It was 50 years ago that American maverick inventor Robert Moog began developing instruments that altered the course of modern music for all time and have since become an integral part of our musical culture. To celebrate Moog and his half-century of innovation, a Moogfest concert will be held in New York. The list of performers includes some of the most influential Moog users, including Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Suzanne Ciani, Jason Miles, Eumir Deodato, Pamelia Kurstin, NYC Reggae Collective, Stanley Jordan, Bernie Worrell, Steve Molitz of Particle, and DJ Logic.
Moog’s analog synthesizers helped catapult the careers of a diverse list of artists, including rockers Edgar Winter, Todd Rundgren, Gary Numan and Devo, funkster Bernie Worrell with Parliament-Funkadelic, disco producer Giorgio Moroder with disco diva Donna Summer, fusioneers Chick Corea with Return To Forever, Herbie Hancock with The Headhunters, Jan Hammer with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Klaus Doldinger with Passport and Joe Zawinul with Weather Report, New Age icon Tomita and classical performer Wendy Carlos.
To honor Moog and commemorate his groundbreaking achievements, the renowned keyboardists and longstanding Moog users will gather on Tuesday, May 18 at B.B. King’s Bar & Grill in Times Square (237 w. 42nd Street between 7th & 8th Avenues) to participate in a gala Moogfest. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets for this special event, produced by Charles Carlini of the Carlini Group, are $45 and are available at the box office (212-997-4144) or at all Ticketmaster outlets.
Born in 1934 in New York City, Moog (rhymes with vogue) took piano lessons as a child. It was in 1954 that he began making theremins, which provided the high-pitched eerie squeals in ’50s-era sci-fi/horror movies. Ten years later, he created the first Moog Modular synthesizer, premiering it at the Audio Engineering Society Convention in October of 1964.
By the time he got a graduate degree (PhD in Engineering Physics) in the summer of 1965, the R. A. Moog Co. had delivered several modular synthesizer systems, mostly to academic and experimental composers. But it would be a few years later before Moog synthesizers would leap into public consciousness via Wendy Carlos’ groundbreaking album Switched-On Bach. Released on Columbia Records at the end of 1968, it immediately sold over a million copies and created a sharp demand for Moog modular synthesizers throughout 1969 and early 1970. By the end of 1970, R. A. Moog Inc. introduced the Minimoog, a compact performance synthesizer based on the technology of Moog modular products, enabling keyboardists to take the Moog on the road, which began a decade of music that would be forever altered by the Minimoog and its incomparable sounds.
R. A. Moog Inc. officially changed to Moog Music in 1971 and became a division of the now defunct Norlin Music in 1973. At the end of 1977, Bob left Moog Music and founded Big Briar for the purpose of developing and building electronic musical instruments with novel player interfaces. Norlin Music made actual Moog keyboards for the better part of the next decade, but with the heart and soul of Moog gone, Moog keyboards ceased production by 1986. Though gone from his namesake company, Bob’s interest in synthesizers and instruments could not be quelled. From 1978 to 1992, he operated Big Briar on a small scale and kept building custom instruments while also providing consultation services to other music technology manufacturers. In addition, Bob served as Kurzweil Music Systems’ Vice President of New Product Research from 1984 through 1989, and taught music technology courses at the University of North Carolina at Asheville from 1989 to 1992.
In response to a rise in interest of his original invention, the theremin, Moog designed the Series 91 Theremin in 1991 and Big Briar produced them for the next five years. In 1996 he introduced the Etherwave Theremin and in 1998 designed the Ethervox MIDI Theremin. Moog has since designed several Moogerfooger analog effects modules, which are based on the technical principles of the original Moog modular instruments and were designed to bring the benefits of analog synthesis to all performing musicians.
Then in 2002, Moog resurrected his namesake analog synthesizer, designing the new Minimoog Voyager for a new generation of Moog players. Like the Moogerfoogers, this instrument is based on the technical principles of the original Moog modular instruments and the original Minimoog, but in addition incorporates a wide range of contemporary features such as fully implemented MIDI and a three-axis touch surface. Last year, Bob reclaimed the right to use the Moog Music and MiniMoog trademarks, and immediately changed the name of his Big Briar to Moog Music Inc. The company’s latest new product is the Moog PianoBar, which fits onto any acoustic piano and enables the player to use the piano’s keyboard to control electronically generated sounds.
Robert Moog’s substantial achievements have recently been recounted by documentary filmmaker/musician Hans Fjellestad in Moog (http://www.moogmovie.com). Shot on location in Asheville, N.C., New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tokyo and London, this feature documentary explores Moog’s collaborations with musicians over the years and his ideas about creativity, design, interactivity and spirituality while also examining his mythic cult hero status among musicians. Theatrical release is planned for the summer of 2004 with follow-up DVD release in the autumn, distributed by Plexifilm. Artists such as Stereolab, The Neptunes, Devo, Meat Beat Manifesto, Tortoise, DJ Spooky, Money Mark, Luke Vibert & Jean-Jacques Perrey, 33, Junky XL with Gary Numan, The Album Leaf, Bernie Worrell, Pete Devriese, Bostich, Charlie Clouser, Baiyon, Suzanne Ciani, Electric Skychurch and others are contributing original music produced on Moog instruments for the soundtrack.
Over the past 50 years, Moog’s dedication to the craft of making instruments has been as legendary as the instruments themselves. And at the 50 year mark in his storied history, Moog is still active in his workshop in rural North Carolina, continuing to shape musical culture with some of the most inspiring instruments ever created.