Dr Robert & His Modular Moogs, 1964-1981
(Published in SOS October 2003)
Bob Moog's name is forever associated with the synthesizer — but why?
We take a trip back in time to explain the story of the man and the modular systems that provided the basis for nearly all modern synths.
Synthesizers, and especially the original Moog modular, were amongst the most important new musical instruments of the 20th century. Not
only were the sounds these machines made completely original, but the technology behind them led to a flood of entirely new music styles.
It's no exaggeration to say that virtually every synth ever mentioned in this magazine is a direct descendant of those original Moog designs. And Dr Robert Moog wasn't just the innovating force behind the instrument — he also created many of its properties, and defined the terms for almost everything that happened next.
A Little History
So it's a bit of a surprise to find that in some ways, the original Moog modular isn't actually all that good. To understand why, it's necessary to backtrack a little and look at what was happening in electronic music in the early '60s. By then, electronic music technology had already had a long and varied history. But its most distinguishing characteristics were that it was supremely inconvenient to work with, and the results were unlikely to appeal to a typical music lover. Academic composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis were notorious for spending years working in studios stuffed to the ceiling with old-fashioned lab test equipment, obsessively layering overtones onto hand-edited tapes, to produce music that typically sounded like a saucer full of angry aliens with 400 fingernails each, colliding with a room full of extra-squeaky blackboards.