The folks at Moog Music aren’t content just making ridiculously fun synthesizers, iPad apps, and effects boxes for creative musicians. The company now is dipping into percussion—it’s newest product, announced today, is a drum machine called the Drummer From Another Mother.
Well, hang on. It’s not exactly a drum machine. It’s a monophonic, semi-modular, analog percussion synthesizer. That’s a lot to unpack, but what you need to know is that when you switch on the DFAM and start twisting the knobs, it makes really cool synthetic drum and percussion sounds—deep throbs, hypersonic plinks, and everything in between.
The DFAM is monophonic, so by default, it can only output one sound at a time. Meaning, you can set it up to play a kick drum pattern, or a snare drum pattern, or a tom-tom pattern, but not all three at once. Most drum machines are polyphonic; they can replicate all of the sounds a human drummer would make sitting behind a drum kit. The DFAM, being monophonic, is more limited. But as any musician will tell you, with limitations come greater possibilities for experimentation. By using the modular patch bay on the right side of the DFAM’s face plate, you can get it to squeal and yowl and chirp and make all kinds of noises that don’t sound anything like regular drums. The voicing gets pretty dynamic, too, so that it sounds as if you’ve got two or three sounds running instead of just the one.
Artists from New York’s Discwoman Collective—DJ Haram, Stud1nt, and Umfang—try out percussion sounds on the new DFAM synthesizer.
I’ve spent some time with the DFAM in the past couple of months (Moog Music offered it as a DIY kit at its Moogfest conference, and I was invited to solder one together in a workshop) and one of the great joys of the machine is that you don’t really need to know anything about drum programming to start getting some interesting tones out of it. That’s mostly because it doesn’t look or work anything like a regular drum machine. It has knobs and patch bays where most beat makers would have tap-pads and LCD screens. Anyone even slightly familiar with how to make a synth go “bleep” will feel at home.
After you get a quick lay of the land, you can quickly begin building patterns. Dial in a good starting sound, then run it through the DFAM’s sequencer—it’s eight steps, and each step has its own velocity and pitch controls. As your chosen sound bounces through the steps, you can make it go up and down in pitch, or grow louder or get softer. For a synth capable of generating only one voice at a time, it has an expressive and dynamic palette.
“I don’t call it a drum machine,” says Moog Music senior hardware engineer Steve Dunnington, the DFAM’s lead designer. “It doesn’t really say ‘drum’ anywhere on it.” Dunnington started sketching out ideas for the DFAM at the end of 2016, then went through a few prototypes before bringing the DIY version to Moogfest in May 2017. After that hobby-style kit went over well with conference attendees, Dunnington and his team set about building a version of the DFAM for the consumer market. Now, you can buy one for $599.
About the funny name. If you’re a Moog fan, then you know about the Mother 32. It’s a semi-modular synth similar in function to the Drummer From Another Mother, and the two machines are the same shape and size—hence the motherly love in the naming. They can be connected together via their matching cable patch bays so they sync up and run at the same tempo. A typical use case would be to write a bass line on the Mother, then sync up a DFAM (or three) to complete your robotic rhythm section. The DFAM also has inputs, so you can plug in another instrument, synth, or sampler and use that to trigger your percussion sounds. There are a ton of options, and no right or wrong way to utilize them.
“I don’t like to think of these things as being dogmatic,” Dunnington says. “You have to explore.”