Conjuring Sounds on the Moog Mother-32: From Boards of Canada to Star Wars and Beyond

Since its release in 2015, Moog has produced over 50,000 units of the Mother-32, the all-analog, semi-modular gateway into the void. Going beyond just a simple monosynth, the Mother-32 is capable of complex FM madness, dense self-generating structures, hard-hitting percussion, and even free-flowing, West Coast-inspired soundscapes.

All you have to do is patch. If you want to sound like Throbbing Gristle, Boards of Canada, Suzanne Ciani, or your favorite 1970s Sci-Fi film score, it’s all possible with the Moog Mother-32.

Each of the following patches stem from nearly the exact same settings, with no internal sequencing required. Start by matching the front panel of your Mother-32 to the illustration below. As we get into specific patches, you'll want to, at times, twist and tweak some of these settings. For now, set all of your knobs and switches as shown:

Main Mother-32 Settings

Howling Percussion (Manual Trigger)

Howling Percussion Patch

This is a rather esoteric percussion patch reminiscent of proto-industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle. Start by patching the VCF output into the Ext. Audio input, and put the Mix knob at about one o'clock. You should start to hear some sort of vowel-like howl as you trigger the keypads, no Gristleizer required.

Now, patch your Noise output into the Mix CV. That typical pulse-wave oscillator will now start to merge with the vowel tones to create a rich percussion sound. By twisting the Attack and Decay knobs, you can tweak the synth’s envelope generator and filter to taste. For even more madness, patch the LFO Tri out into the VCO Lin FM input. Short attack times (with your Attack knob to the left) and a Decay set to noon will really take your Mother-32 into some brooding territory.

Roygbiv Bass (Manual Trigger)

The classic Roland SH-101 was famous for its warm, rubbery, acidic vibes. You can accomplish the same with the Mother-32 by blending its pulse or sawtooth waves with an extra wave and a very fast LFO rate (just hold the LFO knob all the way clockwise).

Start by patching the VCO Pulse in Mix 1, the Noise out into Mix 2, and the VC Mix out into the Ext. Audio input. Tweak the Mix knob clockwise and VC Mix knob to taste. Before long, you’ll hear rich sub-bass frequencies below those waves. Modulate between the two for an evolving variety, using the LFO Tri out into the VC Mix CTRL in.

Roygbiv Bass Patch 1
Roygbiv Bass Patch 2

You can get some artificial snow- or ocean-like tones to appear in your mix by combining this existing patch with some external noise. To accomplish this, patch the Noise out into Mult, patch the Mult 1 out in Mix 2, and put Mult 2 into Mix CV. Again, you can twist the Attack and Decay knobs to your liking. Finally, to add some Boards of Canada-like blur, flip the VCO Mod Source switch over to LFO and listen as you drift into a “Turquoise Hexagon Sun” all your own.

Generational Drone (Self-Generating)

Sometimes you may just want the modular to play itself, while you sit, pleased and baffled by its calming yet chaotic beauty. Start by patching the LFO Tri out into the Gate in. This is what will allow the self-generation to occur, as your low-frequency oscillator, without a trigger, will constantly fire. Patch the Gate out into the VCO Lin FM in. Over time, as the gate is triggered, new timbres will take life within the VCO. Patch the EG out into the VCA CV for higher control of your attack and decay times.

For the most elaborate trick (you may want to consult your manual), set your assignable output to "Step Random," which will trigger voltages between -5V and +5V from the Assign output whenever the sequencer's running, even if it's just a one-step sequence. Patch the Assign out into Mix CV, and enjoy some gradual, drifting tones.

Generational Drone Patch
Chewbaccan Death Star Patch

Chewbaccan Death Star (Self-Generating)

To take the "Generational Drone" patch a step farther, have some fun and create a cross between a Wookie call and a blow from the Death Star. Stay patched and take the VCF out into Mix 1, the KB out into Mix 2, the VC Mix out into the VCO 1V/OCT, and the LFO SQ out into the VC Mix CTRL in. The result will be a wavering between pitches, creating various forms of both the explosion and Chewbacca’s call to Alderaan. Twisting the Cutoff knob from a low pass to a high pass evolves the sound into something quite ugly.

Ocean Breeze (External Trigger)

Ocean Breeze Patch

Before long, you'll feel the desire to expand from your Mother-32 and purchase more modules. A good choice would be an additional envelope generator capable of self-cycling, or a clock divider/multiplier module to extend your modulation options. With such a module it is possible to externally trigger gates, creating precise percussion from your Mother-32.

But you can accomplish this same trick within the Mother-32 itself. Just patch the LFO Tri into Gate, which will trigger the envelope. Then patch the EG out into the VCA CV. Now you can play around with ocean-like tones, much inspired by Suzanne Ciani. Twist your Attack knob to left and to the right. Longer rises and falls will be more ocean-like, while shorter cycles will be sharper and more like a snare drum. Use the Decay knob to filter the ocean sound to sound sonically deeper or shallower to taste.

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