Tag Archives: Make Noise

Moog Mother-32, Part 2: A Reflection on Moog Music

The Mother-32 represents a new beginning for Moog.
The Mother-32 represents a new beginning for Moog.

The Mother-32 is not only the first Eurorack modular instrument for Moog, it is also something much greater, the first instrument that Moog released to a wider market as an employee owned company.  I actually spent the day not only reviewing the Moog Mother-32, but also speaking with the people who had a hand in creating and marketing the instrument.

Moog is a unique company because it remains how Bob Moog originally envisioned, the entire company, from design, production, repair, distribution, and marketing,  remains on site in Asheville. When he established Big Briar, which later reclaimed the Moog moniker, he did something that was counter-intuitive in the age of outsourcing. He kept production in the US when he rebuilt the company, and that is where it has remained since his death.

This is the Moog Mother being made in Asheville, NC.
This is the Moog Mother-32 being made in Asheville, NC.

Between Moog’s death, until recently, Moog was almost entirely in the hands of one his partners when he re-established the company. At some point, I think it was realized the best way to really keep  Moog’s legacy, was not as part of some large conglomerate which could put the company at risk once again, but in the hands of the employees.

In some ways this is conscious of the history of Moog Music itself. Moog was a company that Robert Moog lost at one point, only for the moniker to won back later in his life. The fact that the company is still growing even after his death is a testament to the path he left the company on. The the company he re-established really is on a solid foundation.

I normally do not get to talk about economics and business with regards to synthesizers. Moog is a growing company precisely because while it is steeped in its past and Moog’s circuits and his legacy, it also has its foot forward into the present. In this respect, the Mother-32 really is the perfect representation of this. The technology and manufacturing techniques used, basically a digitally controlled sequencer and a surface mount technology PCB board, are very much a part of modern manufacturing and instrument technology. The voice though, is taken directly from Moog’s legacy in all analog signal paths, and his filter design, the modular nature of the instrument itself uses the very same principles of the larger Moog modular instruments.  While the current larger Moog Modular systems are historically accurate instruments down to the hand drawn PCB boards, the Mother-32 is much more reflective of the direction Moog was taking the company before his death. The recognition that while one looks to the past, creating analog instruments can also be about the present manufacturing techniques as well. The minimoog voyager for example was at its core an acknowledgement of the importance of change and evolution.

I had about a nice discussion/interview with two of the three engineers who designed the Mother-32,  Steve Dunnington and Amos Gaynes. The information they provided did help me write the review. The other thing I found is both were enthusiastic about designing synthesizers, and were looking beyond Moog for inspiration in terms of the design from the interface to the functionality of the sequencer. This was while keeping an eye on the aesthetics, feel, and sound of Moog instruments.

But the truth is I found out how the people in the company whether it was Emmy, Jim, and others who worked for Moog, also had a hand in these decisions. The beauty of it is how the people at Moog have input into the instruments which were being created, but also in production. This is a company that was put into a single place to run as a collaborative effort, and it works. I appreciated the invitation into the chocolate factory to do the review. The real legacy of Moog came out not just in its instruments, but in the people who work there, but also how things are done.This was all very hard to appreciate until I encountered it first hand, there is something special there. Essentially, it did create a model that other American synthesizer manufacturers have since followed. People often forget that many of the Eurorack modular manufacturers from Make Noise to Pittsburgh Modular, use a very similar model in terms of doing business. In the case of Make Noise Music this is for very good reason, it was founded by a former Moog employee. I have a very hard time seeing the success of modern modular systems without the involvement of Make Noise Music. While Make Noise makes very different synthesizers than Moog, drawing more inspiration from Buchla and Serge, it is obvious that something did carry over into their efforts, and they have grown as well.

There is much to be said about the problems in the American music and manufacturing industry that are negative, but the revival of the analog and modular synthesizer in many ways has been a bright spot. This is in some ways because of the way things are in fact different at Moog and how this has served as a model. The fact the company is transitioning to one that is employee run can improve on this even further. The symbolic nature of the Mother-32 is pretty important in this respect, since it was an instrument that evolved out of the collaborative nature of the people at Moog.  As much as the company is named after a sole inventor, a significant amount of music technology comes from collaborative efforts, and the Mother-32 was no exception.

Another bright spot is Moog Music does make an effort to highlight both the women who are theremin virtuoso and the importance of Wendy Carlos contribution with regards to the popularity of the synthesizer during the tour. It was something that made me elated to hear.

I am likely to return to Asheville area in the near future, I really need to get around to visiting Make Noise Music as well, though I look forward to revisiting Moog Music.

 

The Paradox of Choice and Eurorack Modular Systems

My Eurorack system these days is looking kind of sad. I cleared out and sold many modules to fund a Serge/Ian Fritz (4U) modular synthesizer system.  They were mostly modules which were no longer fitting my specific workflow, so they rarely were used. This was not for an active dislike of Eurorack modular synthesizers, I am not religious about format as some others are outside of my preference for smaller sized systems. I appreciate being able to gig with a modular system.

My Eurorack system is not quite it used to be...
My Eurorack system is not quite it used to be…

With that being said, I have pretty complicated feelings about Eurorack these days. It was my introduction to modular synthesis, and I do like it. It is a decent format that provides a great deal of functionality in a small format.  As somebody living in a city were smaller row homes and apartments are standard living, this is appreciated. While some people have massive systems, it’s largest advantage is one of size.  It is a modular system that one can fit complete systems in very small cases.

Overtime the format exploded in popularity because of it’s relatively low price, high functionality, and portability. The thing is with it’s expanding popularity, also came a flood of new manufacturers to the format. This has left me in a bit of a conundrum. With so many boutique manufacturers producing so many modules with varying degrees of functionality, it can lead to frustration.  This frustration is not coming from  lack of options, but one of too many.

There was a book not to long ago called the Paradox of Choice, it focused on how too many options often left people confused. For the longest time I did not quite understand really if the concept held water. After all choice is wonderful in most cases, and to few if they do not match your personal preferences can be frustrating.

However, during the last few years of Eurorack I began to understand the paradox. I get it completely get it now, and it is very true.

The reality is there are so many spins on oscillators, complex oscillators, filters, low pass gates, random, vca, envelopes, LFOs, chaos, etc from an ever growing list of manufacturers, it is pretty easy to get lost in it all.

There was one point where one could keep up with the new modules, and make a determination on whether the functionality was something one wanted. That is becoming much harder right now. While there are some that try to buy as many modules as possible with a Pokemon type obsession of “catching them all”, for those of us with limited budgets, or room, this is not a wise position.

While the paradox of choice creates a conundrum for those of us who have been around for some time, it also presents confusion for those who are very new. The were to get started question has become something in which there is no easy answer with Eurorack. A complex oscillator, low pass gate, and some modulation, sure, but which ones?  In some ways this is where the smaller complete systems by Make Noise, EoWave, and Pittsburgh Modular help. With that being said, these focused systems often limit exposure to the wider universe.

For those of us who have experience there is a bit of a knee jerk reaction to stick with our favorite manufacturers, which are often well established. This is sometimes done without giving new ones a real shot. After all there is modules outside of intellijel, cwejman, and make noise, but these are the most desired manufacturers. Part of this is quality, but part of it is familiarity and the issues that arise from the paradox of choice. We seek what we know we faced with an array of choices.

As it stands my Eurorack system is neglected at the moment. I am still keeping it though, largely because things can change. The largest reason I am keeping it around is because most DIY eurorack modules just take a few hours to complete. Right now for DIY synthesizers Eurorack modules is all I personally have the bandwidth for, and I would like to refresh my soldering skills before diving into DIY serge format. There may be finally something that will break through my own conundrum of the paradox of choice and offer something very compelling in Eurorack. I have no clue what it will be at this moment though. In fact the solution may be at the end of my soldering iron after all.

The Problem With Eurorack Modular Planning and Power Supplies

Make Noise recently brought up a topic on a board that is critically important, but not often thought about when going forward with Eurorack Modular synthesizer systems. There is a popular site called Modular Grid that offers people the ability to plan out modular synthesizer systems. One of the things which the site does not do a good job of incorporating though is the power consumption for modules or cases.  The problem that has crept up for Make Noise is people returning modules when that break when they have blown past the capacity of their power supply. They may plan a very elaborate system, but not have the sufficient power for the system itself. This is not a hard issue to run into, and there are reasons for it.

I am making this a very specific post because while I like to promote modular synths, they are something that does take a little special consideration. Some modules are very power hungry and it is easy to blow past the power consumption limits of ones modular power supply. The Metasonix modules for example are famous for using vacuum tubes, which are extremely power hungry. They were such an exception that Monorocket made special cases with significantly more resources for the power supply. In addition to the tube driven modules, there are also the modules that use modern digital processors. While these are not as power hungry as Metasonix modules, they do require more power than older analog modules. Enough of these more sophisticated modules, and you begin to run into problems.

The problem for Eurorack is sourced at it’s own history. When Eurorack started with Doepfer in the 1990s through the early 2000s, many of the cases were designed for modules which had a much lower power footprint. As Eurorack has changed over the years, the power consumption for more cutting edge modules forced the necessity for higher power ceilings as a result of higher consumption.  I will be honest, the newer modules with sophisticated functions and digital modules are what brought me into modular.  The “Buchla-lite” nature of eurorack is one of it’s greatest advantages considering it’s lower price point.

While I purchased many used modules starting off, I actually bought a new case because of these issues with power consumption. Even as far back as three years ago the problems of the older cases and power supplies were creeping up. While the older cases are a great way to get started with the less expensive and lower consumption modules, when one begins to feel they will be moving on to the next level, the case is generally the first thing people should replace if one bought used. In addition when getting custom made cases, it is highly recommended that there is enough power in the power supply for modern modules. Especially when one gets into the more power hungry modules that use digital technology.  It is one thing to go off of a low power consumption set up that uses mostly analog technology, it is another to be running a true modern modular hybrid system with the mostly recently produced modules. This is where getting a case with a power supply with a great deal of power headroom is very helpful.  Plan for your future modules, but keep in mind, you may need more power than you are anticipating. Because going over the limits of your power supply can have some very real costs for your modules.