Are Synthesists Too Moog Obsessed?

Are synthesists too Moog obsessed?

A reader wrote in raising this question last week, at the height of coverage of Bob Moog‘s 78th birthday.

Jeff writes:

What the heck is with the worship of the house of Bob and Moog?

Yes, as an engineer I understand what he did for the industry, but what about Don Buchla? What about the amazing innovators at Yamaha that created FM synthesis? What about the innovators / inventors such as Les Paul, Dave Smith, Roger Linn, Dieter Döpfer, Thaddeus Cahill whom invented the tellharmonium at the turn of the century???

It seems that some hidden mighty media engine out there is spending a huge amount of resources to keep putting him on a pedestal and thrust the Moog name into the limelight while many other geniuses are left by the way side.

I say they all need as much recognition and praise. Any way you can help make the masses realize this would be appreciated.

We like to think that we give balanced coverage to Don BuchlaDave SmithRoger Linn and other electronic music pioneers.

Nevertheless, Bob Moog deserves a special place in the pantheon of electronic music pioneers.

Too Moog Obsessed?

To be sure, the other innovators mentioned have made massively important contributions to the current state of synthesis.

And Bob Moog, arguably, benefited from the times he worked in, the help of people like Herb Deutsch, the work of artists like Walter/Wendy Carlos & the novelty of the name Moog (to many).

But Moog’s work defined our concept of a synthesizer, of modular synthesizers and synth keyboards. And decades later, his work is still being imitated and the sound of his instruments is still revered.

What do you think? Are synthesists too Moog obsessed? If so, what electronic music pioneers do you think should be reconsidered?

58 thoughts on “Are Synthesists Too Moog Obsessed?

  1. Besides, Buchla is too pricy, Doepfer to specialized, (power supply wise), Smith and Linn are doing fine and are mentioned often, Les Paul has thier guitar calling, FM is good for bells and whistles, but little else, and Yamaha … give us a break! As for Cahill, tell us where these tellharmonium are being currently manufactured. Oh yeah, nowhere and by nobody. Moog have been consistently innovative and are always updating their brand and products. Sure their digital stuff is praised a little too highly, (get off the pot ipad users!), the moog ladder filter pretty much rules.

    1. Moog is “synthesizer” to the masses, as Bayer is aspirin, as Fender is guitar. No need to tax the common man with too much info. Those in the know will continue to enjoy their Prophets, MPCs, DX-7s, and their Rogues, Little Phatties and Opus-3s.

  2. uhh…cause he invented the synthesizer…
    and of course it was the evolution of many designers, but it’s the same reason why Thomas Edison is attributed the phonograph, makes history easy

  3. Synth players do have their share of sacred cows (see the analog vs digital discussion) – but Moog’s place is deserved.

    And if Bob Moog takes the gold medal, silver has to go to Dave Smith. The Sequential Prophet V was innovative in its day and is still a monster keyboard. The Prophet VS was arguably the first classic digital keyboard. The Studio 440 was before its time but morphed into the MPC.

    And he invented MIDI as a side project.

    The real question is who gets the Bronze.

    Buchla’s synths were ivory tower instruments for the first 40 years of their existence. There’s no denying Buchla’s genius, but the price of his synths put them out of reach of musicians

    Maybe Roland’s Ikutaro Kakehashi? Roland’s synths and drum machines of the 80’s are probably the classics of that decade.

    1. Maybe my history is off but wasn’t it Dave smith who invented Midi. Also Dave smith didn’t do everything take for instance SMPTE Time Code an important part of midi Was originally developed by NASA to sync computers together. Dave Smith is an American audio engineer who first proposed the MIDI standard in 1981 in a paper to the Audio Engineering Society. The MIDI specification 1.0 was published in August 1983. Smith’s company Sequential Circuits was started in 1974. In 1978, Sequential built the Prophet-5 — the first synthesiser to incorporate a microprocessor.

  4. In my humble opinion, I think it only proper to honor a man who did so much for music, and who has passed on and left us such a legacy. He did not invent the synth but developed an idea into a usable creative tool. I am proud to be a Moog supporter even though I don’t own one. Bob and I have a lot in common in that we are always searching… that in itself is a reason for recognition. Now is his time of honor, as he was not well honored in his time, and was kind of passed over when digital came around. As with most artists, his contributions are only being appreciated after his passing.

  5. Possibly, Roland really brought synths and drum machines to the masses. But whereas Moog remain true to their roots, Roland, Yamaha and Korg have lost their way.

    1. Those companies have focused on being successful businesses, which has allowed them to thrive for decades.

      You can’t say that for most other synth makers, certainly not Moog, SCI, Oberheim or Buchla.

      Moog had two classic instruments but went out of business. How many classic instruments has Roland created? Or Korg or Yamaha? Maybe a dozen apiece.

      Sometimes it seems like people think its a crime to build gear that musicians want to buy!

      1. What does it take to qualify as ‘classic’ in your skinny pamphlet? I’d say the single best-selling CLASSICAL album of all time, made largely with Moog gear, might have a little bit to do with defining the term. Plus the fact that it captured the public’s imagination to thoroughly. You propose some inverse elitism, where a real inventor who himself was quirky and whose machines still have personality and rugged integrity, counts for nothing. It’s not what sounds consistently make it to record as much as what people – users and laymen together can enthuse over, that defines classic.

  6. I was kind of surprised that there was so much coverage for what would have been Moog’s 78th birthday, including the Google synth page which was very nicely done. I would have waited for a better anniversary though to celebrate Mr. Moog’s life and work.

    Nonetheless, Moog is certainly the first name many people associate with synths because he was a pioneer and it was his instruments that received so much press thanks to Walter/Wendy Carlos’ albums. Of course, if you were a rock fan (and especially if you were a prog rock fan), both Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman popularized the use of Moog instruments. If you were into Funk, Soul or Disco music, Moog synths were widely used for synthesized bass lines.

    There were certainly a lot of pioneers but most people wouldn’t recognize Buchla’s name (though I am very happy to see that there there will be a festival in NYC soon featuring Buchla’s synths). There were other manufacturers of commercial synths who probably surpassed what Moog was doing (especially as the popularity of the Moog synth nosedived with each successive model during the 1970’s). ARP were huge, as was Korg and Yamaha. Sure, the Yamaha DX7 was an enormous hit, but the general public never knew anything about the pioneering work of Chowning in the field of FM synthesis before Yamaha released the killer synth of the early MIDI age.

    The difference though is that you couldn’t associate any one individual with any of those companies. Moog was fortunate to name his company after himself, which created instant identification between the man as well as the machine.

  7. I think there is a bit of moog obsession….not my cup of tea personally, I like waldorfs and casios. Ill give credit where credit is due but to me my obsession doesnt immediately turn to the first, it turns to the best. I would never go as far as to call moog the best, just not my cup of tea. The Memory Moog was fun. The voyager is neat but crazy, crazy over priced as is moog. There’s too many people to single out just Moog, but that’s not saying he doesn’t deserve recognition…

  8. Besides being the most known synth brand, there’s just something about the tone of those filters.
    To me it’s all in the mid-range. Moogs have a unique sound that’s irresistable.
    If I could have just one synth (or plug-in, at least — with polyphony) it would be a Moog-y one.

  9. I have owned dozens and dozens and dozens of syths but never a Moog. I refuse to pay their high prices. I can’t believe there are people willing to spend thousands of dollars for a monophonic synth. I put all my hard earned money towards an Access Virus.

    1. Do you really want to play on cheap gear?

      Ever seen a guitarist that wants to play a plastic guitar? Or a violinist that wants a cheap plastic violin? Or how about a brass player wanting to play a plastic trumpet?

      Keyboards are dirt cheap, compared to other types of instruments.

      But too many keyboards today are built to be cheap, rather than to be great instruments. They have lots of useless bells and whistles and they are nothing but a few chips in a cheap plastic case.

      Don’t get blinded by the bells and whistles.

      Someday, if you’re serious about music, you’re going to want an instrument that’s as well made and as inspirational as a good guitar or a violin. When that happens, cheap isn’t a feature anymore – but you’ll probably want an instrument that sounds great and feels like you could play it for the rest of your life and still be inspired by it.

      1. Exactly, when I got a Moog Voyager I was torn between yet another boat load of cheap synths, keyboards and drum machines that each have a few strong points but are not the one go to instruments for a whole class of sounds or whether I wanted an instrument first and then think about it being a monophonic analog synthesizer. For me the Voyager is very much an instrument in a very different way that I consider a modular system to be an instrument or a 303 or an MPC. What I like best about the Voyager is not so much the filter but th overall package with big knobs for everything and the way that I can let digital control assist me in tweaking parameters. Thinking about it: Perhaps I’d be most at home with a Buchla system but (1) I cannot afford one or even justify the expense and (2) I am consistently not impressed by the sound of the demos I hear in videos on the Internet.

        1. Buchla probably would disappoint you. Start a eurorack system, using the Expert Sleepers’ Silent Way system to have digital control over the modules. There are a lot of buchla-inspired modules to get in euro.

  10. I loved my Rogue but the voyager was overpriced rubbish, loads of duff menus and weird crap presets. Moogs celebration of Bob is just marketing in a tedious way.Good old evangelical americans.

  11. Moog deserves a lot of praise for sure. Sometimes it does seem like overkill. Someone who doesn’t seem to get enough praise IMO is Dave Smith. He invented MIDI! MIDI is still in version 1.0, even after all these years. How many software programs, OS, etc. are still in v1.0, anywhere?

  12. you answered your own question when you wrote “Moog’s work defined our concept of a synthesizer”… if the million dollar question on a game show was “name a brand of synthesizer” almost everybody would give ‘Moog’ as the answer, just as surely as they’d all get the pronunciation wrong.

  13. sometimes i feel like moog products are holding the creativity and design process of the future back, not allowing it to proceed past the “analog” nonsense. yes analog stuff can sound different but it is time to move past that, maybe integrate the two. i wouldn’t say moog has been that inspirational in the last 15 years. they can only “pioneer” subtractive synthesis for so long.

    to me synthesizers should protray the cutting edge of music technology for the current time, not rehash classic stuff even after so many from that generation is gone. i feel like moog is keeping the vibe of synthesizers looking wooden/plastic and expensive. its like looking at a synth harley davidson when i see a moog, not anything new or amazing.

    besides that, demo videos i see for moog are pretty lame, always weird squeals and noises not really marketable for modern music and the demos show things beginners wouldn’t understand like ring mods etc..

    im not a moog hater, just in my early 20s and i just dont really get the fandom.

    1. It’s not like people aren’t releasing cutting edge stuff just because Moog exists. Look at Izotope Iris, something really fresh and cutting edge, Camel Audio Alchemy, all the tons of cool stuff that is being released. Moog will do what they do well what fits what they are trying to accomplish and that’s that.

      1. Iris and Alchemy are very good examples. For sound design they are top notch. If I had the choice between those plugins and a moog …. I would take the moog and sell it buy the plugins and keep the remainder.

    2. When you said sometimes i feel like moog products are holding the creativity and design process of the future back. I so agree. I am more into working with raw sample’s that I record myself and tweaking them into outrageous playable sounds and instruments. I am bored with the old synths and would prefer more instruments to design sound with. I have enough synths to make a buzzing synthetic sound a million times over. Sample manipulation is really where it is at. Also I would rather own a Juno106 than anything by moog.

    3. “sometimes i feel like moog products are holding the creativity and design process of the future back, not allowing it to proceed past the “analog” nonsense. ”

      I can’t understand where you get either of your ideas – that Moog synths are holding things back or that the appreciation of ‘analog’ synths is nonsense.

      Moog Music has significantly refined the classic monosynth with the Voyager and Voyager XL. If you can’t see the additional potential of touchscreens, semi-modular architecture, additional modulation options, MIDI, then it’s probably the limitations of your imagination rather than the synth hardware.

      As to ‘analog nonsense’ – anybody who’s got experience with hardware analog synths, virtual analog synths and software synths knows that they all have unique qualities and benefits, and it’s not nonsense.

  14. Well, people pay attention to Suzanne Ciani and Buchla, too, here at this site they get written about. It’s not like people focus only on Moog and exclude everyone else.

    I think it’s just the nature of pop culture, to look for individuals who personify things most. And the Moog brand is probably the most active corporation in synthesis right now.

    And, since nobody mentioned it, it’s worth mentioning: Switched-On Bach

    That happened on Moog equipment, and it happened because Carlos was friends with Moog and Moog recognized Carlos’s suggestions were important and improved his equipment to suit Wendy/Walter.

    If it weren’t for Switched-On Bach it is very hard to say if the general public would have taken synths seriously. They may easily have become anonymous techie equipment used mostly for sound design like Suzanne Ciani was doing back then.

    Pop culture makes too many heroes and villains all over the place, but if it’s going to do it, I don’t think Moog is any worse than many others. And, unlike some heroes, he actually contributed a tremendous amount.

    So I vote it’s okay to keep talking about Moog.

  15. Who doesn’t want a Moog? It’s like a BMW or something, sure there are Porsches and Jaguars out there but even the richest oil baron has a couple trusty beamers in the garage.

  16. I would think that with what he is complaining about he would make the correct mention that John Chowning was one of the first to write and explore FM synthesis. Yamaha did not create FM synthesis, they just created the first synthesizer that got popular using that synthesis method.

  17. My 2 cents: Moog is fetishized because it feels like “an instrument.” Sturdy, well-built, will last you forever, sounds classic, a little quirky, has a signature sound. The price makes it so that only really serious guys who are willing to save own them (or really rich guys, upping the elitist factor). Moog is, by far, not the most technically innovative: Buchla, Dave Smith, Chowning, and Palm have all done more to innovate. still, I LOVE my Moog Votager XL MUCH more than my DSI or Waldorf synths… It feels like a living thing, and has a personality to it that cannot be programmed out. I personally picked my college because Moog received a degree there ( CUNY Queens ). His work ethic, personality, dedication to the needs of musicians, and foresight have made him a role model to me.

  18. When I think of the equipment I want Moog is not on the list. Here is my list Vsynth, ASR10, Korg Z1, Korg Karma, Symbolic Sound Capybara 320 with Kyma. See no moog. Yes they are overrated and the flavor of the moment and tastes will shift.

  19. like what you like, don’t like what you don’t like. Everyone has different tastes. I grew up listening to Wakeman and that guy got more out of a Mini than is technically possible. That said, I never caught the Moog lust for some reason. The one instrument that knocked me for a loop the first time I heard it and gave me an ” I WANT THAT” moment that lasts to this day is pictured at the top of this page. It was a CS-80 played by Eddie Jobson on the Jethro Tull ‘A’ tour. When he played Alaska I almost wet my pants. OK, so there’s a Mini in there too but I WANT the CS-80. Never got one, from reading the horror stories I’m not sure what I’d do if I got one, but man that thing sounds like nothing else. Obsessive? A bit. But, hey, you gotta have objectives.

  20. Jesus, don’t get so caught up in who gets the most praise. We’re starting to sound like guitar players. Moog was first. Walter/Wendy Carlos was the first musician to own a synth. It was moogs bday recently and google honored him. Shut the fuck up and write some music.

    1. In fact, some of us ARE guitar players! Seriously, if there are other synths you like better than Moogs, then just profess your love for *thiose* synths, instead of wasting your time putting down Moog.

  21. All respect to Bob Moog, for sure. But I think the people in charge of that company now are doing some pretty standard hyping and brand-building using his name and persona.. It appears they are pushing the Moog name into an elite status in an attempt to maintain premium pricing on the product lines. There is no doubt the products are top notch, but I think the elite pricing structure is going to bite them in butt between the economy and the changing needs/wants of electronic musicians.

  22. Regardless of who the genius’s are, Moog,…Buchla,…Smith,…all these gents inspired a whole new generation of basement genius’s building wild,..amazing useful and innovative devices to take us back or to push us forward into interesting, novel and brilliant ways to make new sounds. So, If Bobs name and influence had anything to do with that,…then yes…..he should be revered. And I’m sure his colleges would agree.

  23. When I was a child I heard the most amazing sounds and asked what they were. My mom wisely told me: those are the sounds of the Moog synthesizer! 😀

    So yeah, I think Moog is well-known, and for good reason! Though I did listen to Vangelis later on, I only relatively recently discovered that one of the keys (perhaps *the* key) to his amazing sound was the mighty Yamaha CS-80, the very same synth that is enshrined so prominently at the top of this page. 😉

    Anyway, great instruments are just great instruments. I think it’s great when their inventors are recognized, from the days of the telharmonium and theremin to the eras of classic analog and digital synths to today’s expressive hardware and software-based instruments.

  24. Dave Smith (e. g.) is a great engeneer with superb instruments, which plays a big role in contemporary music. But Moog Music Inc. has great engeneers plus! effektive marketing. This is the one and only difference.

    Check their web sites to see the difference. The DSI page gives you excellent information about their products. Moog motivates you to make music, shows you which famous people use Moog synthesizers, and this and that and more …

  25. I wouldn’t knock Yamaha on the head, if only for the CS-80 alone.

    The DX7 has to be mentioned, but every time I think of programming it, I start thanking NI for the FM8. Face it, it took a temporarily immobile and convalescing genius to learn how to program it from top to bottom… 🙂

  26. Ferrari it’s about fast cars not bikes!
    Moog is about analog!
    Why there is people saying that Moog should improve, change blah blah blah.
    For digital we have many many other brands: clavia, access etc
    Moog should reamin true to what has always been, specialy in this age when everything is loosing it’s identity!
    Moog never had many products as it has now. Yes, they’re expensive but they are good, and it doesn’t matter if they’re the best or not, because that is subjective.
    For me the main reason why the name Moog rose above the others was the fact that in an era where many records were sold (70’s), people used to read the lyrics and know the instruments that were used and in many records you could read:
    Wakeman;Emerson;Moraz;Hammer etc etc
    plays: piano, organ, mellotron,Moog…

    It was considered an instrument on it’s own, so the word the name remanined for always associated with a type of instruments.

    I have one but i would love to have the new Dave Smith PO8 or the Arturia Minibrute or the Bowen Solaris.


  27. Robert Moog is like the Elvis of the synth world, gets a lot of coverage while his contempoaries get over shadowed. In almost every top 10 synth list, minimoog and Arp Odyssey are at the top. Yet you never hear a word about Alan Robert Pearlman. A shame, a real f@ckin’ shame.

  28. Robert Moog wasn’t just a genius. He was a genius, a visionary, a gentle person, a generous man. He always mentioned Herb Deutsch, John Eaton, Gershon Kingsley, Jean Jacques Perrey, Walter Carlos, Keith Emerson (and even Don Buchla!!!) and many other men who helped him to develop and increase the Moog synth. Google celebrate his birthday on the last may 23rd was a very nice thing! Of course Don Buchla, Wolfgang Palm, Alan R. Pearlman, Dave Smith and other synth pioneers are important in music history, but it was Bob Moog’s birthday, of course it was nice to check the Moog doodle on google last wednesday!!!

  29. I think that Moog was (is!) not just inventor, but visionary. And Moog synths are probably far more attractive topic for conversation/writing than MIDI – although most of us spend 1000x more time using MIDI than Moogs…

  30. It would almost be “wrong” not to have at least a soft-Mini, such as the very capable MiniMonsta. Sure, buy a Moogerfooger or Minitaur if you like the cachet and can’t spring for a Voyager; the gear is built like tanks. Just think of it as a meaningful tool for most synthesists, because even if you are not seeking to do yowling leads, well, just the magnificent blends I can get with the merely-sampled Moog patches I have are meatier. Don’t be too dazzled, but also recognize the tangible merits.

  31. i think most of moog’s competitors made similar sounds in the early days. the whole obsession about “phat” may have something to do with the accidental extra gain to the minimoog’s filter, something that doesn’t to my ears seem to have been done on the Voyager.

    then people forgot about that sound, after the DX7. i bought a moog and it sat around about 5 years before i saw Joy Electric and realized how a monosynth could be used live.

    Some instruments have more interesting modulation than the early moogs, but i’m always going to be a moog guy, probably because of the early impression those old records made on me. i can’t help it.

  32. Some of you weren’t there at the time. It was 1970, strange new sounds were appearing from strange new instruments designed by a quiet genius with a bizarre name. The rest is history but the origins are etched in people’s minds. “Moog” is not just a name, it was a revolution.

  33. What makes me sad is not seeing any new updates on Wendy Carlos’ website! I really hoped for a Carlos-Daft Punk collab in Tron: Legacy. At least DP and Moroder are getting together. *eyes another article*

    I read a piece on competition and human memory awhile ago (wish I had it nearby), where many people were asked “What is the most famous painting in the world?” and the #1 answer — Mona Lisa — far outranked the #2 one. Most people don’t seem to want to rattle off long lists, so convenient shortcuts help. And what’s on top continues to get feedback loops and bubble up higher, with word-of-mouth recommendations elevating that status over time and creating what some perceive as “legend”.

    A positive aspect is being a “gateway”. If an easy entry point makes deeper inquiry more accessible, then this benefits all enthusiasts of electronic music. As long as one doesn’t think “Musician X” or “Genre Y” is the end-all and continues their pursuits into the field, this is healthy.

    And “Moog” is just fun to say (or “mispronounce”). Good branding, good times.

  34. Yes, in my case, I am too Moog obsessed. But isnt there always some sort of notion that there is some “top of the line” peice of equipment in every category? Like a Marshall stack, or a Mackie desk, or Technics turntable. We have the Moog synthesizer (nice ring to it too). In some ways its about build quality, take a slim phatty to someones head if they disagree. And who could be better at building a Moog filter then Moog Music? It’s not about innovation or features, it’s about the character and the feel of the instrument, but most imprtantly the sound of the instrument. You can closely approximate the sound of it, but you dont have the same feeling, and it doesnt respond anywhere near the same. If you want the sound of a Moog bass, you might as well just use a Moog bass.

  35. Oh please. I realize this is a pretty old post, but it’s very telling that nobody mentions the fact that the BS patent and license culture in which we are forced to live is the ONLY reason why Moog (and some other big names) continues to maintain a dominant cult status. If they actually had to innovate and compete, they would either be affordable or out of business. Instead, pretentious mostly non-musicians will pay whatever the cost to pretend that they’re the synthesizer boss. It’s a joke, right along the same line as the joke of non-guitar players “collecting” outrageously overpriced guitars, even though they can’t play a lick.

    A true musicians can make 100x better music with the shittiest casio keyboard than any of you clowns can squeeze out of a $10,000 modular setup. So buy whatever you want. Look down your nose at whoever you please. Anybody who is getting fussy about Moog this or Yamaha that is probably an absolutely worthless excuse for a musician. That’s the funny part beneath this entire ‘who-cares’ topic.

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