Recreating a Moog Modular setup in software

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Like the Minimoog that followed it, Moog’s mighty Moog Modular synthesiser created the template for every instrument of its kind to follow. Before Moog, electronic musicians were forced to make do with surplus lab equipment, which was difficult to use for tonal, pitch-based compositions. A few intrepid composers kludged together rudimentary keyboard controllers, but most created musical passages by cutting and splicing together bits of tape containing individual pitches.

The once and future king of synths, the Moog Modular looks as big as it sounds

The once and future king of synths, the Moog Modular looks as big as it sounds

Moog changed all of that when he introduced his first voltage-controlled modules at the AES convention in October 1964. Notably, he introduced the 1V/Octave standard, an elegant means by which pitch could be transposed. Not coincidentally, the musically-inclined Moog would offer an organ style keyboard for his modular systems, providing musicians with a familiar touchstone with which to control this strange new instrument.

Along with his voltage controlled oscillators, Moog’s made-to-order systems made use of now-familiar ADSR envelope generators, voltage controlled amplifiers, and that superlative four-pole filter. Eventual additions included a ribbon controller, fixed filter bank, frequency shifter and the brilliant 960 sequencer, so beloved by pioneering German electronic bands of the 1970s.

Moog’s system was not for the faint of heart. There were no presets and no instruction manual. It made no sound until the signal was routed via patch cables, and even then, it didn’t stay in tune. Nevertheless, it was embraced by academics and studio musicians and even a few rock and rollers who helped to expose electronic music to a public hungry for something new.

Today, in answer to the current full-blown modular renaissance, Moog is once again building modular systems, albeit in limited quantities and at collector prices.

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Though many modular synthesiser systems have been influenced by Moog’s designs, few follow them to the letter. For example, most modern modular systems eschew Moog’s two-part oscillator arrangement, which uses a driver to control the oscillators themselves. We’re going to take a look at how this works using one of the few software modulars to stay true to Moog’s designs,

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We’re going to start with a blank slate. We’ll choose the Blank_synth preset from among the various templates in the browser. As you can see, the system has now been swept clear of patch cables. There are a few default connections behind the scenes, as denoted by the red-encircled plugs stuck in the inputs of a couple of the Envelope modules. This

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No other signals are being routed, so there’s no sound. Click and drag on either side of the interface to scroll up and down the cabinet to see what’s on offer. Find the Oscillator modules in the lower-left. Below them, you’ll see the mixer. Click/drag on the first Oscillator’s pulse wave jack to drag a cable from there to the left-most Mixer input.

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Next, drag a cable from the second Oscillator’s sawtooth output to the second mixer input and click the red button between them. These oscillators are being controlled by the Driver module to their left. There’s one Driver for every three Oscillator modules. Let’s now drag a cable from the first mixer output over to the VCA In of the leftmost Envelope/VCA module in the same cabinet row.

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You should now be able to hear both Oscillators playing through the VCA. The VCA is being shaped by the ADSR Envelope that resides in the same module (note that not all of the Envelope modules have VCAs). Try increasing the Attack and Release knob values so that the sound fades in and out again. Note that, unlike some ADSRs, the Sustain knob is at the bottom of these modules.

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Finally, let’s look to the Driver module controlling our two oscillators. As you can see, there’s a large Frequency knob. Play and hold a note while giving it a twirl. You’ll hear the change in pitch is followed by both oscillators. If you want to change the pitch of a single oscillator, you can do so using that Oscillator’s Frequency knob.