4 Fun Things You Can Do With Your Moog Sub 37

Moog synthesizers are loved for their filters and growling bass sounds, and rightly so. But Moog synthesizers are so much more than that reputation alone. One of the company's more recent offerings, the Sub 37 Tribute Edition—first released in the fall of 2014 as an expanded tribute to Moog's Sub Phatty synth—is as flexible a piece of kit as you are likely to find.

Want to make evolving ambient textures or acid basslines? The Sub 37 can do them with ease. Desire more primitive sounds, like proto-electronic band Silver Apples, the Sub 37 does this as well.

Below are a few angles by which you can approach Moog's Sub 37. The notes will hopefully prove useful both for people thinking of acquiring a Sub 3 and for those who might be a bit intimidated by all of its creative possibilities.

Program and Modulate 64-Step Sequences

One might be tempted to look at the Sub 37 and just start playing notes and turning knobs. While this is certainly encouraged, do not hesitate in checking out the onboard 64-step sequencer. Great fun awaits those who dial in some notes on the sequencer, hit play, and hear how the sound can me modulated and processed. Indeed, there is a depth and complexity to the Sub 37 sequencer that really begs to be used to its full potential.

At first glance, the Sub 37's sequencer is a bit confusing, as some of its functions aren't labeled. The best thing to do is to record a sequence by entering the "Record" function in the Arp/Sequencer module. From there, switch to "Seq" so that you can play back the sequence.

The interesting thing is that you can trigger the sequence by playing it in different keys on the keyboard. But you will probably want to enter "Latch" mode so that the sequencer plays itself. ("Latch" also works when in the "Arp" function.)

SUB 37 | Modulation & Sequencing

Beyond these basics, you can modulate the sequence, which involves some menu diving—but don't worry—it doesn't hurt too much.

One way of doing this is to modulate all of the notes in the sequence. In other words, you could assign the filter or resonance to modulate the sequence. Another approach is to pick certain notes that you want to modulate, while leaving others alone or giving them other sources of modulation. In this function, you could modulate notes with different pitches, much like Aphex Twin does with his micro-tuned sequences.

This only scratches the surface of the instrument's sequencing power. When the sequencer and modulation matrix are combined, the true depth of the Sub 37 becomes known. (Moog goes into some of this depth in this video on Sub 37 modulation and sequencing.)

Run Instruments and Random Sounds Into the Sub 37

One of the Sub 37 features that Moog really hasn't touted is its External In capabilities. In other words, the synthesizer can process external instruments like guitars, bass, other synthesizers, or really anything that outputs an electrical signal.

Of course, the Sub 37 isn't alone in its external signal-processing capabilities. Moog's Sub Phatty, Mother-32, and Minitaur also feature it, not to mention synths by other brands, like Access, Novation, and Arturia. But being able to pair the Sub 37's considerable modulation power and other sound-sculpting parameters with external sources can be inspiring in a very experimental way.

Unlike samplers like the Elektron Digitakt and Octatrack, or the Akai MPC Live, the Sub 37 can't change the pitch of external signals from gear like guitars and mp3s. In other words, if you hit different keys to trigger the Amp Envelope (that is, to trigger the external sound), the pitch won't be altered. It's static.

Stompboxes & Synths: Earthquaker Devices + Moog Sub 37

What you can do, for instance, is create a loop of samples, edited into a sound collage, with the length varying from a few seconds to several minutes. Then, you can play this sample collage off of your computer, an mp3 player (like a smartphone), or even a sampler/sequencer. This will allow you to both trigger the sound collage and play synthesizer notes or sequences on your Sub 37.

Similarly, you could program a sequence (of any step length), trigger it in "Latch" mode so it plays automatically, and then play guitar while the sequence is running. It would be necessary to trigger the sequence in "Latch" mode, because you can't play guitar and trigger the external sound at the same time. The steps in the sequence could create some interesting effects similar to tremolo and vibrato.

And things can get really fun when you add effects to a guitar and then trigger the sequencer. Again, triggering notes on the Sub 37 opens up the Amp Envelope so that you can hear the guitar notes or chords, but it also can trigger synth sequences, which you can sculpt as you wish on the Sub 37. But remember: If you only want to hear your external sound source, be sure to turn down the Sub 37's oscillators.

Exploiting the Sub 37's Modulation Matrix

Modulation matrices can be pretty intimidating, even to folks familiar with subtractive or other types of synthesis. The Sub 37, with its combination of dedicated signal processing knobs and menu-driven programming features, is no exception. But, at bottom, the Sub 37 is flexible and powerful.

In a sense, the Sub 37 is like a standalone modular synthesizer in a more traditional Moog keyboard package. But don't be too intimidated. Instead, think of the wealth of possibilities open to you.

The Sub 37 features six modulation sources with the LFOs: triangle wave, square, sawtooth, ramp (reverse sawtooth), sample-and-hold, and programmable (labeled F. EG/PGM). The first five of those are pretty standard modulation sources (apart from ramp), but F. EG/PGM has some more flexibility, as it's programmable and features a sine wave, digital noise LFO, and the sequencer as a modulation source. Each of these can be sent to over 90 modulation destinations, which is basically the synth's entire fleet of signal creation and processing parameters.

Moog Sub 37

The Sub 37 has two modulation channels—Mod 1 and Mod 2. So right off the bat, the synth is primed for modulation experimentation. Each of these mod channels feature the six modulation sources mentioned above in the form of LFOs. And each of these two channels are routed to filter and pitch with dedicated knobs, as well as buttons for other parameters you may want to modulate.

What this means is that even if you never go deep into the Sub 37's modulation matrix (though you should), you can very easily modulate sounds to create evolving ambient sounds or acid basslines. And they can easily be synced to the Arpeggiator. It's all right there in front of your face—just tweak the knobs.

Add Sonic Complexity with Paraphonic Function

First off, some musicians and producers can too easily dismiss monophonic synthesizers as not giving them enough flexibility because they can't play chords. Nonsense. Granted, at some point a polyphonic synthesizer will be very useful, but monophonic analogue synthesizers are no slouches. With the Sub 37, you get that monophonic synth, but it also does paraphonic.

Moog Sub 37

But what is paraphonic, you might be asking? It basically means that if two notes are being played, each of the notes can independently control one of Sub 37's two oscillators. Translation: You can play two notes at a time, achieving a type of polyphony.

But what does this mean in terms of what you can do on the Sub 37? Well, apart from being able to play two-note chords, the synthesizer's paraphonic feature allows you to create more depth to the notes being triggered.

There are three different ways to use the paraphonic function. When the Sub 37 is in "High" mode, the higher of the two pitch voltages gets assigned to the second oscillator. In "Low" mode, the lower-pitched voltage is assigned to the second oscillator. If neither of these is selected, then there is drone voltage that is derived from your frequency and octave settings.

This function isn't just for playing notes on the keyboard. Duo mode works with the step sequencer as well, allowing you to achieve some tonalities that just aren't possible in mono mode. So, things can get very interesting when you combine paraphonic play with the various features mentioned above.

Moog's Sub 37 is quite a versatile synth, and our four tips above just scratch the surface of its possibilities. If you have a favorite trick or technique, let us know in the comments.

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