The newest Moog Music synth is in the hands of a select few.
Werkstatt means, effectively, “workshop” in German. And so, Moog Music at Moogfest this year unveiled a synth you can’t buy anywhere but in a workshop. (Not to be confused with the one you might be able to buy, but can’t afford! Start on those lottery tickets!)
Available exclusively to Moogfest Engineer VIP Package purchasers, Werkstatt was more than just a fun piece of gear. Designer/engineer Steve Dunnington of Moog Music, creator of the instrument, led participants in soldering and assembling the synth, then into exploring the world of electronics and sound. As the name implies, ownership of this instrument is as much an educational as technological experience.
But it’s an incredible synth. And it might be a sign of things to come.
I got to meet with Steve and talk more about his instrument, and peek in on eager rooms full of synth nerds putting them together. (No, I didn’t get one, either – yes, I’m jealous!) Werkstatt shares the basic architecture of the Minitaur synth, but in a beautifully-unruly, unique package – this is the bull they couldn’t quite tame.
The synth. The basic structure is deceptively simple, with a single oscillator, filter, amplitude envelope, filter and oscillator mod, and LFO. It’s once you get your hands on it, though, and making noise, that you invariably shout – whoa. The sound is big, and there’s lots of control, even before you begin routing via the patch bay on the right-hand side.
Steve agreed to make some sounds with Werkstatt for CDM, which you can hear above. Remember, this is all raw, no effects. The biggest challenge was actually getting the gain low enough to record it. I had to set my Zoom’s input level at zero.
The kit. The board itself is surface mount, with plenty of delicate components, so of course Moog had the boards pre-assembled and populated. That still leaves a few dozen through-hole solder points, though, so ample opportunity for those who like soldering to wield an iron – and for those new to the technique to learn. All in all, three hours was about the right amount of time for some soldering and basic assembly.
Moog Eurorack? Okay, I’ve been teasing Moog Music a little bit here. Steve has spent time in Germany, so let’s be clear – it’s only coincidence that the synth references Germany, home of Eurorack.
And the fact that Werkstatt has a 12V power rail is down to the fact that the Minitaur does, too.
[commence my own opinions and speculation only, not those of Moog Music]
Here’s the thing. Moog may find themselves accidentally in the Eurorack market. (Accidents do tend to outnumber actual plans in the musical instrument industry, generally, so that’s nothing new.) The Werkstatt itself is too pricey to turn into a product at the moment; too unruly to bring to market for consumers. And it would also need design adjustments to fit into a Eurorack. But with that 12V power supply in place, and a design suited both to patching and getting people started with a useful synth, we might in a couple of years be looking back at this as the synth that got Moog back into modules. (You know, for ordinary people, not super-villain Keith Emerson fans.)
I truly, honestly don’t know what Moog management’s plans are. But by working on the Werkstatt project, and the Keith Emerson reissue, whatever the intention, they’ve built up both new expertise that could lend itself to a modular product, and lots of feedback from their most loyal customers to better gauge the market. They’ve also had some of America’s best Eurorack makers invading their factory and hometown. You have to think this will rub off, even if unintentionally.
Whether that happens or not, the Werkstatt is a killer little instrument, and makes a great workshop. I hope we get to do one again – and even that Werkstatt gets to go on tour to Germany. And it seems only history coming full-circle that we’ll someday again see Moog modulars for the masses, from one of the companies that really made the whole idea in musical instruments happen.
For more on Werkstatt, almost making us feel like we’ve got one of these ourselves, don’t miss:
Synthtopia’s excellent behind-the-scenes video, featuring Steve Dunnington and Trent Thompson:
Sonic Talk from Sonic State on the instrument:
— and Werkstatt gone acid, with 303 and 606, shot by Lee Coombs:
More pics of the kit from me and my emergency-backup Nokia 521 phone: