In this article you’re going to learn the fundamentals of sound design using the Moog Subsequent 37. We’re going to go from the basics of subtractive synthesis, over the most necessary controls and parameters of our hardware, all the way to analyzing how simple synth patches are designed.
We cover the initial setup of the synthesizer in this article: How to set up the Moog Subsequent 37 with Ableton Live
If you’d like to learn everything about the Moog Sub37, make sure to check out the official Masterclass - “Creative Sound Design with the Moog Sub37”.
After this class with Berlin-based Melodic House Artist Yannek Maunz, you will be more proficient, professional and creative in your synthesis - on analog AND digital synths! Demonstrated on the Sub37, Yannek shows you hacks & tricks to achieve thriving, dynamic and facetted sounds faster & better and in your own style.
About the synth
The Moog Sub37 is a hardware analog synthesizer with 40 knobs and 74 switches released in 2014. It includes a vast array of analog sound design tools and onboard sequencing options. The synth has a built-in 37-note keyboard that has both velocity sensitivity and aftertouch.
What’s great about the synth is not only its fat, signature Moog sound (particularly thanks to its special Ladder Filter), but the fact that most of its controls correspond with single parameters. It means that controlling different features can be done very fast, without having to scroll through different sections. In this way it brings to mind the workflow of the original 1970 Minimoog Model D. The Sub37 however has a bunch of modern, very handy features which makes working with it a real pleasure.
The subtractive synthesis model. (Source: Manual)
Before we dive into making sounds with the synth, it’s crucial to know what each section of a subtractive synth does.
Let’s go over the typical chain of events when generating a sound in 4 steps:
Step 1: Oscillator
First, the MIDI information from the keyboard (KB) or sequencer (ie. Ableton Live) is passed onto the most important module of the synth - the oscillator (VCO - Velocity Controlled Oscillator). It generates a sound wave according to your preferences (square, sawtooth, noise, etc). In Sub37, the “Oscillators” section controls the VCO.
Step 2: Amp
However, we still aren’t getting any sound. That’s because the signal from the VCO needs to be processed by the amplifier (VCA - Velocity Controlled Amplifier). Only then can we hear the signal. You can turn on the VCA and adjust levels for each oscillator in the Mixers section.
Step 3: Filter
Even though the oscillator generates harmonically rich signals, without a filter (VCF - Velocity Controlled Filter) between our oscillator and amplifier, the sound won’t be too pleasant for our ears. It allows us to control the amount of harmonic content of our signal. Most common VCFs are low pass filters, which let through only frequencies below the “cutoff’ (bass, mids, etc.)
Step 4: Envelopes
The last crucial element of the subtractive synth would be the Envelopes (EG - Envelope Generator) section. It can control the level of the Amp (adding dynamics - for example creating longer sustained sounds, or shorter decays). It can also control the Cutoff of the Filter (adding movement to the harmonic character - for example making the timbre evolving). The Envelopes can be found in the “Envelope Generators” section. Upper envelope (F) corresponds to the Filter Envelope, lower (A) to the Amp.
To fully understand the Attack/Decay/Sustain/Relsase parameters let’s go over them:
- “Attack” - how long it takes for the amplitude to reach maximum
- “Decay” - how long it takes for the amplitude to lower to the sustain level
- “Sustain” - the level at which the amplitude stays as long as we hold the note
- “Release” - how long it takes for the amplitude to lower to zero after we release the note
See this free infographic reference to visualize the different parameters:
ADSR Infographic. (Source: PML Freebies)
Making Patches in Sub37
Now that we have the theory behind us, let’s get our hands dirty with some sound design. Let’s make a simple bass sound following the 4 steps above.
1. The most typical patches would be done starting from a saw wave, so let’s choose shape 2 with the Oscillator>Wave control:
2. In the Mixer section, make sure the Amp is enabled for our oscillator and all other are disabled (Mixer > OSC 1)
3. Let’s lower the filter so that our sound gets darker harmonically. We can add a bit of resonance to change the timbre even more and add a bit of character.
4. Let’s adjust the envelopes so that the sound decays gradually. Let’s add relatively short attacks, longer decays and releases, and keep the sustain in the middle.
By now you should arrive at a basic bass sound. Make sure to adjust the envelope parameters for your original spin on the sound!
If you’d like to learn everything about the Moog Sub37 including every little detail of the sound design process, make sure to check out the official Masterclass - “Creative Sound Design with the Moog Sub37”.