RJD2 likes to build sounds.
The musician has been making tunes for more than a decade: First as a DJ, then as a hip-hop producer, then as a solo artist (the Mad Men theme song is his "A Beautiful Mine"). Now, as part of the duo Icebird, he's taken his gearhead obsession — building his own modular synthesizers to make his music — further than ever.
What else would you expect from a guy named after a Star Wars droid?
LISTEN: 'Charmed Life' by Icebird
He had to do a lot of building and experimenting for Icebird, the group he formed with singer-songwriter Aaron Livingston (above left, with RJD2). For the duo's new album, The Abandoned Lullaby, out Tuesday, the musical modder estimates 90 percent of the sounds come from either vintage synthesizers he restored or instruments played through modular synth gadgets he built from DIY kits.
It wasn't an easy process. Once RJD2 was done building his synth, he spent hours playing different instruments through the system and recording the sounds in Pro Tools. It's a constant trial-and-error process; RJD2 estimates he only ends up using 10 to 20 percent of what he records.
"That's where the fun comes in, when you get to processing things that are acoustic and electromechanical instruments," RJD2 said. "Running drums, or guitar, or piano through these things. It's also fun when you're using a synthesizer to generate the sound and manipulate it."
To learn more about how he made those sounds, Wired.com asked RJD2 for a photo tour of his process for building the modular synthesizers he uses in his Philadelphia home studio. You can see those pictures in the gallery above. To hear the final result, check out the song "Charmed Life" in the player above and then download the track here (free MP3, right-click and “Save As”).