Taurus II Pedals
Stand on one foot to play Moog's newly designed version of their famous bass pedals.
Y'know, there are times when the all powerful human urge for scientific progress is a bloody nuisance; moments when the purest philosophical search for improvement backfires like a Smith and Wesson with treacle down the barrel. This, sadly, is such an occasion.
In striving to re-issue and redesign the original and now quite elderly Taurus bass pedals, Moog have overstretched the idea and tripped. I have the greatest respect for Moog and rarely find anything to criticise about their instruments, but this time I think they've boo-booed.
The first Taurus was made famous in the mid Seventies by the mega-likes of Genesis and Yes who wove the vast, grumbling bass notes into their keyboard epics. Guitarists like Mike Rutherford would scratch away at a double necked monstrosity, while pinning the song down with one foot.
Lately they've had a resurgence largely thanks to The Police — "Walking On the Moon" being an obvious example. The first Taurus was a single octave C-to-C job with a few preset sounds and a crop of slider controls under a plastic cover so you could set up one patch of your own.
The II is based upon the successful Moog Rogue keyboard synthesiser, lifting its control panel and electronics and linking them to a free standing, one and a half octave C to F footboard. It's great in theory, but hits several land mines in practise.
The footboard is excellent. The pedals are ideally spaced for the average size nine boot, they're sturdy, silent and have a light touch for quick fingering... though I suppose that should be footing. A mike stand affair rises from the centre of the board and screws into the bottom of the control section so it can hover at hand height for easy adjustment.
The problems here are that the stand is finicky to put together, it's one of those where the thread never seems to grip, and though some may like the idea of easily reached controls, the first Taurus had the advantage of footbuttons for everything.
You could alter sounds and filter characteristics without interrupting what your hands were up to. The ultimate answer would probably be a set of programmable memories selected by tootsie, but of course we're talking money.
The Rogue panel connects to the board via a DIN socket lead and there are further outputs for audio and trigger, plus inputs to reach the VCF, VCOs etc. An exterior keyboard can be patched in to operate the electronics. Like the Rogue proper, the Taurus II operates from an external power supply included in the deal. There are arguments supporting that system for the Rogue — limited weight and size etc — but on a device as bulky as the Taurus those considerations don't really apply and a proper transformer set up should have been built into the case.
The panel breaks down into pitch and modulation wheels on the left, oscillator controls in the centre and VCF, VCA components on the right. You've got a choice of ramp or square waveforms, 32, 16 or 8 footages (though the pitch wheel can drop it a further octave) and there's glide.
The two oscillators can be tuned apart but otherwise what goes for one (waveform, etc) holds for both. The LFO has triangle, square and random waveforms and, as the lettering proudly boasts, it can go all the way from 0.3Hz to 30Hz — more than sufficient.
Oh, an auto trigger finds its way into the circuit which is good since you can keep a steady bomp-bomp-bomp bass line running underneath and just alter the pitch with the footboard.
Attack and decay sliders cover the envelope generators; cutoff, emphasis and amount make themselves known for the filter. A tracking knob allows for the top end of the keys to have a brighter tone than the bottom and the set-up is completed by a master volume plus sliders for oscillator volumes and white noise. The Rogue's overdrive circuit means that at top whack the oscillators pick up a mild edge of distortion to give them a slightly fatter feed.
For those unfamiliar with synthesisers, what you've got are the necessary bits for smooth low sounds, peaky pew-pew sounds, wobbly stuff and squeaky stuff. Technical, I know, but the essentials are there.
Just as a bass guitar depends on the wood and the pickups to form its tone, a synthesiser depends on its circuitry and components to do the same job. Usually Moogs are blessed with a fabulous depth and vibrancy in the oscillators and filters. So why the Taurus should sound so thin is a mystery.
It lacked the gurgling power I expect from Moogs. No matter how I fiddled with the filter emphasis and cutoff, the results were flat and lacking in life. One of the tricks to synths is to tune the oscillators fractionally apart. As they drift towards and away from each other a wonderful whirling quality superimposes itself over the note. This seemed particularly difficult to achieve on the Taurus. Instead of sweeping majestically through this chorus effect, it jumped unevenly, sounding rich one moment, then horribly thin the next.
A pity since nothing is better than a churning bass note shaking the room apart while the rest of the song revolves around it. Perhaps it needs a little mental re-adjustment. After all, bass pedals aren't meant to be solo instruments, they're always living in the background. But most two oscillator keyboard synths I've come across (certainly all other Moogs) are capable of a fatter bottom end than the Taurus.
On the pro side that extra half an octave on the footboard is useful. On the first Taurus there was nothing more annoying than having to split an ascending or descending line and double back on yourself. Also with the 32, 16 and 8 foot option on the Rogue panel it's possible to play (slow) lead lines in the upper registers.
It's a pity that for the sake of progress Moog have dropped several of the better facilities of the first Taurus only to land themselves with a handful of snags. A Taurus one-and-a-half combining the best both would have been a surer bet.
R.R.P £606 inc VAT
Enquiries: Moog UK, (Contact Details).