It started as an April Fools’ Joke. Then it turned out to be real. But with plenty of new instruments to work on, why would Moog remake a dinosaur – both in form and literal size?

Engineer Gene Stopp doesn’t blink when asked that question. In a tour of the modular for me and Keyboard Magazine – a magazine whose very existence is partly indebted to the legacy of Keith Emerson and Moog – he was confident.

Do this once, and no one can ever question whether you know what it means to make a real, exact replica of the original. In fact, it was amusing to me that people were complaining about the absence of sound samples. You’ve heard them, if you’ve ever heard Keith Emerson.

And he talks about what it could mean for the future of Moog that they’ve accomplished this “resurrection.” Rosser Douglass, who worked on the project, as well, chimes in in the background.

Listening to Rosser and Gene might still fail to convince you that sourcing a bunch of original parts to remake the Emerson modular is a good idea. But you can at least understand what was in their heads as they did it. And the experience may prove to be a seminal one for Moog going forward, in ways the company itself could still be figuring out.

Wheeling the behemoth out on the show floor, Gene and Rosser also gave me a tour for Keyboard of the innards and a module-by-module rundown of what’s there. Interestingly, in the end there weren’t any components that were so hard to source. Those that were – knob caps – could be replaced by 3D printing. That to me is an encouraging sign for the longevity of analog designs.

Synthtopia and Sound on Sound‘s Gordon Reid had more fortune than I did in getting access to the modular, and actually did get to make some sounds. (Cough, you lucky bastards.) Gordon did a wonderful job of doing what even Emerson didn’t – he yanks the cables and gets to drive this thing as a modular, producing new patches from scratch. Worth watching this video alongside the other, as between them, you get a pretty complete picture:

To anyone complaining that this is all overly obsessed with the past, I’d say – don’t worry too much. Moogfest was still full of new ideas. Moog’s Cyril Lance was quick to point to new creations in our panel, including the digital Theremini and iPad-based Animoog. And boutique modular makers told me they welcomed the Emerson modular – even one making faux-Moog modules – as it added to the credibility of their field and added still more attention and demand. Those builders are limited only by what fits in a rack: some creations hew closely to the Moog original template, and some vary wildly.

So, if the past is the future, the future is the future, too. And in the end, both endeavors have the same motivation: why not? Those two words continue to inspire some great musical invention.


  • angstrom

    In fact, it was amusing to me that people were complaining about the absence of sound samples.

    Uh,what? I commented on the initial days publicity centering on images of the Moog, but not a bleep out of it. This was NOT because I don’t know what it sounds like, but because I am interested in this shift of the instrument from noisemaker to imagemaker.

    In this era of carefully rendered recreations of vintage synth interfaces, the idea that this “new” Moog seemed to be the real world embodiment of an Arturia interface. The publicity said “look at this instrument, and contemplate the meaning of the existence of this instrument,think about the authenticity of the components”. It was no longer primarilly a noise maker, it is a conceptual art piece.

    It’s a shame you missed that

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      That would be alarming if that were the case, I agree, but – I don’t think that’s what’s at work here. I wouldn’t read too much into the absence of a music demo in the press conference or on the website. That was more organizational than philosophical.

      And certainly, same is true for me. I would have loved to get some sound above. But ironically, the reason we couldn’t was that the Moog factory was such a noisy place. (You can hear there’s a concert going on in the background, and I had to slice out some interruptions were artists were loudly looking for cables as we tried to shoot this interview. I was pleased to get a quiet moment with these guys for the audio interview.)

      The Emerson modular was featured on an evening program. And because Keith had everything pre-patched, no one was allowed to touch anything on his instrument. It’s a shame they didn’t plug in the new model, but the press conference itself was secretly sandwiched into a day of nonstop performances on all kinds of synths.

      But that’s why I posted Synthtopia’s video; it’s nice to get some sound.

    • J_

      if sound demos said much about a synth it wouldn’t be much of a synth. :)

      on the other hand, Gordon Reid seems like a nice enough guy, but imo his musical /synth / noise taste seems quite conservative and it’s too bad not to hear something different out of the moog modular. like if you started running those sequencers and switches at audio rates you’d get sounds that only someone that grew up on videos games could love. 😉

      since people have different perspectives in patching and just general attitudes about what sounds good i don’t see how remaking a synth could ever really be a retro endeavor or nostalgia quest. for instance, if you only heard 80s examples of an fm synth you’d probably think it’s all soft electric pianos and such, but once fm synths got cheap and into fresh hands you heard lots more examples of fm being pushed in new directions.

      or the little old ms20 has what 30+ years of different musicians getting interesting sounds out of it? if something that “limited” still has tons of potential, what does that say about big modulars! (or software…)

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, actually – it doesn’t necessarily follow that more modules means more creativity, of course.

      But you can certainly get some wild sounds out of the Moog modular; I know I did – intentionally and, um, unintentionally. Lots of the latter. Not on this one but on many of the same modules.

  • http://website.coma/ DAE Error 7002

    im just baffled they didn’t eurorack it for like a quarter of the size.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Then it would have been a very different project. And wouldn’t you want new module designs for Eurorack?

      Also – never say never. 😉

    • J_

      the power makes a big difference on sound properties too. i don’t think the moog is running at the same levels?