A couple of weeks ago I received the Moog Subharmonicon and posted a couple photos about it on my new Instagram and I got a few messages from curious people. As a gearhead myself, I could appreciate their curiosity. This Moog in particular, I think, has inspired a lot of curiosity. It stands out. So I spent a solid week hammering away at the Subharmonicon and I thought I’d share what my experience was like. I ended up with two tracks at the end of the week, and I’ve shared those too (for better or worse) as more of a personal showcase of the Moog Subharmonicon than anything else, and after just a week with it.

This is not my first Moog, but I was particularly intrigued by the Subharmonicon since its announcement. Conceptually, it’s uniquely inspired. And after tinkering with it for a couple hours upon its arrival, my immediate impressions were: fascinated and spellbound. I would disappear into the experience in all the right ways. Each time I’d reach for the manual to try and speed my discovery along and finall RTFM, I’d only get further distracted by its sounds, tones, nuances and idiosyncrasies, getting lost in the puzzles they offered a first-timer. After patching and tweaking for a couple of days, leaving the manual dog-eared and placed to the side, I eventually arrived at those wonderful first ah-hah moments. I’d rip my headphones off and say, “holy shit – now that’s cool.”

It’s an extremely capable synth and has a very thoughtful and intuitive workflow and interface. It didn’t take me long to understands its signal flow and parameters. And while its sequencers might seem a little limiting at first glance, since they’re “only” 4 steps each (2 sequencers in total), once you get the swing (literally and figuratively) of the step knobs and understand how they play off each other, combined with the nearly infinite range of rhythms that result and how those rhythms influence the oscillators, well, that’s where I found those first magical ah-ha moments.

From there I dove deeper into its quantize functionalities, which is more of a tonal quantization than a time-based one. Simply put, it’s not hard to create a chord out of each VCO and its respective subs, it’s very straight forward once you get the hang of how the frequencies quantize by either equal temperament or just intonation (Mike C at Noisegate breaks it down for you here), creating exceptionally unique tonal combinations. You’ll find yourself fussing over getting just the right notes tuned-in and sequencing properly, until … well, until you destroy them by accident. Point being: the Subharmonicon is fussy, like virtually all semi- and modular synths. As long as it can take to really dial something, to craft and craft until you’ve got just the right sound, it can take only a moment to destroy it. Sometimes I can get it back, other times I embrace the accident and continue exploring. That’s not unique to the Subharmonicon, that’s just part-and-parcel of the life we’ve chosen, but it took many attempts for me rebuild a tonally interesting polyrhythm and combination of sequences, and each time I’d learn something new, and my workflow would get faster. Once I finally had one locked-in, I did what every sane person does — I took a photo of the Subharmonicon to capture the settings and patches, lest I make the same mistake a 12th time. A sort of Save button. You know what I’m sayin. I know ya do.

Then I unboxed the DFAM, from moving box #A36, to his new younger sibling, the Subharmonicon, locked in some simple drum patterns and sounds I was happy-enough with, and started patching the two together. That’s where things got really interesting. I found a few favorite patches between the two that I won’t forget next time, but suffice it to say that whatever I started with before I introduced the DFAM became a whole lot more intricate and interesting, and in all the right ways. This experimenting went on for a couple of days, combined with continued stubborn fits and starts with the manual, which ultimately, once I did read it all, inspired more ah-hah moments which had me leaving dishes unwashed. (By the way, quick aside: if you’ve never owned a Moog, but you’ve owned, say, a Roland, know this: the manuals alone are in another league, big tip of the cap to Moog’s tech writers. I ignore the manual in spite of myself! (I am not being paid for this I swear) I digress.)

I’m currently in the process of moving, and while the Subharmonicon arrived at a good time, before we’re out of here, it also arrived at a time when I have very little by way of a studio and other gear at my fingertips, it’s all boxed up. But, those limitations and constraints only forced me to get more comfortable with it more quickly than a normally would, using it in isolation rather than connected to this-pedal and that-synt. Just me, the Subharmonicon, headphones, some patch cables, and ideally some food in the belly. The Subharmonicon really deserves this commitment of time, not because it’s difficult but because it’s so capable. The Subharmonicon reveals its magic only once you’ve earned its respect, and that takes time. In my case a week. I’m sure I have more to explore, I know I do, but this is a musical instrument, uniquely so, and by the end of thew week I was in love with it and knew exactly what I wanted to do next.

I was also unable to resist the temptation to unbox a couple of pedals, and adding them into the mix took the experience to a new creative level, one that hit me right in the feels. I used the Strymon Volante, a most excellent little box that always pairs well, and the Elektron Analog Heat. In combination, I was able to really disappear into a sonic tapestry that I think becomes evident in the two tracks that manifested, again, for better or worse. The two tracks, by the way, aren’t meant to showcase me as much as showcase what I found sonically interesting in the Subharmonicon. Hopefully you, too, at least find them sonically “interesting!”

The Moog Subharmonicon is, in my opinion only, definitely Moog’s most inspired release in a while, and that’s on the heals of the Matriarch and the One, both greatly inspired and unique synths. The Subharmonicon is, in other words, a brilliant electronic instrument and the value for the money spent is, for me, well-justified already. I can’t wait to get it patched to the Mother-32, which I know will be special, among other pieces of gear, in the months ahead. The Subharmonicon inspires a lot of creativity and directions. That might seem overwhelming to first-timers, but it’s learning how to get what you want out of it that makes arriving at the destination that much more rewarding.

On the two tracks, By Hook or Crook and Flutter: all musical elements are from the Subharmonicon (aside for the quiet little pad thing in Flutter), some with and some without fx. I had an Arturia Keystep handy and used it only for CV clock routing with a Retrokits RK-005, and the only MIDI used was for the pad thing in Flutter and for programming drums.

Gear used in By Hook or Crook:
* Moog Subharmonicon
* Moog DFAM
* UA Apollo Twin
* Strymon Volante
* Elektron Analog Heat
* Ableton Live
* UA Luna (w/ Minimoog instrument)
* 909 samples (hats and clap)

Gear used in Flutter:
* Moog Subharmonicon
* Moog DFAM
* UA Apollo Twin
* Strymon Volante
* Elektron Analog Heat
* EHX Superego+
* Ableton Live
* Arturia Analog Lab (pad thing, used MIDI/Keystep)
* UA Luna
* 808 samples (hats)

Hear both tracks here…

 

Hope this proved useful to someone! Thanks for reading.

 

– Ben E