Monday, August 22, 2005


The death has been announced of Robert Moog, electronic music pioneer and father of the synth - and, therefore, creator of the 1980s.

The Moog was the original synthesizer, first demonstrated in 1964. Although some argue he was pipped to the post as the first by Donald Buchla's modular synthesizer, it was Moog's machine which was taken to people's hearts; it was a Moog that the Beatles plugged in when they were recording Because; it was a Moog which was used for the Clockwork Orange soundtrack. And Moog was set to become an even more familiar name on the music scene in 1971 when he introduced the MiniMoog Model D, a single, compact unit which went on to sell 13,000 in the next decade. By 1977, you couldn't move for Moog-sounds in the charts, from Donna Summer's I Feel Love through to Kraftwerk.

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Ironically, for someone seen as the enemy of "real" music, Moog's mother had wished her son would become a concert pianist - he would later credit her attempts to persuade him in this direction as the reason why he took to seeking solace in science. Moog's initial interest in electronic music had led him to create and sell a 'build it yourself' theremin kit while still at Cornell University; the USD13,000 the 19 year-old made off that product was to provide the seed capital with which he established his own company.

Having invented and popularised the synth, Moog sold his company to Norlin, a more traditional instrument company, and although he stayed on for a while, he was eventually forced out by company politics, watching from the sidelines as the company launched a couple of shitty products bearing his name but none of his design. As synths went digital in the latter half of the 70s, Moog again sat to one side. And while he's proud of what synths did for music (they "introduced a vast array of new timbres and textures to the available palette of musical sound", he said), he is quick to deny that he had any special role in their genesis, according to a Salon profile:

While some have credited Moog with helping to foment a "democratization of music," he will hear none of it. That societal shift came about thanks to "cheesy Casio and Yamaha keyboards that sold for $100 to $500" and were "small and portable and battery-powered, so you could take them to a party or to the beach," he says. "I see these devices as being on a branch of music technology that is completely separate from the analog synthesizers of the 1970s."

In 2002, Moog bought back the rights to the Moog name and launched a new version of the MiniMoog; he also created the "interactive piano" for Yamaha, an instrument which utilises electronic technology in the body of a piano with a traditional sound. At long last, his ambitions finally chimed with those of his mother.

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