Kebu is a composer and keyboardist, who creates melodic synthesizer music, common to the sounds that were popular in the 70’s and 80’s. He’s attracted a lot of appraisal for his captivating live performances and over one million views on his YouTube channel. Playing in numerous bands through the years, touring and recording awesome studio videos, he’s had some time to acquire a pretty nice collection of synthesizers.

I♥SYNTHS: Tell us about Kebu. What does the name mean and what got you into synthesizers and electronic music?

Kebu: It was my nickname that I got at the university. One typical nickname for someone named Sebastian here is “Sebu”, but that was already taken so I became “Kebu”. My dad had cassette’s that he had taped from the radio with all kinds of music, among that Mike Oldfield, Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Abba and even Boney M and I grew up listening to those cassettes. One of the first technical things I learned as a kid was, how to operate our home cassette deck. So that’s where my interest in electronic music started. I was also very fascinated by electronic keyboards early on, but my parents were advised to get the kid a real piano to learn on.



I♥SYNTHS: Where you classically trained on piano first?

Kebu: Yes, I started playing piano when I was 6-7 years old with lessons once a week for a few years, but my piano teacher could only teach me the basics. The next step would have been to go to the closest town and study classical piano, but I was living in a small village far away and my parents couldn’t afford to drive me once a week to the town. So eventually I lost interest in playing piano, but picked it up again when I was in high school and got interested in synthesizers. Since then I have been playing keyboards in probably almost twenty different hobby bands.



I♥SYNTHS: What was your first synthesizer?

Kebu: A new Kawai K1 II, which I hated because it didn’t have a decent piano sound and the black keys were harder to press than the white keys. I probably would appreciate it now for what it is, but back then I would have needed a PCM-based workstation, like a Korg M1 that I lusted for, but couldn’t afford back then. Soon after, I found a used Roland SC-155 (Sound Canvas module), which I really liked but realized that I really need the patch storage capability for live use, which the SC-155 lacked. I then realized that synths are VERY different from each other. Not in terms of nuances, like with different types of guitars, but more like apples and oranges. I also realized that by learning and trading on the second hand market I could try many different synths without loosing too much money. So the Kaway K1 was the first and only new synth I ever bought. After that, I’ve had over one hundred different hardware synths.



I♥SYNTHS: Who is your biggest inspiration for what you do? And, are you into any current artists?

Kebu: My biggest inspiration is hard to pick. Still, Jean Michel Jarre is probably my largest influence on what I’ve done as Kebu up to know, although I listen to a lot of different music, from qawwali to bluegrass. Lately, I’ve listened a lot to current trance music, as I think that is what melodic synthesizer music of the 80′s evolved into. Especially Arty and Mat Zo are current artists are making some very good music.



I♥SYNTHS: Is KEBU full-time now or do you still work a day job?

Kebu: I always respond to that question that I have a full-time job as a researcher and in addition a half-time job as Kebu. Although I say it as a joke, it is true. So I’m kind of in the middle of a struggle right now, because I would need more time for evolving my music, but I couldn’t make a living on my music yet.

I♥SYNTHS: What is your favorite piece of gear?

Kebu: My favorite piece of gear is probably my Korg Mono/Poly. It is such a great sounding synth and surprisingly flexible!



I♥SYNTHS: Do you use any newer gear or do you like to stick with the vintage stuff?

Kebu: With my “To Jupiter and Back” album, I wanted to restrict myself to using only analog synths, which is something I still do. Most of these were from the eighties, with the oldest from 1975 (I think) and the newest just a few years old (Vermona DRM1 Mk III). You get a different character from new analog synths in comparison with old ones – both equally valuable in a mix. But for me, the most important thing comes from the fact that I work with real hardware. The fast hands-on approach get me creative, but also its limitations does so. Instead of infinite possibilities it gives me a strict palette and canvas to work with, which I find inspires me a lot. Originally I thought about taking my recording approach to the edge with a strict AAAA approach – recording analog synths to multitrack tape and mixing it with an analog mixer and analog effects to 2-track tape. Eventually I noticed that I couldn’t get the spacious sound I sought after using only the two spring reverbs and a tape delay that I had. I knew I didn’t have the space or money for getting a real plate reverb and good quality 2-track tape machine, so I went halfway, using my multitrack tape machine and analog mixer, but digital reverb/delays and a digital master. Live I use a relatively modern digital sequencer (Yamaha RS-7000) and a digital Behringer mixer (DDX-3216) for being able to switch settings fast between songs.



I♥SYNTHS: Are you still actively buying synths? Any piece out there you’re still in search for?

Kebu: I am actually very satisfied with the setup I have right now. I just found myself a mint Alesis Andromeda, which has so much potential that I think I could spend the next few years just programming that. But I really need a new live mixer, because I use all channels available in the DDX and still I need more, and the built-in effects are quite bad.



I♥SYNTHS: How do you go about recording your YouTube videos?

Kebu: When I started out I made mostly videos of me performing a tune with one synth only, so it was basically a camcorder on a stand and then performing the tune over and over from different angles and then edit it into a video. Later on I started filming my live shows, so then it turned into using as many cameras as possible from different angles and then it is mostly a matter of choosing the best angles. In order to get some movement I digitally pan and zoom the takes, but you loose a lot of quality when you do that, so I try to get someone to shoot the concerts with a handheld camera as well.



I♥SYNTHS: For your live shows, do you have a lot of rehearsal time or do you tend to wing it?

Kebu: There is quite a lot of preparation work, but most of that work goes into the technical side, like sequencer arrangements and mixer settings/automation. Once that is done the songs take some practicing, but there are usually more technical challenges than I expect, which eats time away from the practicing. Also, the tunes are very tricky to perform live. They sound so simple – simple melody lines and technically not that difficult. But because they are so simple, anyone can hear when I make a mistake. Also, most of the old analog synths have quite bad keyboards. Each key triggers the sound at slightly different height and sometimes they mistrigger. In the beginning, I used the Arp Odyssey live, but it has such a lousy keyboard that it made me sound like a much worse keyboard player than I am, so nowadays I play those parts with other synths.



photo by: Tapani Rintala


I♥SYNTHS: Do you remember your first show? How have you evolved since then?

Kebu: The first time I played keyboards in front of a large audience was when I was 7 or 8. Then I froze up on the second last note, because I was so nervous that I tried to read the score exactly, while I normally played by heart. Nowadays I’m more afraid that my synths will freeze up. My first show as Kebu was in 2012, but I’ve played over a hundred gigs before that with other bands, so I’m very comfortable on stage nowadays. But it is a very different thing to play a solo gig than as a band member. Still, I was very happily surprised when I started doing my solo gigs that the audience responded so well to them. I was afraid they would find them boring – I’m still only one guy onstage in a cage of keyboards. But since I put quite a lot of effort into preparing the gigs – thinking about what type of audience can be expected and the type of place where I perform and making the tune selection and the order of the tunes based on that and trying to minimize idle time (that I still need for switching sounds and adjusting parameters) – it seems to pay off and make an enjoyable concert.



I♥SYNTHS: What’s next for Kebu in 2014?

Kebu: We were planning to organize a Northern Europe-wide club tour, but I’m seriously considering postponing it, because I realized that I need use all available spare time composing and recording, if I want to release an album by the end of 2014 – which I really would like to!



I♥SYNTHS: Are there any favorite concerts or live shows that have inspired you?

Kebu: A hidden gem is the Jean Michel Jarre DVD-concert called “live in your living room”. It was originally only available on the 30th anniversary Oxygen album as a bonus DVD, but I think the concert was much more interesting than the album, because on the DVD they perform the whole album live and have composed some extra music that binds the Oxygen parts together in a new way. Dominique Perrier is playing keyboards in this video, whose own band Space Art I arranged two concerts for here in Finland a year ago and had the honor to perform as warm up act for them! It was fun, but they arrived in the middle of a snow storm. I almost crashed the van we we’re travelling with and it’s engine died after the second show, but eventually we managed to perform both shows successfully and get home safe and sound.

Another concert worth mentioning, probably kind of unexpected, is the Madonna Confessions Tour DVD. It contains a very synth-heavy arrangement, with quite a lot of influences from early 70′s disco. Many of her tunes are re-arranged to suit the style and the whole concert follows both musically and visually a very coherent vision. Stuart Price was the musical producer for the DVD (check out his all-white customized synths), who was also producer for her Confessions on a dance floor album and Kylie Minogue’s Aphrodite album (also worth checking out), both albums using quite a lot of vintage synth flavours!


Kebu Official Website

Kebu on YOUTUBE

Kebu on FACEBOOK

Kebu on SOUNDCLOUD


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

synth.nl OFFICIAL BLOG

synth.nl on FACEBOOK

synth.nl on SOUNDCLOUD

synth.nl on TWITTER


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


RetroSound Official Homepage

RetroSound on YouTube

RetroSound on Facebook

RetroSound Blog

RetroSound New Album Trailer

It get’s crazy at 1:40