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.
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.
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.
RetroSound is the German-based musician and vintage synthesizer geek, Marko Ettlich. He is a publisher of a popular vintage synthesizer channel on YouTube and an author for different music magazines.
I♥SYNTHS: What kind of music do you listen to?
RetroSound: I am a child of the 80s and I love the music from Depeche Mode, The Human League, Talk Talk, Propaganda, The Fixx and other bands from this time. But, I also like electronic music with guitars like the french band, Phoenix.
I♥SYNTHS: Who is your favorite synthesizer player and what is your favorite synthesizer company?
RetroSound: Vangelis has a big influence of my musical work since I know what synthesizers were used. I heard the futuristic tunes in the late 70s and I was completely blown away. I have a lot of vintage Roland synthesizers so, those are probably my favorite.
I♥SYNTHS: What is your favorite synthesizer that you can’t live without?
RetroSound: My absolute favorite synthesizer ever is the Oberheim OB-X (not the later OB-Xa). The raw sound and the power is pure sex. It’s really the best!
I♥SYNTHS: Do you use any computer-based soft synthesizers and how would you compare them to the real thing?
RetroSound: I use only hardware stuff. Software synths are not part of my world.
I♥SYNTHS: When did you start collecting synthesizers and do you normally buy them on eBay or from other musicians/collectors?
RetroSound: I started collecting in the mid 90s. Some synths are from eBay or local markets and some are from other musicians.
I♥SYNTHS: You’re videos are fantastic and you seem to have a large following. What made you decide to start this project?
RetroSound: Thank you! I started the vintage synthesizer demo project back in January 2007. Good demo videos were very rare at the beginning of YouTube and I wanted to share the fantastic sound possibilities of the older hardware in a time full of software synths.
I♥SYNTHS: What do you think is your rarest synthesizer?
RetroSound: The PPG wave 2.2 with the Waveterm A . Only 500 were made by Wolfgang Palm
I♥SYNTHS: What are your thoughts on new synthesizers that have come out recently? Are there any you have your eye on or do you prefer to stick with the vintage stuff?
RetroSound: I miss a lot on new synths. I’ve compared new MOOGs with the old ones but, the sound is not the same. I miss the raw, dirty sounds and the colours. Most of today’s synth sounds are very clean and boring to me after a few days.
I♥SYNTHS: Would you like to share a new song or video with us today?
RetroSound: Check out some of my newer songs on my SoundCloud page: Retro Sound on Soundcloud