Taurus Taurus Taurus
Think of those things on the floor under the organ. Now chop them up a bit and separate them. We dance on the result
Many a band has trodden on Moog and produced a fine sound. David Etheridge has boomy noises to make over the birth of bass pedals.
Question: What is it that originally just went 'hoooom', then went 'braauummmm', and now can go anything from 'bloink' to 'eeeyowoo'? Answer: ye olde bass pedals, the most famous of which are the mighty Moog Taurus set.
History time. Cast your mind back to the magnificent church organs of yore, and their propensity for bass sounds that filled stone constructed buildings many centuries old. Ah yes, it brings back the immortal names of the pedal stops like '16 foot Diapason', or '32 foot Sub Bass' (as cabinet wrecking a sound as you were ever likely to hear). Early Hammond organs — and this is where the story really starts — emulated their more gigantic brethren with a pedal board of up to two octaves or more, and on some luxury models offered full polyphony (or as many pedals as your feet could cover at once). The resulting noise could sound like stone age Iron Maiden, but with careful heeling and toeing, and cautious choice of octave settings, four part chords could, and indeed still are, played underneath twin manual digital dexterity.
In rock music, many early organists used pedals in lieu of a separate bassist. Of course, those were the days when even bass guitarists were the poor relation of guitarists, and the cutting edge of round wound strings were not even a glint in Mr Rotosound's eye. In fact, bassists didn't really cut through at all, so a smooth bass hum from organ pedals was quite acceptable.
One of the very first heavy metal bands, Atomic Rooster, relied on the left hand of organist Vincent Crane to provide the bass sounds. While acceptable in the studio, no amount of 15in speakers could make it roar out on gigs, and by the time of Atomic Rooster's revival in 1980, this sonic defect was even more apparent.
Organ type sounds, as applied to organ type bass pedals, only worked some of the time, but many sets were on offer, usually as part of the portable combo-type instruments.
The first pedal synthesiser of note in rock music was not an American product, as might be expected, but British. A small company near Ringwood in Hampshire called D.E.W. produced their Dewtron 'Mr Bassman' bass pedal unit around 1970. They also specialised in easy to build synthesiser modules and do it yourself phasers, wah-wah pedals and the like.
The 'Mr Bassman' pedals were a one octave set, powered by a PP3 battery, and had an easy to use octave switch on top that made it ideal for live playing. Amongst the users of this instrument was Mike Rutherford of Genesis — you can hear them on the intro to "White Mountain" on the Genesis album 'Trespass'. He was able to play twelve string guitar (sitting down, as the band was notable for not leaping about on stage), and supply the bass line as well. The pedals also came in useful for providing the extra notes below low E on the bass guitar — listen to "The Fountain of Samalcis" on 'Nursery Cryme' and you'll hear the effect. Chris Squire was another quick convert to bass pedals. In Yes' live version of "America", he would play one bass line on pedals, another on his Rickenbacker, and scat sing over the top on his solo — and this was in 1972!
However, the Dewtron pedals only had the one sound, but things began to change around 1976 thanks to Mr Moog and his associates. With the arrival of the very first programmable polyphonic synthesisers, mainly Moog's own Constellation set up which was itself modelled on organ technology, the Taurus bass pedals appeared.
This was a big change in technology — three presets and one programmable voice, with all sorts of options built in. Still present was the one octave pedalboard, but the programmable circuitry was, in essence, a cut down Minimoog — twin oscillators, Moog's own three stage ADS (Attack, Decay, Sustain) envelope generator (take your foot off the pedals for the release), and controls for cutoff filter, emphasis, and contour amount. The last two controls set the filter E.G.
Also provided was a choice of three octave settings in the inbuilt control panel, which, when combined with the octave switch on the performance controls, gave a total four octave range. Oscillator B could be put up yet a further octave, if so desired. Also included was a glide pedal, which is useful in short amounts, but some users think that it can sound a little weird when applied to large intervals.
The three presets were labelled 'Bass', 'Tuba' and 'Taurus'. 'Bass' was a fairly smooth sine wavey sound that cut off as soon as you released the pedal, good for fast footwork. Opinions vary on the merits of 'Tuba'. Its farty sound must have its uses somewhere, but the fave rave of all was 'Taurus' itself. The basic, filtered 'braauummm's sound became familiar on record and at gigs, and at last here was a sound that could really cut through.
With two large slider mounted pedals for the filter and volume mute, everything except the finer points of the 'Variable' programming could be done by the feet.
Like the Minimoog, the Taurus pedals in their Mark I form have never lost their popularity. Moog went on from there to introduce the Mark 2 version, and to some users, this was a retrograde move in certain respects. Now we are offered a 1½ octave board (C to G) and a completely separate module on a stand, which in real life is the voicing unit from the Moog Rogue keyboard connected to the pedals by a 12 foot cable. Where the controversy comes in is the addition of pitch bend and mod wheels supplied — do you really need them on a pedal synthesiser? If you do need them, how do you grow an extra arm to operate them while playing a guitar or bass at the same time? It's a moot point, and in Moog's defence, you are offered extra mod controls — trill(!), automatic triggering, sample and hold, vibrato and tremolo. In addition, the pedal unit can be used with any other monophonic synthesiser via the customary pre-MIDI CV and Gate connections, which also has possibilities with a suitable connection box to interface to any MIDI setup. You may need to do this anyway, as the Rogue's bass sounds are still not as good as the original Taurus sounds.
What of the competition? Well, for hi-tech fans, Korg do a MIDI pedalboard, which has no sound circuitry built into it, but you could use it to get any sound from which ever expander is in your setup, and Viscount (the home organ people) do a nice pedalboard and separate sound module with seven presets and one programmable voice offering a choice of Sawtooth and Pulse waveforms, ADSR and filter controls. Both makes retail at around £300. On the secondhand market, Taurus pedals are much in demand, and you will find them anywhere from £3,500. Despite Moog's current low profile, they still make the Taurus 2s, and their European agent is R. P. van der Matten, (Contact Details). Happy hunting!
Finally, thanks to Andy Thompson for the use of his Taurus I's for photography and perusal.
Gear in this article:
Feature by David Etheridge
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