Today’s announcement that Moog’s 2018 special edition Subharmonicon semi modular-synth will go into full production (with a few improvements) is welcome news and demonstrates that Moog are keen to commit to exploring the fringes of analogue synthesis. In recent years, Moog have really shifted their product direction, stepping aware from the more conservative digitally-controlled preset synths, and focusing more on the possibilities of preset-less ‘pure’ analogue synthesizers like the Mother-32 and Grandmother.
There’s already a ton of videos and articles out there from lucky people who got a hold of a pre-release unit, so I’m not going to go into a full-breakdown of the Subharmonicon here. But I did just want to draw attention to a feature that I thought was really cool. The sub-harmonics, when divided from its main oscillator, have the option of being tuned to Just Intonation or Equal Temperament.
“Just intonation is an older approach to generating musical scales based around whole number ratios (i.e. the harmonic series). So, if we wanted to work in the “just scale” of C major, we’d be determining our note values based on whole number fractions related to C’s frequency (e.g. C=1/1, D=9/8, E=5/4, F=4/3, G = 3/2, A=5/3, B=15/8, C=2/1, etc.). Working in just intonation becomes complicated when you want to play music in more than one key. Because a just scale’s note values are based around a root note’s frequency, the moment you try and modulate to a different key, all of your notes will sound incorrect since they were derived from the original root note; this is when the idea of a temperament becomes important. A temperament is a tuning system that compromises the pure intervals of just intonation in order to achieve better harmonic relationships between differing keys. The most commonly used temperament is equal temperament. Equal temperament is based around the idea of dividing an octave into 12 evenly spaced semitones, so that scale intervals will be the same in any key.”
So what does that mean outside of the theory? It means you got options! You can go the harmonically rich and pure route of Just Intonation or the more standard Equal Temperament tuning. It’s a very unusual feature a synth and a really interesting addition from Moog.
I doubt this is a coincidence, but YouTuber cool guy Andrew Huang did a video recently on the harmonic series that’s worth a watch if you want to understand what that sounds like in real world terms.