is why it’s so addictive. It definitely has turned into a bit of a obsession lately and has been for the last 6 years.
I♥SYNTHS: Are you ever overwhelmed by your collection?
Richard Devine: I’ve actually sold and got rid of a lot a gear when I built up the new studio. I just held onto the key pieces of kit that I like to use on projects and for my own work. I think I got rid of like, 20 keyboards or something. I wanted to really clean up my work space and go for a more minimal open feel. I realized over the years that I work much better with less. I like to see what I can get using just a few minimal pieces of kit rather then trying to use everything at once. I found that I write the best things using almost nothing these days.
I♥SYNTHS: Speaking of sound design, I know you’ve actually built patches for some major synthesizer companies. What synths have you worked on and do you have a favorite?
Richard Devine: Lets see, I have worked on a bunch so I will just list a few of my favorites. Alesis SR-18, Alesis Fusion, Access Virus TI/T2, Akai MPC-5000 (internal synthesizer patches), Arturia Origin, Dave Smith Tempest, and Prophet 12 keyboards. The Korg Legacy Collection, Radius and Korg Oasis keyboard. Clavia Nord Modular G2, and NL4. Elektron Music Machines, Analog 4, and Octatrack. Hartmann Neuron synthesizer (rip), Moog Little Phatty, Sub Phatty, and Animoog. The Roland Gaia, and Vsynth/GT. Out of the bunch I would say the Nord G2 and the new Nord Lead 4 are my two favorites. The Nord Lead 4 is an amazing keyboard. I just finished my artist sound bank for them.
You can download it for free from the Clavia site here:
Listen to the demo using only sounds from my NL4 bank:
I♥SYNTHS: What is your weirdest sounding instrument? Have you used it on any recordings?
Richard Devine: I’m not sure I would classify this as instruments but a sound maker. I would have to say the weirdest sounds I have gotten have been from nature. I go out and do a lot of field recording for different design projects. I am always fascinated and surprised by the sounds I find in the most common places. I do a lot of under water recording using my hydrophones and I like recording various animals, from birds and bats to aquatic life and insects. Here are a few recordings from my personal collection featured on sound cloud:
Hydrophone Recording of Burning Embers Underwater:
Multichannel field recording of 12,000 bees at Buckeye Creek Farm:
Hydrophone Recordings of Dolphins, Shrimp Feeding, and Hypostomus Plecostomus Fish:
Eerie Recording of Tornado Sirens:
The Sound of Data Transmissions-Electromagnetic Fields:
I♥SYNTHS: Are there any circuit bent instruments you like to work with?
Richard Devine: Yes, I have a few speak n spells that Ivo from “Glitch Machines” circuit bent for me. He also did a wicked bend on a Casio SK-5 keyboard with joystick controls, called the “Logic Bomb”. One of my favorite circuit bent machines is the “Glitch Desk” by “Highly Liquid”. It’s basically a 50-patch point sequencer that uses banana cables. You are sequencing each stage in real-time and also bending the circuits at the same time. It also has MIDI capabilities so you can clock and sequence to your computer, really helpful.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s next for Richard Devine? Any new songs, albums or projects you’d like to share?
Richard Devine: I am working on a all-new modular album for 2014. I have already recorded over 90 tracks so far. I just need to compile them into something that will be ready for a release. I am just now finishing up a remix for Douglas J. McCarthy of Nitzer Ebb and Cyrus Rex’s new project called “DJM REX” of this track called “Retreat”, and another remix to be released by BossFYTE from Canada in 2014.
My last album “RISP” was released on “Detroit Underground” records and was my first chapter recording using the new modular systems.
Here is a preview to the title track “Plonked Spectral” of the album, visuals by Dmas3:
Here is a link to the entire track on Soundcloud
Shortly after that, I released my first all modular recordings using the MakeNoise modular shared system for MakeNoise Records.
I released an extended version of one of the pieces on Soundcloud here:
Here are two other remixes I recently released there:
Remix for Annie Hall’s Random Paraphilia EP
Transform Trailer for Twisted Tools:
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