The Moog Synthesiser

The Moog Synthesiser
Authored By Johnny Blogger

Robert Moog was already making Theremins in the early Sixties when he began developing the technologies that would become the Moog synthesiser.

Meanwhile, a composer and music teacher at Hofstra University in Long Island called Herbert Deutsch was fiddling around with Theremins - he built his own from Moog's design in 1962 - as he strove for newer, weirder sounds. The pair met at a conference in 1963 and agreed to collaborate.

Prior to Moog, it had been possible to manipulate the pitch of sounds but it was a maddeningly labour-intensive process involving cutting out and stretching bits of tape.

But the invention and wider availability of transistors enabled Moog to make his breakthrough. The transistor allowed quite small electric signals to be greatly amplified and outputted much more effectively and precisely than with the old valve tubes. Also, they were smaller and cheaper.

The key component of Moog's new machine would be the voltage controlled oscillator which, as the name suggests, could oscillate faster, and hence produce a higher noise, the more voltage was put through it.

Moog wasn't the only developer to cotton on to this, but he was the only one to have Herbert Deutsch on board, and the latter was able to add on a keyboard, whose pitch was controlled with one volt per octave increments.

They exhibited in 1964, and began producing in 1965. The Moog keyboard synthesizer was born.

But what did it mean for popular music?

Bernie Krause, who had been in The Weavers, was working as a producer at Elektra Records where he met Paul Beaver, a jazz musician who had worked on a 1965 record called Psychedelic Percussion. Together, they saw the possibilities offered by Moog's creation and set up at the Monterey Pop Festival to showcase their new toy. drmoog.jpg

Soon, artists including The Doors and The Byrds were interested in using these new sounds. Krause gave George Harrison one and the result was the accurately named Electronic Music album. The only release on the Apple spin-off label, 'Zapple' incidentally.

Beaver and Krause went on to virtually invent what we would call new age music today on a trio of early 70s albums. 1971's Gandharva is a magnificent timeless piece of work.

But it was classical, experimental and academic musicians who first woke the public up to the possibilities of the Moog. Wendy Carlos' Switched-On Bach was the Platinum-selling record that really captured the imagination.

Rock was also catching on to the potential throughout 1967 and 1968. Among the first recordings to use the new instrument were Strange Days by The Doors; The Notorious Byrd Brothers by The Byrds and Cosmic Sounds by The Zodiac. Mickey Dolenz was also an early Moog owner and used one on The Monkees' Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones, Ltd. Simon and Garfunkel, on 1968's Bookends, and The Beatles on Abbey Road also used the new instrument.

Soon a fad grew up for pretty forgettable novelty records with Moog covers of hits, but we won't dwell too much on them, because they were all pretty much rubbish and did the Moog the disservice of treating it like a novelty instrument such as the Stylophone.

Terry Manning, a producer and composer at Stax who worked with Booker T, Al Green, Otis, Isaac Hayes, and pretty much everyone else had a stab at a Moogified record with Home Sweet Home (1970), and and emerged with a strange and inventive album of covers. It contains one absolute gem, a magnificently warped and mangled version of The Beatles' Savoy Truffle that begins with a brilliant Moog solo. Manning was also a great photographer too, so presumably took some loving shots of his Moog.

In 1972, Stevie Wonder began the period of astonishing, consistent brilliance that would see him release Music Of My Mind and Talking Book in 1972, Innervisions in 1974 and Fulfillingness' First Finale in 1975, culminating in the crowning glory of 1976's Songs In The Key Of Life.

This period saw him collaborate with Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff in the guise of their TONTO's Expanding Head Band project, which was a complicated, vast arrangement of analogue synthesizers that used Moog-constructed parts. The result: Stevie, and Moog's classical period.

TONTO's 1971 album Zero Time is a must-have record for fans of early Moog work.

By 1972, Robert Moog had created a smaller, more practical and cheaper version called the Minimoog. The Mahavishnu Orchestra's Jan Hammer on the ground-breaking Inner Mounting Flame album and Keith Emerson were early enthusiasts - with the latter's work on ELP's Lucky Man remaining one of the Moog's finest hours.

German electronic music pioneers Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk then took the sound further, putting it front and centre of two terrific records, Phaedra and Autobahn, both of which are enduringly influential classic electronic soundscapes which found favour with both art school types who saw it as ultra modern and hairy stoners who like the taste of the colours they saw when they put the albums on. TangerineDream.jpg

By 1976, the Moog was being used in disco, thanks to Georgio Moroder with two Donna Summer records - Love To Love You Baby and, especially, I Feel Love - setting the new template for the Moog's strange, alluring sound in dance music for decades to come. Georgio had first put the Moog into a pop context in 1972 on Chicory Tip's number one hit, Son Of My Father. It was long time top notch rock engineer and producer Chris Thomas who played on that hit for the Maidstone band's only number one. The Tip also has the honour of having a record banned by the BBC for its reference to cigarettes on its flop single Cigarettes, Women and Wine. Wild stuff I'm sure you'll agree.

Robert Moog, who died in 2005, was a pioneer who gave a brilliant, liberating tool to music and facilitated great crossovers from the jazz, classical and experimental scenes into rock. His instruments lead to some of the era's most inventive work and a legacy that can be seen in pretty much any electronic record you care to name. Thanks, Dr Moog. Oh, and "Moog" is pronounced to rhyme with "vogue"!

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