MOTM is the collective designation of an analog modular synthesizer made by Synthesis Technology of Fort Worth, Texas. Paul Schreiber, the principal designer, began a project in 1997 to build a modular synthesizer similar to those made in the '70s (Moog, Serge, Buchla, ARP, E-mu) but with '90s technology. This means that while MOTM modules largely follow the classic functions (voltage-controlled oscillators, voltage-controlled filters, envelope generators, etc.), they have much better tuning stability, much lower noise, and in many cases more interesting features.

There is a canard that MOTM originally stood for "Module of the Month". I don't know whether Paul ever endorsed this reading; in any case it's more like four to six new modules per year, and MOTM now stands for "Modular of the Millennium" or "Mother of all Modulars", your choice.

Paul originally sold the modules as kits only, but he has offered preassembled ones for a long while now. The modules are big, heavy, chunky black things with the same knobs and 1/4" jacks as the old Moog modular. They are 8 3/4" tall and (mostly) 3 1/2" wide, so that five across make a row five rack units high. One of the major attractions of a modular synthesizer is the tactility of the patching process - you are plugging and unplugging physical patch cords and turning knobs that are actually pots in the circuit behind the panel. It really feels great to have your hands on one of these.

And the sound. Ah, the sound. If you know analog synthesizers, you know that the single largest determinant of a traditional synth's sound is its filter. Paul has three filters so far and each one sounds amazing. It would be pointless to try to describe their sound here; I'll just note that they are updated and enhanced versions of the filters found in the Korg MS-20 (MOTM-420: wonderful howling glassy distortion), Korg PS-3100 (MOTM-410: breathy pad washes), and Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 Rev 2 (MOTM-440: very muscular; this is a discrete version of the SSM2040 filter chip which Bob Moog successfully enforced his patent against). A state-variable filter design based on the Oberheim SEM is due in late 2001.

I got hooked on the MOTM addiction in early 1998 when all there was was a noise source/sample-and-hold unit and a ring modulator/voltage-controlled amplifier. Now I have a whole synth, and there's more coming every year. And building MOTM modules has also led me to pick up basic electronics repair skills, so that when something breaks, I might be able to fix it. (A soldering iron is not really that intimidating after all.)

The MOTM website is http://www.synthtech.com/.

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