For the first time in three decades, electronic instrument maker Moog is offering a new polyphonic synthesizer, the Moog One. While Moog is well known for innovating monophonic synths that are played and sequenced one note at a time, its new keyboard will go further–allowing people to play multiple notes simultaneously and stack essentially three synthesizers on top of each other, as well as program, modulate, and sequence the sounds in creative and complex ways.
To officially announce the new synth, which follows a few short months after the release of its semi-modular Grandmother synth, Moog is premiering a 20-minute film titled Moog One – A Meditation On Listening. With a vintage intro inspired by the 1982 Memorymoog promo (the company’s last polysynth), the film features artists Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo), modular pioneer Suzanne Ciani, Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes, musician Mark Ronson, and others creating new music on the Moog One.
The film coincided with a Reddit Ask Me Anything session hosted this week by Amos Gaynes, a production design engineer at Moog who helped develop the One. After Gaynes answered questions, the session moved over to the new Moog website via a new live stream and chat features.
Gaynes tells Fast Company that a polysynth has been in the works for years. Ever since the Minimoog Voyager was released in 2002—an event that marked Moog’s resurrection–artists and fans have been asking the company if it would ever make another polysynth. At some point, Gaynes says, Moog felt the need to respond.
“We were thinking about it in the background for years, even before the Moog One development started,” says Gaynes. “The first serious questions might have happened as long ago as 2013. By 2015 we were going to work on a specific project that was going to be a polysynth, but we had to determine which direction we wanted to go in.”
Borrowing from the past to hear the future
Although the Moog One is designed with the Moog DNA in mind, its designers had to explore some new directions on a technical level. There is the classic Moog filter, sure, but it also features three new oscillators that were engineered from the ground up, as well as a variable-state filter that was designed in-house.
As far as the look of the One, Emmy Parker, Moog’s brand director, says it was inspired by past Moog synthesizers–specifically, the Memorymoog, with its wooden and metal frame and clear signal path layout. The idea was to make the playing of the synth familiar, while the technology took the sound to new frontiers.
Gaynes describes the complexity of the Moog One as immense and deep. The abundance of voices (in either 8- or 16-voice versions), oscillators, precise modulations, and onboard effects can be layered, combined, and stacked atop each other.
“You can create sounds with nine oscillators per note, 60 layers of modulation, three different simultaneous sequencers, each of which can be modulating parameters sequenced over time,” says Gaynes. “At a technical level, this is the first instrument where we have had an embedded operating system that’s communicating over a 100-megabit network to a network of 16 individual voices, each of which has its own processors running its own onboard modulations and control voltages.”
“Coordinating all of these things and having them work together at the speed of musical thought has been an intense and rewarding technological challenge for us to achieve,” Gaynes adds.
Coinciding with the Moog One’s announcement is a new Moog website, designed with the the polysynth in mind. A major feature of the redesign is a live stream from Moog’s Asheville factory, which allows people to see the Moog One being built, and lets them ask questions via chat about the Moog One and other instruments.
“On the design of the Moog One we were really concerned with accessibility,” says Parker. “The instrument, no matter how powerful and complex it is, has to be accessible to the most number of people, and that was what we were really focused on with the website redesign–we wanted to invite more people into the factory.”
Parker adds that the live stream featuring synthesizers being built will be available at all times. “We are using chat on the Moog website in a very different way,” she says. “It’s not just there to talk about problems with instruments. It will be manned by folks in the Moog factory, so it could be folks from engineering, marketing, sales, and support–anyone could be on chat at any given time … We are really there to just to encourage, support, inspire, and guide.”
This post has been updated to reflect title changes.