Like many sliding uncontrollably down the barrel of 2020, I’ve found it genuinely hard to stay creative.
I make lists of things to practice on guitar, buy myself music books, listen to inspiring records, and then collapse into Netflix under the weight of it all. Before Moog’s latest modular synth showed up on my doorstep, I was beginning to think I didn’t like making my own music anymore.
With its 33 knobs, 21 buttons, and two metal switches, Moog Music’s Subharmonicon—a “semi-modular analog polyrhythmic synthesizer”—is a pandora’s box of sound that’s helped restore my musical energy. In the month or so I’ve had it around my studio, it’s the best way I’ve found to break out of sad folk songs.
It might look like (and cost as much as) a serious tool for nerdy enthusiasts, but like all of Moog’s best creations, the Subharmonicon could just as easily be labeled a toy. A single turn of a knob can lead to new sounds that excite the mind, even in the midst of pandemic-driven writers’ block. If you’re a musical person that’s flailing in the current darkness, it offers focus, unique rhythms, and the kind of stress release that only comes from playing a screeching analog synth.
The Subharmonicon is part of Moog Music’s Mother line of semi-modular synths. The family includes the Mother 32, the Drummer From Another Mother, the Grandmother, and the Matriarch. But this Mother entry didn’t get a Mom-themed name because it’s a mashup of two legendary synthesizers.
The Subharmonicon takes the rhythm-fueled awesomeness of the Rhythmicon, an machine from the 1930s famous for its use dicing up the piano on this Radiohead song, and combines it with the subharmonic richness of the Trautonium, the eerie synth responsible for the evil squawks in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. By mashing up these two approaches to sound manipulation, Moog has created a musical instrument that’s capable of recreating driving, mysterious synth sounds like you’d hear on the Stranger Things soundtrack, or gnarly looping sound effects like you’d hear from Nine Inch Nails—all depending on where the knobs and switches are pointed.