MoogLab’s “Novitiate” Educational Synth By Dewanatron

Dewanatron Donates One-of-a-Kind Synth to MoogLab

Commissioned by the Bob Moog Foundation, the Novitiate was designed for teaching electronic music synthesis to beginners.

The unique synth manufacturer Dewanatron [], helmed by cousins Brian and Leon Dewan, began as a pair of musical performers who built electronic musical instruments to suit their own needs. Their efforts grew into a business that now supplies some of the most unusual synthesizers you can buy. A few months ago, Executive Director Michelle Moog-Koussa asked Dewanatron to design and build a distinctive new synth that was soon dubbed the Novitiate.

According to Brian Dewan, “Michelle asked us if we would make something that was specifically for teaching people about basic concepts of modular synthesis. It’s the first instrument we made that was not really conceived of as first and foremost for making music.”

The Novitiate Front Panel – Photo by Reggie Tidwell

Leon Dewan adds, “We designed in the Novitiate something very simple for someone who doesn’t know anything about synthesis to start with and just get a handle on the basics of waveforms and filtering and frequency modulation.”

The front panel’s four sections—oscillator, modulation, filter, and envelope—each demonstrate a primary synthesizer function. A button in the oscillator section triggers the oscillator independently of the other sections, generating four waveforms and covering the entire range of human hearing and beyond. Pressing another button in the modulation section routes a separate modulating oscillator to the main oscillator. The modulator’s continuously variable frequency ranges from a slow pulsation to rates beyond human hearing, enabling vibrato and FM effects. Pressing a third button lets you hear the effect of the Novitiate’s resonant lowpass filter, and a fourth triggers an ADSR envelope generator. Level knobs let you apply the envelope to control filter frequency, amplifier volume, and modulation depth.

The Novitiate Control Panel

Housed in a furniture-grade poplar cabinet, the Novitiate has 1950s sci-fi movie styling that’s best be described as “futuristically retro.” Special touches include a control panel finished in blue-green metal-flake glaze, chicken-head knobs, oversized rotary dials, and buttons that look exactly like doorbells. Built-in speakers reveal a surprisingly powerful stereo amplifier onboard. The instrument also has two headphone jacks with independent volume knobs and two main audio outputs. Instead of the usual power switch, the Novitiate has a lock and key for turning power on and off, ensuring that it would be useless to anyone who might consider stealing it.

The Novitiate by Dewanatron

Although the Novitiate is a true analog synth in the Bob Moog tradition, it lacks any kind of keyboard or MIDI connection. As it turns out, those features are unnecessary for teaching the basics of synthesis. If desired, however, it does have control-voltage and gate inputs for connecting modular synthesizer gear, including an analog synth keyboard.

The Novitiate made its debut at the Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF) in May. It will again be available to the public at The Artery in Asheville’s River Arts District during Pushing the Envelope: ADSR, a multimedia art show cosponsored by the Bob Moog Foundation and the Asheville Area Arts Council, beginning July 9 and ending July 30, 2011.

“It is the goal of our MoogLab program to teach science through music not only to synthesizer fans, but to people from all walks of life and of all ages,” says Michelle Moog-Koussa. “We are delighted to add the Novitiate to our MoogLab program, and we are deeply grateful to Brian and Leon Dewan for supporting our educational initiatives with this custom instrument.”