Mini Moog Model D

stage hog

The name MOOG stood for many as a synonym for synthesizer par excellence. It was probably the first big name among the synthesizers. This is the Minimoog Model D, which, in contrast to the large modular systems, was designed as a stage synthesizer and spread quickly. The sound has the highest recognition value.


MOOG had not attracted me that much before, but after a few hours with this little monster, it has changed. The Minimoog D offers 3 three Oscillators, but only two simple Envelopes, no S/H and no Ring Modulation - actually, it is not very versatile and does not offer any complex circuits - it follows a different principle.

The combination of the very rich sounding VCOs with the (rightly) famous Filter is extremely musical. By its warmth (adding even harmonics) the Mini is also quite "dirty", which can lead to wonderful sounds. Its orientation is rather to be seen in the interplay of the three VCO's - also Tunings and Filter progressions. Wonderful sounds are generated by Frequency Modulation when Osc3 is modulating the Frequency for Osc1 and the Mod Wheel is open.

Sounds reminding of screaming electric guitars are stimulated by the parameter "Amount Of Contour" - due to the behavior of the filter, Amount also acts as a kind of drive control. By feeding the signal back into the audio input, distorted sounds can be made even more extreme. Really dirty!


This synthesizer exerts a strict magic and it is hard to escape this magic. A powerful synth for every kind of melody, but also for more abstract sounds. Abstraction is achieved mainly by detuning the 3 VCO's, by Filter progressions and the use of the Modulation Wheel. Filter-Emphasis (Resonance) and Contour-Amount are crucial parameters that ideally complement the sound of these VCO's.

The MiniMoog Model D, especially the "old" Oscillator (like in my model), is the only synthesizer I know, that sounds like a big - very big - synthesizer. It's not quite "Mini" either. And it has a considerable weight. It is, without question, one of the most beautiful synths ever built and the fold-up control panel is unsurpassed to this day.

The Minimoog Model D is a "conglomerate", also in its construction: everything has to do with everything! Just tuning the Oscillators (6 trimmers, which are tuned to one another) is a nightmare and symbol of this instrument, as far as technology is concerned. The interior is deterrent (crowded) and beautiful at the same time. It compensates for the lack of modulation possibilities (e.g., RM) by its "richness" in the sound.

It has a very clear character and thus also an extremely high recognition value! For some it was a problem. Joseph Zawinul is probably the best known. When we talked about our Rhodes Chroma and ARP 2600, he once told me, "When people come to the concert hall, they should be the first to recognize Joe Zawinul, and if I play a Minimoog, they first recognize the Minimoog." This could be the best short description of the Minimoog Model D. But I have to add that I have managed to make the Mini sound not Moog: with the EMS Filterbank B1-II, completely different worlds!

Although I really appreciated the instrument, I never used it in musical projects. It is too much focused on "pop music" and modifications were out of the question for me. Together with Eric van Baaren I helped (of course under his guidance) to restore the instrument so beautifully. When I received the instrument from Chicago (for a song) there was a mice nest in it! The entry was under the highest three keys and the nest under the pitchbend. The black stripe (at the top) was a Velcro band to which I attached two joysticks (with MIDI board). In order to finance the Buchla, I finally parted with the Mini.


Moog Prodigy

More sustain for pianists

The Moog Prodigy was the Moog that had not been developed by Robert Moog and yet unmistakably sounded like a Moog. Originally a "cheap synth" - I think it cost $400 - it also seemed like a gateway drug to many people. It was the first Moog I met (in the 80s) long before I bought it. Especially with the Fender Rhodes electric piano, this synth was easy to use for melodies that had more sustain than a piano could deliver - and that was musically a game changer. The Prodigy's sonic palette was also wide enough to be played as a solo instrument over a concert length and yet be variable enough. However, it was not suitable for electronic experiments.


EDP Wasp Deluxe

Electronic Dream Plant

With this, extremely rare, EDP WASP Deluxe (serial number 003) my second Synthe-Odyssey had started again. In 2003 it came along and I was thrilled to hear/play an analog synth again. The enthusiasm remained, even after I learned that the WASP is completely digital - it was one of the first digital synths. But it doesn't sound digital at all. It is a very unique and great synth. I liked it better than the little Wasp. just because of the keyboard..

The Wasp may be somewhat one-sided, but everything that can be done with it sounds good. It's famous for the filter design. Everything has character and its own charm. The direction is rather psychedelic, spacey, but it's also great for melodies. It was nothing to travel - it is astonishingly large (but lightweight), and, with under 80 instruments ever built, far too rare to expose it to such strains.

Because it didn't meet my requirements, I sold it to finance the upcoming ARP Odyssey odyssey.




MY DIGITAL SYNTHESIZERS 1986-93

By the end of the 80s I had switched to 19 inches - I didn't feel like carrying the 50kg Rhodes Chroma anymore, the ARP 2600 couldn't do on its own what I wanted to achieve, and I was just making my first computer experiences (I also had MIDI-fied the Rhodes Chroma). The Yamaha synths could do FM and were completely remote controlled via SysEx data.

Since 1986 I had a mobile computer setup, first with a "Commodore 64" and Dr. T's "Algorithmic Composer" software (with Rhodes Chroma and Casio CZ101), followed by Atari St1040 with "M" software (with Yamaha synths and AKAI S1000). In 1989 Max was released and my first Apple was a SE30. Max allowed to write programs with such SysEx addressings and that was like a revolution! The equipment didn't really get smaller or lighter: I had a 12U and a 10U case, both hardly moveable by one person. However, I suddenly could do with the synths what previously was done only with priceless and stationary machines! The Max software and the computer had turned these instruments into powerful creatures.

Noticeable is the big change of the instrument "synthesizer" during the 80s: Now mostly made of plastic or in 19' rack version, polyphonic instead of mono- or duophonic, but suddenly no more knobs, but instead push buttons, step menus, one (1) encoder knob (or up/down buttons), monitor info display (or LCD). The playfulness was gone. Intuitive access to the parameters: impossible. For the years to come, the main focus for me was on controlling the parameters via MIDI or MIDI Controller. With the appearance of motor faders, I spent most of my time "listening" to their ( unreleased) control commands and writing my own software and customizations. This was the final step into electronics for me, as there was simply not enough time to play piano and electronics at the same time.



Casio CZ101

Cartoon-Box

This toyish thing was my entry into the world of digital sounds. It was an ideal counterpart to the Rhodes Chroma (ARP) and I got the craziest sounds out of it.

The CZ101 was almost cheap against the DX7 (I think DM 300.-), but could keep up in a certain way - for my purposes it sounded even better / more ingenious. The synthesis was called "Phase Distortion Synthesis" and was close to FM - but much easier to program.




Yamaha TX816

8x DX7

I had never liked the Yamaha DX7 - most of the music in which I could locate the DX7, I found terrible. All those whole plastic synths, that suddenly came onto the market, gave me no good feeling - neither listening nor playing. The changes of the synths into preset slings was suspect, the elimination of the controllers (pots and sliders) a reason for exclusion.

Then I came across a Yamaha TX816: 8x DX7 in a 19 '4U housing! A 12kg Beast! The TX816 had 128 voices - via SysEx in real-time editable (and the computer allowed multiple assignments). The TX816 seemed almost inexhaustible.


It was particularly interesting to load identical sounds into all modules and slightly detune them against each other. Incredible binaural beats could be generated just by volume changes. The TX816 became obsolete for me when I got my M.A.R.S. - that had to be paid somehow - so I sold my TX816. It might still live in the "Experimental Studio of the SWF" in Freiburg.



Yamaha TG77

hybrid Synthesizer

The Yamaha TG77 was my favourite Synthesizer in the beginning of the 90s. I have hardly used the Multimode - as the "hybrid" part (Waves). So I did not use most of it.

The TG77 was also controllable via SysEx and could create fantastic FM sounds. I found it so good that I later purchased also a SY99, the version with a large keyboard. It was the first time I had been working "straight" on a synthesizer.

It was the first synthesizer I completely " deciphered". Without the software package "Max" it probably wouldn't have been interesting for me, but with Max it became one of the most accessible synths you could get at that time.

Here is a live recording (1991) of a piece (in the rarely used Multi-Mode) that I had done with this synth, AKAI S1000 and Max. Frank Gratkowski plays alto saxophone (sometimes also as a non-distinguishable sample), Lars Lindvall on trumpet and pipes, Norbert Pfammatter on drums. The e-bass, marimba, vibraphone etc. - everything is TG77. And everything is live - no sequences. At that time I was interested in "intelligent extensions" of the performers craftsmanship.



Yamaha DMP11

MIDI-controllable Mixer

The many synth outputs wanted to be organized and I had discovered the 4-channel world. For 4ch I used a Mackie desk with OTTO (MIDI-Automation). For the 8 outputs of the TX816, I used the Yamaha DMP11 Mixer - it was also MIDI-controllable and enabled me to do things that were previously impossible - or too big and too expensive to think about at all.

I forgot how, but it was quite a trickery. Both mixers did not understand all MIDI commands, or did not allow everything, but in the addition of both it was possible to break through the barriers. Together with TX816 and TG77, this was a powerful 4ch FM instrument!



AKAI S1000

Sampler

The AKAI S1000 deserves a place of honor on my synth page because it was the instrument that made the difference in the last synth setup before the M.A.R.S. I was fortunate to know the "general importer" at the time, who told me that the AKAI S1000 had been introduced, but was delayed due to a modified front panel. Thus I became one of the first owners of an S1000. This Sampler was a milestone: the first time 16bit, 44.1kHz and stereo. A digital tape recorder! The first years samplers were pricelessly expensive and rather sounded like "synth sound" or, worse, like toys.

From the beginning I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do with the S1000: Live sampling, controlled via a Max interface! - and thus I was pretty much alone in the "sampling scene". Managing sample banks on disks, instrumental surrogates or fun and effect samples ("playing Beethoven's 5th with your own farts") was not my cup of tea. I wanted to use the sampler as a "real-time tape recorder", in the sense of the classical tape editing of concrete sounds in early electronic music. The devices of this generation were actually all similar in design and you could get used to them quite quickly. They mainly consisted of a step menu. Due to two larger wheels (Cursor and Data) the S1000 was faster than other devices, but for live sampling it was by far not fast enough. Therefore I wrote a SysEx-Max program for the S1000 right at the beginning.

The S1000 got MIDI, but the parameters had no adresses (like e.g. on Yamaha). Only the buttons and knobs where addressed. On the S1000 you needed to type and turn through the menu until you reached the parameter you wanted to change - mostly: key, cursor wheel, key, cursor wheel... until the desired parameter was reached through the branches of the step menu (e.g. the "attack" time of an envelope), which could then be changed with the data wheel. Terrible. So I wrote all SysEx-adresses of the buttons and the cursor-knob in sequence, which I needed for the different parameters. Then I could transfer the simulation of the button+wheel-operation as a "chain of commands" - often more than 10 single actions - in one shot within milliseconds, even before the parameter-value - and thus change the parameter directly from Max or via a fader-bank, without touching the S1000 or reading any menus. This allowed me to do some kind of live sampling (and still concentrate on the playing). Nevertheless, I rarely started with empty memory: usually during the sound check we recorded one or two samples for the beginning of the concert, which were then overwritten in the course of the concert.

Here is a live recording (1990) of a piece that I had realized with the AKAI and Max. Frank Gratkowski plays the soprano saxophone. All my sounds are sampled live of Frank's sounds. I think hardly anyone could work on the S1000 as fast as I did at that time (with Max).

In Max i had some cool chords in a coll-object and many, partly automated sliders and knobs via Sysex to AKAI for changing Envelopes etc. (- reaching the EDIT-area with simulated button drops in ms).

Pillow (Gratkowski, Bohnes 1990)


The audio quality of the S1000 was almost shockingly good at the time! Because of Max, the S1000 had also mutated into a Monster. But even the AKAI S1000 and the Yamaha synths became obsolete for me in 1993 when I got the M.A.R.S. - and finally the luggage became smaller as well




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