The Most Exciting Synths of Moogfest 2018

Within the many curated spaces of the annual Moogfest musical festival and conference in Durham, North Carolina, sits a more diverse array of synthesizers than you're likely to find anywhere else. From gadgets and electronic instruments directed at guitar players and drummers to cutting-edge systems that'll excite even the deepest modular nerds and video artists, it's a single environment that manages to serve synthesists of every stripe.

But with all those synths to investigate, it’s easy to get lost for hours in a perhaps futile effort to learn all the ins and outs of every new piece of gear hitting store shelves in the coming months. And while we'd love to shout out each new device and synth we saw this year in the space below, we're limiting ourselves to just a handful of favorites chosen for their technical achievement and innovative approach to contemporary musical sound structure.

Moog Grandmother

To coincide with Moogfest each year, Moog releases a new synthesizer that often honors some chapter of the historic brand’s legacy. Called the Grandmother, this year’s release is no different and has already garnered rave reviews from various pockets of the synth community within the first week after its initial reveal.

The Grandmother is a standard two-voice subtractive analog synth, with a strong color palette to match its decidedly retro sound structure. It’s a truly inspiring synth that lets users bliss out in a familiar place without going too far out of their comfort zone. Though if the demand is there, individually patch points within each "module" allow for complete sonic freedom and expandability with the existing Eurorack-compatible systems.

Moog Grandmother

Teenage Engineering OP-Z

Continuing their efforts to make, small, compact feature-rich devices like the smash hit OP-1, Swedish instrument designers Teenage Engineering have brought forth the OP-Z—a combination 16-channel sequencer, real-time synchronous video editor, and groovebox that fits easily into your jacket pocket or backpack.

The OP-Z also easily integrates into any iOS device, providing instant touch control over parameters. And at $599 US, it’s bound to end up in many setups without fuss. The OPZ is expected to start shipping in July of this year.

Teenage Engineering OP-Z

1010 Music Modular System with New Euroshield

Take iOS touch sensitivity, combine it with the tactile nature of hardware and the creative possibilities of software plugins, and you’ll get the 1010 Music Modular Synthesizer.

The Modular Synthesizer is comprised of four modules—the Toolbox, Bitbox, FXbox, and SynthBox. Each module packs a big punch on its own, but when paired together, the result is a complete polyphonic modular synth, sampler, and audio manipulator in well under a single 104hp rack.

From any other manufacturer in the Euro game, achieving this depth of functionality would require a much larger system, so if size and immediacy are concerns for you, the 1010 system is a great bet.

To top that off, the 1010’s latest offering—the "Euroshield"—enables players to interface with the Teensy microcontroller to develop anything from an oscillator to an effects processor and anything in between, often with less than 99 lines of code. Don’t let the digital nature of these analog machines deter you from building a system that’s all you.

1010 Music Modular System

Sunhouse "Sensory Percussion" Transient Drum Triggers

At Moogfest, there's always more than just standard synths on display. For example, Queens-based Sunhouse returned this year with their "Sensory Percussion" drum triggers, introducing new software for expanding real-time control settings over classic drum setups.

In short, the Sunhouse system allows you to mount a set of triggers to your drum kit that can be used to control an endless number of percussion instruments and synthesizers via MIDI. The triggers respond to the placement, velocity, and speed of your stick hits and communicates all of that input to the software engine.

The Sensory Percussion system is designed to maintain more of the human element of your playing than other drum trigger devices and is worth checking out for any drummer who already does or wants to start using MIDI with their kit.

Sunhouse "Sensory Percussion" Transient Drum Triggers

Erogenous Tones "Structure" Digital Video Synthesizer Module

Well over a year ago, Erogenous Tones released an expansion module for the Moog Mother-32 called the "Mother’s Little Helper." With this and a line of complex utility Eurorack modules behind them, the firm's next venture is into the world of video synthesis.

Instead of building modules to complete the existing LZX Video Synthesizer system, the Raleigh, NC-based manufacturer is going all out with a standalone video instrument boasting image processing and digital 3D pattern generation reminiscent of classic '90s rave visuals. It’s said that with two of these and a small set of LZX modules, VJs can ditch the comfort of a laptop and shred directly with hardware without issue.

Though still in prototype phase, the "Structure" very close to beta and release in less than a year.

Erogenous Tones "Structure" Digital Video Synthesizer Module

Big Pauper Modified Circuits "Modified Edirol V4"

Presently, there are less than a handful of video instrument makers utilizing a hardware platform and even fewer repurposing once-obsolete video processing equipment. But that’s all starting to change with with the Portland, Oregon-based firm BPMC.

BPMC has unveiled another new product from its bag of tricks this year: a modified Edirol V-4 Video Mixer (the standard VJ mixer for live video artists). As per its modification, new complex digital glitches are available in real-time with the turn of tactile knobs.

With the Pauper’s take on the V-4, digital glitch art enters the physical realm. At the BPMC booth at the modular marketplace, its functions were put on a grand-scale with a 12-foot tube television monstrosity, overlooking the Moog Grandmother production station.

The V4 and the rest of the BPMC line of processing devices are currently available directly from glitchart.com and will soon be available on Reverb as well.

Big Pauper Modified Circuits "Modified Edirol V4"
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