[EAS] Robert Moog dead at 71

Peter J. Kindlmann pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Sun Sep 11 18:53:17 EDT 2005

Let me take you away for a moment from the calamities of the last two 
weeks, and note the passing of Richard Moog, a pioneer in the 
technology for music. In the later 1960s his work, and that of Don 
Buchla, inspired my own exploration at Yale University of the genre 
of modular analog sound synthesis design, the first using integrated 
circuits. It was electronics technology in its early days, first 
generation op amps and early RTL, DTL and CMOS logic families. But it 
was technology sufficiently resourceful to inspire artists and 
collaborations between artists and engineers. Richard Moog started 
much of it.


If the URL doesn't work for you, the text of The Economist obit 
follows below. There is also a Moog biography at the Web site of the 
company that bears his name, Moog Music. 

Finally, a convenient bibliography of those early days is at 



Robert Moog
Sep 1st 2005
 From The Economist print edition

Robert Moog, an electronic-music pioneer, died on August 21st, aged 71

IN ONE sense, music went electric in the 1950s when companies such as 
Fender and Gibson began mass-producing electric guitars. But that was 
only half a revolution. The music was electronically amplified, but 
the original sound was still generated by mechanical vibrations, as 
it had been for thousands of years.

Glimpses of an all-electronic future had been offered since the end 
of the 19th century. The Telharmonium, a 200-ton mechanical ancestor 
of the Hammond organ designed to be played down the telephone, had 
allowed musicians to tinker with sound waves to produce interesting 
new noises as early as 1897. From 1920 the Theremin, played by waving 
one's hands in front of two radio receivers, generated eerie 
electronic glissandi without any moving parts.

In 1955 RCA, an American industrial company, combined these 
innovations in their Mark II Synthesiser, which used electric 
currents both to generate and manipulate sound waves. The Synthesiser 
was "played" using a binary programming language stored on punch 
tape, and it filled a whole room at the University of Columbia. 
Electronic music seemed destined to remain a curiosity-until, in 
1964, a shy young man called Robert Moog, a graduate student at 
Cornell University, unveiled his own analogue synthesiser at a 
meeting of America's Audio Engineering Society.

Mr Moog's background was ideal. He had been the class swot in Queens, 
and bullied for it. His mother had nagged him to become a concert 
pianist; his father, who loved to tinker with electronics, had kept 
him amused out of class by helping him to build a Theremin, whose 
subtleties enchanted him. His analogue synthesiser was elegant, 
turning a room-sized machine into something that could be set up in a 
recording studio; and it was musician-friendly, with a keyboard just 
like the one his mother had kept his nose to.

Musicians wishing to master the instrument still had to learn a new 
vocabulary of waveforms, oscillators and filters. But it was a 
rewarding study. Synthesisers can generate an almost infinite variety 
of sounds, ranging from simulated guitars or pianos to, as Jim 
Morrison of The Doors once claimed, "the sound of broken glass 
falling from the void into creation".

News of the invention spread fast. In 1968 it found fame when Walter 
(now Wendy) Carlos, an early practitioner of electronic music, 
released "Switched-on Bach", a hit album of Bach recorded entirely on 
Mr Moog's equipment. But the instrument's big impact was on popular 
music. The dark, druggy, disillusioned pop Zeitgeist of the late 
1960s exactly suited the weird sounds made by the new machine. The 
Beatles used a Moog extensively on their late album "Abbey Road". 
Emerson Lake and Palmer, an early progressive rock band, were so 
enamoured of Moogs that they took one on tour with them, despite its 
bulk and delicate temperament.

Music to the masses

Other firms were quick to realise the potential of the new invention. 
By the 1970s, there were several competing models. Mr Moog continued 
to innovate, introducing in 1970 the smaller, portable Minimoog that 
allowed electronic music to get to night clubs or the beach. He kept 
at the cutting edge until the 1980s, and the arrival of 
computer-based digital synthesisers. Even now, some musicians-Fatboy 
Slim, for one-continue to prefer the warm, analogue Moog sound.

His invention kick-started electronic music, both as an influence on 
mainstream music and as a sub-genre in itself. Bands such as Pink 
Floyd spearheaded the new sound, their music featuring long keyboard 
solos that seemed to originate in the emptiness of outer space. 
Stevie Wonder brought the synthesiser to a more mainstream audience; 
Herbie Hancock helped introduce it to jazz fans. Later, Kraftwerk and 
similar groups released entire albums of ghostly, futuristic music 
made without a traditional instrument in sight.

For all his electronic and musical talent, Mr Moog was no 
businessman. He had begun well enough, making a packet as a young man 
by selling build-it-yourself Theremin kits, but after he had invented 
his synthesiser he could not manage its success. When Moog Music was 
bought by a firm called Norlin, he was relegated to minor 
musical-engineering tasks.

He left in 1977, setting up another company, Big Briar Productions, 
and working on a variety of strange new instruments that he hoped 
would allow musicians even greater expressiveness. (His ideal, for 
all his modernity, was to produce an electronic instrument that could 
be played with the human emotion of a cello or a flute.) None of his 
later inventions had the same impact as his original synthesiser, but 
that didn't bother him. He saw himself as a simple "toolmaker", 
working to give other musicians the sounds they wanted. He rejected 
the idea that he had democratised electronic music; that, he 
insisted, had been achieved by cheap Japanese keyboards in the 1980s.

Here, at least, he was mistaken. Without his inventions, thousands of 
composers in almost every conceivable genre of music-and millions of 
their listeners-would have been restricted to the familiar sounds of 
traditional instruments. And music would have been the poorer for it.

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