Bob Moog On The Story Of The Synthesizer

This video captures Bob Moog at the Red Bull Music Academy.

Bob Moog at Red Bull Music Academy, Cape Town 2003

Bob Moog changed the face of popular music by producing the first ever commercially available synthesizers – those charming, cheeky machines that we love for their shapely basslines and unearthly emotion.

It’s hard to imagine modern music without the Moog – but just imagine, if you can, back in the early ’70s, east of Buffalo. There’s Bob, riding his bike to work each day, peddling between barns and fields to Moog Music Inc., set up in an old gelatine factory. Inside, the desktop-size Minimoog synth was being constructed en masse, as well as the cutting edge Polymoog, which had a sexy new feature: you could play more than one note at a time on it, even chords. Plastic keyboards were shipped from South Carolina in piano boxes which said: “Another piano for a happy home,” and in the hot Buffalo summers, the maintenance people had to pour water on the roof of the building to cool the factory down (especially to protect the heat-sensitive transformer components from Japan).

But Bob’s musical journey began long before these Williamsville bicycle rides. The journey began in 1954 when he enlisted the help of his father to start making theremins, which he spent ten years making for science fiction movies and avantgarde musicians.

The first Moog Modular was knocked up for fun, as a project for his musician friend Herbert Deutsch. But pretty soon, after the first strains of success by (Walter, who became) Wendy Carlos’ album Switched-On Bach, the Moog stole its way into the heart of rock and jazz fusion – appearing on the Beatles – Abbey Road and the Beach Boys – Pet Sounds albums – and helped instigate all types of electronic music.

When Stevie Wonder heard the sub-bass wobble out from from Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff’s Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, he asked the pair to become his producers and Moogmen. The Moog became a key ingredient for some of Stevie’s deepest albums, such as Innervisions, Talking Book and Music Of My Mind. Herbie Hancock – who was pioneering jazz fusion with his Headhunters band – took up the Moog. Another fan was Parliament keyboardist Bernie Worrell, who got down on it for the group’s boot(y)-stomping, endlessly descending Flashlight.

At the end of 1977, Bob left Moog Music and founded Big Briar, teaching music technology courses at the University Of North Carolina at Asheville from 1989 to 1992. He made a remix of his original babies in the form of the Etherwave theremin, and the Ethervox MIDI theremin in 1998, as well as debuting his Moogerfooger analog effects modules, the Minimoog Voyager and also put a little time aside to star in a documentary about his own life.

Though he may have left us for a higher plane, he has left an enormous legacy behind, having irreversibly changed the sonic landscape of the world. Perhaps his greatest legacy was his ability to imbue machines with soul, so that musicians around the world discovered a special place in their hearts for the sound of synthesisers.

“People understood that you could use these things to produce and play music. Music that wasn’t important because it was novel, because it was the first time, but because people really wanted to listen to it. It satisfied some need, the music itself was valuable to people.”

During his talk at the Academy in Cape Town, the extraordinary (and deeply missed) synth pioneer, Bob Moog, got down to the nitty gritty of supersizing your oscillations. Just what does make a bassline skinny or fat? Dr. Moog also talked about how shapely controllers and a cute box of bits can help give your music sauce. As Steinski (who was in the audience that day) also commented: “It’s all about the interface,” innit? Here is an example of the kind of fine sentiments that typified Bob Moog and showed him to possess such a unique and sensitive approach:

“When you connect with an instrument, no matter of what sort, there is an interaction that’s outside of what’s actually going through your fingers. I hesitate to use the word spiritual, but I’m absolutely sure that there is a consciousness that we connect with (…) You develop that sort of connection with an instrument. Some of you will do all that with your computers, some will do it with something like the Voyager, the Korg Triton, or any other of the good stuff that’s out there.”

via Crate Kings

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