Introducing Moog’s Subharmonicon Polyrhythmic Synthesizer

New from Moog Music is Subharmonicon, a semi-modular analogue polyrhythmic synthesizer designed for the exploration of sequences, spiraling through six-tone subharmonic chords and organic polyrhythms.

Available now from Moog authorised dealers worldwide, the newest addition to Moog’s family of semi-modular analogue synthesizers is capable of complex sounds and patterns, yet is designed to be simple to use.

With two VCOs, four subharmonic oscillators, two four-step sequencers, and four rhythm generators, this new musical machine is optimised to create a rich harmonic kaleidoscope.

Although no patching is required to start creating, Subharmonicon can be patched into itself, expanding its onboard capabilities, or interfaced with Mother-32, DFAM, and other external Eurorack-compatible gear for endless possibilities.

Design Inspiration

When designing Subharmonicon, Moog drew inspiration from radical theories on music composition that arose in experimental circles during the 1930s and 1940s.

Subharmonicon is inspired by Joseph Schillinger’s mathematical systems for musical composition and is influenced by two analogue innovations from the 1930s and 1940s: the Mixtur-Trautonium, which employed a series of subharmonic oscillators to generate electronic undertones, and the Rhythmicon (developed by Leon Theremin, the inventor of the Theremin), 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 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.”

Each Subharmonicon semi-modular analogue polyrhythmic synthesizer is built by the employee-owners at the Moog factory in Asheville, NC.

Subharmonicon uses mathematical ratios to tune its four subharmonic oscillators and control the timing of its four rhythm generators. Because these tuning and timing values are integer-derived, there is something uniquely coherent about how patterns and phrases created using Subharmonicon blend together musically.

As with Mother-32 and DFAM, Subharmonicon conforms to the 60HP Eurorack format; features aluminum rails, finished wood side pieces, and an extensive patchbay; and can perform as a standalone electronic instrument.

Subharmonicon’s characteristic sound starts with two analogue 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, giving the resulting chord shapes a coherent quality.

Onboard quantisation lets users dial in perfect intervals every time with selections for multiple tuning systems, choosing from contemporary equal temperament settings, the intervals of just intonation, or the unlimited freedom of no quantization at all.

Animating Subharmonicon’s distinctive chord shapes is done through a polyrhythmic pair of four-step sequencers. Each sequencer is clocked by any or all of four rhythm generators that output mathematical divisions of the master tempo.

Users can layer multiple rhythm generators on top of each other to create complex polyrhythms and discover new patterns and styles, and can delve into Subharmonicon’s dual envelope generators, Moog ladder filter and analogue 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 Subharmonicon’s modular patchbay unlocks possibilities as users make connections and plug into new ideas.

The 32-point 3.5mm patchbay can be patched into itself, expanding Subharmonicon’s onboard capabilities, or interfaced with Mother-32, DFAM, and other external Eurorack-compatible gear (MIDI Type A adapter included for DIN to 3.5mm MIDI input). It can be used as a standalone synth with included +12V DC power supply, or the front panel can be removed to install into any Eurorack system.

As a part of the launch, Moog Music presents Music As Living Matter, a short film conceptualised to explore and examine conventional ideas of music, sound, and expression.

Electronic music pioneer, Suzanne Ciani and multidisciplinary visual artist, Scott Kiernan re envision these ideas in this experimental piece composed entirely using Subharmonicon and analogue video synthesis techniques.

“What I love about this instrument is that it gives you a more organic and fluid beat pattern that is off the grid. It is intuitive and yet full of surprises. Schillinger gives us a very fundamental concept of what music is to a human being that I connect with: art is a piece of life itself that we make to reflect our experience,” says Ciani.