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Moog Unveils a Unique New Analog Synth, the Subharmonicon

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The Moog Subharmonicon blends synthesis, sequencing, and polyrhythmic pattern generation.

The Subharmonicon is a new semi-modular polyrhythmic analog synthesizer from Moog Music. It employs a six-tone sound engine and a multilayered clock generator to explore the world of subharmonics, polyrhythms, and the unique relationships they create. Moog describes the Subharmonicon as “a versatile analog labyrinth of subharmonically derived synthesis and polyrhythmic sound, equally suited for losing oneself and simultaneously finding oneself.”

The newest addition to Moog’s family of semi-modular analog synthesizers (MatriarchGrandmotherMother-32, and DFAM), the Subharmonicon is capable of complex sounds and patterns, yet it’s simple to use. Its characteristic sound starts with two analog VCOs and four subharmonic oscillators for a total of six sound sources. Each subharmonic tone is mathematically derived from one of the two main VCOs. That gives the resulting chord shapes a beautifully coherent quality. Onboard quantization lets you dial in perfect intervals every time with selections for multiple tuning systems. Choose from contemporary equal-temperament settings, the “heavenly” intervals of just intonation, or the unlimited freedom of no quantization at all.

Complex Pattern Generation

The Subharmonicon animates its distinctive chord shapes through a polyrhythmic pair of four-step sequencers. Any or all of four rhythm generators produce mathematical divisions of the master tempo to clock each sequencer. You can layer multiple rhythm generators on top of each other to create complex polyrhythms. Delve into the Subharmonicon’s dual envelope generators, the Moog ladder filter, and an analog VCA to call up dynamic articulations ranging from lush pads and blurred edges to percussive plosives and ritualistic rhythms.

Although no patching is required to start creating, exploring the Subharmonicon’s modular patch bay unlocks worlds of possibilities. You can patch the 32-point 3.5mm patch bay into itself, expanding the Subharmonicon’s onboard capabilities, or interface it with the Mother-32, DFAM, and other external Eurorack-compatible gear. (A MIDI Type A adapter is included for DIN-to-3.5mm MIDI input). Use the Subharmonicon as a standalone synth with the included +12V DC power supply, or simply remove the front panel to install it into any Eurorack system.

The Past Inspires the Future

To design the Subharmonicon, Moog Music’s engineers drew inspiration from radical theories on music composition that arose in experimental circles during the 1930s and 1940s. The Subharmonicon was inspired by Joseph Schillinger’s mathematical systems for musical composition and is influenced by two analog innovations from the 1930s and 1940s, the Mixtur-Trautonium and the Rhythmicon. The Mixtur-Trautonium employed a series of subharmonic oscillators to generate electronic undertones. The Rhythmicon (developed by Leon Theremin, inventor of the Theremin) was an instrument capable of sounding multiple harmonically related polyrhythm generators simultaneously.

“A long time ago, when I was in college and first met Bob [Moog], the Rhythmicon came up a couple of times,” recalls Steve Dunnington, Senior Hardware Lead at Moog Music. “One of his other students was into Schillinger…and I’ve always been fascinated by patterns that repeat differently each time…and that’s a thing you can explore [with the Subharmonicon]. This instrument was inspired by some of the ideas and musical concepts of Schillinger, such as the idea that by taking a set of pitches and superimposing them on a set of rhythms with a different length will generate rotating musical motives.”

Under Dunnington’s direction, a small group of synth enthusiasts had the chance to discover the Subharmonicon’s unique sounds and concepts in 2018 when an early version of the instrument was first introduced as part of that year’s Moogfest Engineering Workshop.

Music as Living Matter

Moog Music presents “Music as Living Matter,” a short film conceptualized to explore and examine conventional ideas of music, sound, and expression. Electronic music pioneer Suzanne Ciani and multidisciplinary visual artist Scott Kiernan invite you to reimagine these ideas through a delicate balance of mystery and order in this experimental piece composed entirely using the Subharmonicon and analog video synthesis techniques.

The film’s visuals and narration offer a deeper understanding of the instrument, drawing inspiration from the language and illustrations found in Bob Moog’s old copy of Joseph Schillinger’s book, The Mathematical Basis of the Arts. Engage your imagination as the rhythmic ping-ponging of Ciani’s score meets Kiernan’s depiction of the evolving shapes, forms, and textures Subharmonicon’s sound creates.

You can download a PDF to accompany the “Music as Living Matter” video here. For more details about the Subharmonicon, visit moogmusic.com.

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