Composer and educator Herb Deutsch, the co-inventor of the Moog synthesizer with Bob Moog, died yesterday at the age of 90.
Herb Deutsch (1932-2022) met Bob Moog in 1963. At the time, Deutsch had built a DIY theremin from one of Bob Moog’s kits, and was interested in exploring the possibilities of electronic instruments.
In the following year, Moog and Deutsch collaborated on the design of the original Moog modular. An example of Deutsch’s influence was the creation of the envelope generator.
Deutsch expressed the musical need for a way to articulate notes, rather than have them be gated by key presses. Moog had Deutsch run to the hardware store and get a doorbell switch, which Moog then wired to trigger an envelope generator.
The design decisions they made with the early Moog modular have been hugely influential, with core modules like VCO, VCA, VCF & EG and the emphasis on subtractive synthesis helping to define many synth designs to this day. While these synth design elements may seem inevitable now, they were not at the time, when the idea of a ‘synthesizer’ was still being created.
“It would be impossible to overstate Herb’s contribution to the Moog legacy,” notes Michelle Moog-Koussa, Executive Director of the Bob Moog Foundation. “It was Herb who approached Bob about developing a device to make new sounds for his experimental jazz compositions. Bob was intrigued, and the two men then collaborated on what would become the Moog synthesizer prototype, with Herb explaining the musician’s needs and Bob designing the circuitry in response.”
Deutsch also created the first composition for the Moog synthesizer, Jazz Images: A Work Song in Blues:
Deutsch also was one of the first musicians to perform live with the Moog synthesizer, starting in 1965 with the New York Improvisation Quartet, and, infamously, at the 1969 Jazz in the Garden concert at the New York Museum Of Modern Art.
Deutsch was the subject of a recent documentary by Moog Music, embedded below, which is a great introduction to the man, and an opportunity to hear stories of the early days of synthesis in his voice:
Deutsch taught at Hofstra University for over 50 years, and Hofstra helped fund the original Moog synthesizer, with a $200 research grant. Deutsch was a Hofstra University Professor Emeritus of Music in 2010, when the University honored him with a ceremony unveiling a display commemorating his role, and the role of Hofstra, in the creation of the first Moog modular synthesizer.
Here’s Deutsch, in a video by Michael Sterling, discussing the Minimoog and it’s influence on music:
Here are Moog and Deutsch, at the Museum Of Modern Art in New York in 1969, on the day of their Jazz In The Garden performance – looking like the young pioneers that they were:
You can find out more about Deutsch and his work at his site.
Images: Moog Music, Herb Deutsch, The Henry Ford Museum
12 thoughts on “Moog Modular Co-Inventor Herbert Deutsch Has Died At The Age Of 90”
A legend. R.I.P.
And ditto here also.
Part of the fabric of music history. What a contribution and he also saw the vast change to where we are today. 1969 sure seemed like a really magic and futuristic time for the world. Rest in peace Herb you and Bob changed the world!
Rest in peace Herb, thank you for everything
Not many people played a part in changing the course of music history.
Thanks Herb for your contributions.
I dont know who you are, but it is sad you died.
He was such a nice person when I met him at Knobcon. Very friendly to all and he SHREDDED on the Minimoog when he got to jam that night. RIP.
Just learned, sadly, of Herb’s passing. His contributions to the field of music were numerous, and he will be remembered fondly for, among other things, his co-invention of the Moog Synthesizer, his co-founding of the Long Island Composers Alliance in 1972, and his writing the Foreword to the 2010 bio-bibliography of his, and my, teacher Elie Siegmeister (1909-1991).
I’m so sad to hear about Herb’s passing, but can also remember him with a huge smile. His contributions are well known. As his former student and colleague, I’ll just add that he was an enormously kind man, always modest, happy to help, and curious and excited about the world. Rest in peace, dear friend.