Moog: Etherwave Plus

August 1, 2009

YOU MAYBE A LITTLE FOGGYON EXACTLYWHAT a Theremin is, but you’ve probably heard one. Movie buffs might remember its eerie sound from the The Day the Earth Stood Still, or from Spellbound, Lost Weekend, or Ed Wood. Led Zeppelin fans will recall Jimmy Page waving his arms in front of a strange box with twin antennae in The Song Remains the Same, producing psychedelic sounds on “Whole Lotta Love.” In recent years, musicians as diverse as Portishead, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and Badly Drawn Boy, have availed themselves of the Theremin’s spooky wails.

A Theremin is essentially an elongated wooden box that contains a pair of oscillators that emit a continuous tone. The frequency and loudness of this tone are controlled using the body’s proximity to the antenna as a variable capacitor. Simply put, by changing the distance of your hands from the two antennae, you can control the pitch and volume of the Theremin.

The “Plus” in Etherwave Plus refers to the ability of Moog’s latest Theremin model to send CV (or Control Voltage) signals from three new outputs on the bottom of the chassis. They allow you to control various parameters on any effect that accepts external CV control. For example, if your multi-effects unit lets you plug in a third party expression pedal, you might use the Etherwave Plus to control the tremolo rate by waving your hand in front of the pitch antenna. If you have another CV controllable effect as well, such as the Moog Low Pass Filter, you could use the volume antenna to control the mix of this effect.

The Etherwave Plus can be placed on a tabletop, or screwed onto a mic stand via a socket underneath its chassis. The front panel includes a power switch, an audio output, and a headphone output. The headphone output comes configured for practice: i.e., the horizontal antenna controls the headphone volume, as well as the external volume. If you prefer, you can internally reconfigure the headphone output to perform in Pitch Preview mode. In doing so, the audio is always audible in the phones, even when you silence the external audio output, by moving your hand next to the volume antenna. This allows you to hear your starting pitch before the audience does. A dedicated volume control for the headphone output comes in handy when using Pitch Preview mode.

Other controls include Volume, Pitch, Waveform, and Brightness. The Volume and Pitch controls fine-tune the response of the horizontal and vertical antennae, respectively. Waveform and Brightness fine-tune the distortion characteristics of the audio waveform output. This is not distortion in the guitar amp or pedal sense, but rather a very slight distortion that adds harmonic character to the waveform.

Residing on the bottom of the chassis are outputs for Pitch CV, Volume CV, and Gate CV. Running a standard 1/4" cable from the Pitch CV output to another effect’s expression input lets the vertical antenna control one of that effect’s parameters (or, in some multi-effects, more than one parameter). Likewise, coming out of the Volume CV means that the horizontal antenna is in control. The Gate CV output is for more advanced functions, like sending a signal to start envelopes, triggering sample and hold circuits, or other timing related activities.

Using the Plus’ audio output, I found the pitch to be altered radically by miniscule changes of my hand’s distance from the vertical antenna. It takes years of intense practice to be able to play properly intonated melodies on this instrument. Still, you can have fun with wild pitch sweeps pretty quickly. In fact, it was so much fun to make sci-fi sounds using the Theremin audio that it took me a while to get to the CV control option of the Etherwave Plus. I was easily able to make these sounds while playing the guitar, but I recommend that you use a pedal instead of the horizontal antenna to control the volume. The unit defaults to full volume until you move your hand towards the antenna, and, as your hands are often otherwise occupied, a volume pedal will let you keep the sound off when you step away from the unit.

Lastly, I unplugged the Plus’ audio output to concentrate on the CV function— though you can use both at once. I used the Etherwave to control a number of Moogerfooger pedals—an MF-101 Low Pass Filter, an MF-102 Ring Modulator, and an MF-104Z Analog Delay—as well as a WMD Geiger Counter digital destruction pedal and a Source Audio HotHand Wah Filter.

The Moogerfooger pedals permit you to control more than one parameter per pedal, so I plugged the Etherwave’s Pitch CV into the Ring Modulator’s Frequency input, and the Etherwave’s Volume CV into the Ring Modulator’s LFO Rate control input. Trying to use both antennae at once, while playing guitar, was more than this picker could handle. It sort of worked when I sustained a chord, waved the neck near the Pitch (vertical) antenna, and used my picking hand to control the volume antenna, but I recommend that all but the most coordinated stick to one or the other.

Manipulating the Ring Modulator’s frequency created some, well, Theremin-like sounds. This seemed a little redundant, so I switched to the Analog delay. There I was able to control the feedback with the pitch antenna for some cool, Tommy Bolin, runaway repeat effects.

The WMD Geiger Counter lets you use CV to control the sample rate and the bit rate. Once again I found the best results using the Theremin to control just one—I chose the sample rate. This yielded some wonderfully sick, filter-swept, fuzz effects.

The HotHand Wah’s filters responded immediately to the Etherwave’s instructions. The HotHand normally uses a remote ring to sweep its filters, making for some great visual and audio effects. The Etherwave required putting my whole body into it, resulting in an even deeper expressive connection to the filtering sounds. I easily can see it too adding immensely to any performance. At $500 to surf the Etherwave, you may not deem it a must have for your effects arsenal. Still, for those can swing it, this new version of the classic Theremin offers a tsunami of show-stopping sonic expression.

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