Moog Mother-32

Håkon Robbestad Gylterud

April 2019

While I was in Stockholm giving a talk before Easter, I bought my first analogue synthesiser: a Moog Mother-32.

Moog Mother-32 [higher-res]
Moog Mother-32 [higher-res]

Until recently I thought I would save up a bit (eh, a lot) more money and buy a fully modular synth, but then just before going to Stockholm I decided to bet on a semi-modular instead. Thus, I wanted to write down my initial conclusions about that decision after playing with thing for a few days.

What is it?

The Mother-32 is a semi-modular analogue syntesiser. “A what?”, you say. Well, in short (skip this if you know, or do not care, how a synthesiser works):

Does it sound good?

Yes! The sound is really above expectations. While it might look like a cute little machine it produces really powerful sounds. Especially is has some beautiful bass sounds easily available by just playing with the knobs. And you find easily recognisable transitions, such as slowly opening the filter, by fiddling the knobs.

Ofcourse it matters what kind of speakers or head-set you connect it to. The first time I connected it to my stereo I was awestruck by the awesomeness. Also, if your stereo has an equaliser or even just a low-pass filter (labeled “bass” in many cases), it can be used as an extension of the instrument.

A straight forward patch sounds can reasonable on all eight octaves, but I find that most complicated configurations have a range about three to five octaves where they sound pleasant. If you go outside that range some of the musicality is lost.

Is it fun?

My biggest fear before buying the Mother-32 was that it would be no fun. Before this I have been playing with software modular synth, and usually my patches begin with putting up three different VCOs with a quantiser each and start feeding them signals from an array of at least four LFOs. So I was afraid that I would just not be able to produce anything interesting on this single VCO single LFO thingie.

However, the Mother proved my fears unfounded, I have been having a blast playing it so far. The limitations are definitely there , but there are both less and more possibilities than I imagined. And the result is that I am having a lot of fun exploring the space of sounds on the Mother.

First of all, there are actually four sound sources: the VCO, the noise generator, the LFO and the self-resonating filter. But there is this interesting trade-off between using more sound sources and constraining the choices you have. For instance, to play the filter you regulate frequency through the cut-off – but this constrains your ability to modulate the filter for other purposes. Similarily, if you use the LFO as a sound source, you have limited ability to use it to modulate the VCO.

Secondly, I find that there is a lot of fun to be had on each patch. For each patch, there are many ways to play it. You can play on the keyboard, or fire up a simple sequence, or try to generate something. What I tend to do is to let the sequence contain only beat info, and improvise melodies on top of the beat. Then I find some cool transitions and put together piece from that.

Some fun things I have tried with the patching, thus far:

How modular is it?

So, from my perspective of wanting to get into hardware modular synths, where is the Mother-32? Is it a true modular or is it just a synth? I will say it is 40–60. Fourty percent of modular and sixty percent of a synth. However, to expand it I am definitely getting it some modular friends.

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