Friday, September 2, 2005

Robert Moog R. I. P.

Most of you may not recognise the name "Dr. Robert Moog," but you probably recognise the name of the device he invented--the "Moog syntesizer." Robert Moog died Sunday from an inoperable brain tumour at the age of 71.

Dr. Robert Moog was born in New York City. As a child he developed an interest in the theremin, one of the earliest electronic instruments (most often used to make the creepy sounds in horror and sci-fi movies). While still a boy he built gadgets with his father. He would go onto Queens College and Columbia University. He built theremins to help pay his college tuition. He was still a doctoral student majoring in engineering physics at Cornell University when he developed the Moog synthesizer alongside composer Herb Deutsch. It was in late 1964 that R. A. Moog Co. first started selling the Moog synthesizer.

The Moog synthesizer was not the first synthesizer. Others were already on the market in 1964. What set the Moog apart was that it was lightwweight, small, and very versatile. By 1967 the Moog synthesizer would be used on a pop music album for the first time, that album was The Monkees' Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.. It was used ont he songs "Daily, Nightly" and "Star Collector." It was with the album Switched-On Bach by keyboard artist Walter Carlos in 1968, however, that the Moog synthesizer gained widespread recognition. Soon many other artists would be using Moog synthesizers on their songs. The Beatles used it on their album Abbey Road and The Who used it on their album Who's Next. By the 1970s Moog synthesizers were used frequently in rock music. By the late Seventies and early Eighties there would even be an entire genre of pop music reliant on the synthesizer as its primarly instrument--"synthpop" or "technopop," which included such artists as Soft Cell and the Human League. In movies, the Moog synthesizer was used for the score for A Clockwork Orange.

Dr. Robert Moog considered himself foremost as an engineer or toolmaker. He simply build tools used by musicians. In some respects I think this may be an understatement. The name "Moog" became associated with synthesizers in the same way that "Steinway" became associated with pianos or "Les Paul" became asssociated with guitars. Indeed, Robert Moog's invention revolutionised the music industry. Not only could it be heard in many of the classic rock songs of the Seventies and Eighties, but it had a profound influence on progresive rock and funk. Its existence pretty much created the genres of synthpop and techno. More than many other men in the field of musical instruments, Dr. Robert Moog had a profound effect on modern music.

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