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Bob Moog

"I'm an engineer. I see myself as a toolmaker and the musicians are my customers."
Bob Moog, 2000

Dr. Robert Arthur Moog (he preferred it pronounced like "vogue") is best known for his pioneering work on electronic musical instruments from 1953 onwards. He was born in New York City on May 23, 1934 and was introduced to both music and electronics as a child, studying piano for twelve years. While still a teenager, he discovered the Thereminvox, invented in the 1930s by the Russian engineer Lev Sergeivitch Termen (more commonly known as Leon Theremin). He was seduced by this instrument's otherworldly sounds (as heard in the cult sci-fi film The Day The Earth Stood Still) and built his own as early as 1949. By 1954 he'd established a company called R A Moog Co to make and sell his Theremin. This company would later become Moog Music. Still only nineteen years old, he made and sold around twenty of the initial model before introducing a new model with innovative features. These allowed the performer to select from four basic sounds in addition to one of three overtones allowing for even more vocal-like intonation.

While talking to musicians, especially those interested in electronic and experimental music, he became convinced there was a demand for electronic instruments of a higher quality. Robert was then approached in 1963 by a professor of music called Herbert A Deutsch. The two gelled and decided to collaborate with each other. Soon after, Robert Moog created his first VCO (voltage controlled oscillator).

By 1964, Robert Moog had created his first prototype subtractive synthesizers which he demonstrated at the AES convention that year. It was a modular system comprising two keyboards (each with generator module capable of producing different waveforms), white noise generator, a VCF (voltage controlled filter), envelope generator, and VCA (voltage controlled amplifier). His synths were unlike any other company's in that they included one or more piano-style keyboards making them instantly playable by musicians.

Moog's modular systems were, by their very nature, immensely flexible but, being so huge, they were less than ideal for the gigging musician. Tangerine Dream and Emerson, Lake and Palmer where amongst the few groups to tour with them and, even then, they required special handling. Moog's solution was the Minimoog which he started work on in 1969 and which was released in 1970. The Micromoog followed in 1974.

Robert Moog's collaboration with Walter Carlos (later Wendy Carlos after a sex-change in 1972) was also highly productive. As one of Moog's first customers, she gave invaluable feedback and promoted the use of his synths through her own recordings, most notably the album "Switched-On Bach" which went platinum selling over 500,000 copies and staying in the charts for over a year. It even took three Grammy awards including Best Classical Album. Moog also worked closely with Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, John Cage, Don Buchla, Gershon Kingsley, Clara Rockmore, Vladimir Ussachevsky, Gustave Ciamaga, and Pamelia Kurstin.

Moog Music changed its name from R A Moog Co to Moog Musonics in 1971 and then to Moog Music in 1972. The company passed through several owners until Robert Moog left in 1977, loosing the rights to the historic name in the process. The company passed through several more owners until, through increasingly bad management and marketing, it ceased trading in 1993. In 2002 Robert Moog re-obtained the rights to use his own name, changing the name of his then current company from Big Briar to Moog Music. This company still produces musical instruments such as the Minimoog Voyager and, yes, even theremins, for which it's still considered the leading manufacturer.

Between 1984 and 1988, Robert Moog worked as a consultant and vice president for product research at Kurzweil, contributing to the Kurzweil K2000 among other products. In the early 1990s he was appointed a research professor of music at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. And in 1999, Moog co-developed the first digital effects based on Moog technology as Pro Tools plugins with Bomb Factory.

Over the years, Robert Moog also gained a degree in physics from Queens College, New York in 1957, another in electrical engineering from Columbia University, a Ph.D. in engineering physics from Cornell University and other awards including honorary doctorates from Polytechnic University, New York City, Lycoming College, Pennsylvania, and Berklee College of Music. In further recognition of lifetime achievement, Robert Moog was also awarded a Grammy Trustees Award in 1970 and a Grammy Tech Award in 2002. In 2004 Hans Fjellestad made a film about Robert Moog's life in further tribute.

One thing all seem agreed upon is the man's kindness and generosity. As an example, when John Eaton was touring the states in 1966, his Syn-Ket - an Italian-made early synthesizer - broke down. He had no way to get it back to Italy for repair in time, but he had heard of Bob Moog. He drove through the night to Bob's place and was immediately made welcome. It would have been understandable if Robert Moog had refused to touch, let alone repair a rival's product. Instead, Bob stayed up half the night repairing it, free of charge.

Robert Moog passed away at the age of 71 on August 21, 2005, but that was not the end of the story, nor the end of this great man's influence on electronic music. The Bob Moog Memorial Foundation for Electronic Music was founded to continue his life's work. It plans to award scholarship places to University of North Carolina, Asheville, Berklee College of Music, and Cornell University. It also plans to sponsor international music competitions and create outreach programs to give disadvantaged children access to music-making technology.

Written by Kelwin


Bob Moog
Bob Moog Memorial Foundation for Electronic Music
Bob Moog Memorial Foundation for Electronic Music on Myspace
Moog Music
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