Hi Jon, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. We’ve very excited about Motas-6 here at Red Dog Music, and wanted to find out more. For those who haven’t heard of Motas Electronics before, could you introduce yourself?
Hi Linda, thanks for inviting me. My name is Jon Hayes and I founded Motas Electronics just over a year ago to commercialise my latest and greatest (so far!) Motas synthesizer, the Motas-6. After studying physics at University and completing a PhD I have worked as a University researcher designing and building electronics instrumention and as an engineer designing automotive sensors and wearable medical devices. However, as a hobby I have been building analogue synthesizers since my school days. Approaching 40 I decided it was time to release my creations to the public!
Where did the inspiration for the Motas synths come from, and what influenced you to make your own synths?
I’ve always loved the sound of synthesizers, from growing up listening to all those synth sounds of the early 80s on the radio (and 70s sounds from my dad’s vinyl) and later the sounds used by artists creating rave/ambient/house/techno/electronica etc. As an 8 year old I remember my excitement as I got a second-hand JVC KB-303 home keyboard for Christmas. I remember turning up the bassline volume slider and being so excited by the sound! I wonder if they copied the model name from the legendary TB-303 bassline?
Years later, but still at school I wanted to try to make my own electronic music but not having much money and being a bit of a geek I decided to try to build my own synth instead of buying one. I did my ‘research’ by getting books out of the library (the internet had probably only just been invented at that point) and I remember ordering electronics datasheets from the Maplin shop. One of the key chips used in my first synth was an Operational Transconductance Amplifer or ‘OTA’ so I named the synthesizer MOTAS 1 – from M(onophonic) OTA S(ynthesizer) number 1!
So, it looks like Motas-6 is the first synth that’s gone on sale from Motas Electronics. Can you tell us more about it?
Yes, Motas-6 is the first commercially available model. It is a 3-oscillator analogue mono-synth (but can also play paraphonically) with powerful digital control. The oscillators are true analogue VCOs with various hard-sync options and phase-modulation on oscillators 2 and 3. The other sound sources are the analogue noise source (white/pink option) and external audio input (or feedback connection if not connected). There are 2 low-pass filters one of which is an ‘OTA’ design with output from 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6-poles (so very bright to super dark!) with adjustable resonance. The second LPF is based on a TB-303 circuit with adjustable resonance. There is also a 2-pole high-pass filter. All of the filters can be flexible connected together in series or parallel in various ways. The output stage VCA has analogue clipping options.
The powerful digital control is what takes this synth to the next level – every sound parameter has its own envelope generator (EG) and low-frequency oscillator (LFO) as well as 4 global EGs and 4 global LFOs. That is 37 EGs and 37 LFOs in total! The EGs and LFOs each have various independent note-triggering and repeat settings. The idea here is not that you would normally use all of those EGs/LFOs at once (although you can if you want to) but rather when creating a sound you think about the aspect of the sound and you are free to dial-in the change that you want without caring what the other parameters and modulation sources are doing. For example, if you want a little pitch-bend on each new note but only on the pitch of oscillator-3 then you go straight to the oscillator-3 pitch page and dial in an EG with the settings you want – you don’t have to worry about the effect the EG might have elsewhere (which is usually the case with synths having a more limited number of EGs) since it is a unique EG just for the oscillator-3 pitch!
Motas-6 has USB MIDI and traditional MIDI connections, as well as 4 CV/gate inputs to control the sound from your analogue gear. There is a ‘morphing’ mode where you can smoothly blend between 4 active sounds using external controllers or CV. There is an oscilloscope and a spectrum analyser feature where you can ‘see’ the sound generated by Motas-6 in real-time on the OLED display which is a lot of fun and can be quite educational! There is a powerful arpeggiator and a pattern/track sequencer. All of the sound parameters are sent/received over MIDI so you can automate sound tweaking. Motas-6 can save 500 patches over 10 banks of 50 patches each.
As you can see I’ve tried hard to provide as many features as I can into the design. Also, with easy to apply firmware updates new features can be added based on customer feedback. For example, a few months ago a Motas-6 user suggested adding more LFO waveforms so we did this and now Motas-6 has 50 different LFO waveshapes to choose from (and so each of the 37 LFOs can be independently set to one of these waveforms)!
Can you tell us what came before this model, were they all prototypes? What happened to them?
All of the earlier models were just for home use or were prototypes and they are all 3-oscillator analogue synths. Motas 1 didn’t work very well as the oscillator pitch changed as you approached it a bit like an unintentional theramin! Way back then I was still learning electronics … Unfortunately I broke-up Motas 1 to re-use the parts to make Motas 2 (I wish I had kept it now). Motas 2 was built in the early 90s and is installed in a wooden ‘suitcase’ box. I still have it today and it sounds super-fat but is quite noisy and the pitch stability isn’t great. Motas 3 was built in the late 90s and is a 3U rack synth and still works nicely. Many years later (around 2011) I designed and built Motas 4 which was my first synth combining analogue sound generation with digital control and is really the origin of the Motas-6. I built several Motas 4 units in different 3U cases perfecting the digital interface and the analogue circuitry. Later, as an evolution of Motas 4 I created Motas 5 which is in a smaller case with the intention of commercial production. I made a few prototype Motas 5 units in various finishes and it was one of these units that I first demoed to the guys at Red Dog Music London!
What has the process of getting Motas-6 in to production and making it available to the public been like?
In my career I have been involved in the production of a lot of commercial electronics which has really helped me to know what is needed to make a product. It would have been a lot harder without this knowledge as it is a big step up from making a piece of kit in your home to making something reliable, manufacturable and suitable for sale.
The overall experience has been really enjoyable to be honest, it has been a lot of hard work but the best bit for me is knowing that people out there are using your creation and loving the sound!
Have you started working on Motas-7, or something completely different? Is there anything you can tell us about your plans for the future?
I haven’t started on Motas-7 but I have a few ideas in the pipeline ;). At the moment I am busy developing software tools to use with Motas-6 such a VST plugin that will be available soon. This will allow automated control of the Motas-6 parameters from your DAW.
And finally, what advice would you give to someone who would like to get in to building synths?
As you can imagine it is not the sort of thing you learn overnight but to get started in analogue synths I would suggest reading about simple oscillator and filter circuits and then building them on a breadboard so you can hear something. There is loads of info online now and lots of kits around, although I think to really get into it you need to build your own circuits from scratch. When you build from scratch and it doesn’t work properly that is when you start to learn!
Motas-6 is now available at Red Dog Music. Get in touch if you have any questions, or come visit us in our London branch to comw try it out.
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