Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Robert Moog (May 23, 1934 - August 21, 2005)

Inventor of the electronic synthesizer which transformed the popular music-making. Though instruments to make electronic music had been devised as early as 1900, it was not until the 1970s that electronic music was widely heard — and it was played on the keyboards invented by the US engineer whose name became synonymous with the synthesizer, Robert Moog. He died on August 21, 2005 at his home in Asheville, N.C. He was 71.

Robert Moog was born in 1934, in New York City. His academic degrees include a BS in Physics from Queens College (New York City), a BS in Electrical Engineering from Columbia University (New York City), and a PhD in Engineering Physics from Cornell University (Ithaca, New York). His mother was determined that he would become a concert pianist, but he had more interest in his father’s hobby of electronics, and by the age of 15 had already built his first theremin.

In 1954, Moog founded the R. A. Moog Company as a part-time business to design and build electronic musical instruments. The company became a full-time business in 1964, the year it introduced a line of electronic music synthesis equipment. In 1971, the name of the company was changed to Moog Music, Inc, and in 1973 the company became a division of Norlin Music, Inc. Moog served as president of Moog Music until 1977.
By 1968 Moog had sold dozens of the instruments — their buyers included John Cage and Mick Jagger — and they had been heard on records by the Monkees and on the Beatles’ Abbey Road, but the time-consuming nature of their construction and an innate lack of business sense was threatening to capsize Moog’s company. Then one of his customers, Walter (now Wendy) Carlos, released an album of Bach’s music recorded entirely on a Moog synthesizer. Switched-On Bach (1968) was a near-overnight sensation; it sold several million copies, introduced electronically generated music to a wide audience and alerted the recording industry to its potential.

Moog capitalised on this success in 1970 by building the Minimoog, the first portable synthesizer. Although it had a range of only three and a half octaves, its size meant that musicians could take it with them on stage or even back home, a flexibility that — when duplicated by tens of thousands of cheaper Japanese models — would ultimately revolutionise pop music, which was now no longer the preserve of those who could play a complex instrument.
From the early 1970s onwards, Moog music began to be heard worldwide, first on film soundtracks such as that for A Clockwork Orange (1971), which was played by Carlos, and later on dance records such as Donna Summer’s I Feel Love (1977). Herbie Hancock tookthe synthesizer into jazz, while keyboard-based bands — among them Yes and Genesis — rose to new heights of popularity. When they were displaced by Young Turks such as U2 and the Police, the upstarts were building their sound around Moog’s Taurus bass synthesizer. Digitisation would soon overtake Moog’s analogue machines, but like Leon Theremin and Adolphe Sax before him, he had brought something entirely new to music, and not merely one instrument but a veritable orchestra.

Moog's awards include honorary doctorates from Polytechnic University (New York City) and Lycoming College (Williamsport, Pennsylvania); the Silver Medal of The Audio Engineering Society; the Trustee's Award of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences; the Bilboard Magazine Trendsetter's Award; and the SEAMUS award from the Society of Electroacoustic Music in the United States. He has written and spoken widely on topics related to music technology, and has contributed major articles to the Encyclopedia Brittancia and the Encyclopedia of Applied Physics.

Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog synthesizer, was born on May 23, 1934. He died of cancer on August 21, 2005. He was 71.

Gershon Kingsley - Popcorn (1969)


Anonymous said...

My friend and I were recently talking about the ubiquitousness of technology in our daily lives. Reading this post makes me think back to that discussion we had, and just how inseparable from electronics we have all become.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside... I just hope that as memory becomes less expensive, the possibility of transferring our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's one of the things I really wish I could see in my lifetime.

(Posted using Qezv2 for R4i Nintendo DS.)

don giovanni said...

i can see where you coming from...but dont forget that nobody can escape from the ''wave of the future"...about the memory transfer you are mentioning ,maybe we will see it in our lifetime...
take care