Moog recordings
A Little History 1
A Little History 2
A Little History 3
Ic, IIc, IIIc
Ip, IIp, IIIp
10, 12, 15
35, 55
Moog recordings
Landmark Moog Recordings

A handful of records (as they were then) defined the Sound of Moog
for everyone. Wendy Carlos' Switched On Bach is the definitive
original here. An album of Moogified versions of Baroque classics, it
was released in 1968 and co-produced by Rachel Elkind, then working
as a PA at Columbia Records. It sold more than a million copies, and
spawned hundreds of dreadful copycat efforts (Switched On Bacharach,
anyone?). Musically, SOB is a rather pared-down and minimal affair
that showcases the Moog at its most restrained and controlled. Only
on one track — the 2nd Movement of Bach's 3rd Brandenburg Concerto —
does Carlos let rip. Baroque music fans may prefer The Well-Tempered
Synthesizer, which was released a few years later, and is a rather
more surefooted recording. For completists, there's also the Switched
On Bach boxed set, which includes SOB I and II, The Well-Tempered
Synthesizer, the remaining Brandenburg Concertos, a couple of
exhaustively detailed booklets, and a small web site's worth of added
multimedia content.
Isao Tomita's 1975 album Snowflakes Are Dancing is a more flamboyant
Moog performance of music by Debussy. Using a Moog 3P (how he kept
the oscillators in tune remains a mystery!), a Mellotron, a couple of
multitrack tape machines and not much else, Tomita paints very
evocative sound pictures that still sound fresh and surprising today.
A genius at sound design and synthesizer programming, he has a good
claim to being the synthesist who took the Moog further than anyone
else, and created some astonishingly adventurous and unique sounds
that are still current and influential. Some of his later albums —
The Firebird, Pictures At An Exhibition, and especially The Planets —
also feature much Moog work.
As an aside, it's perhaps worth noting that both Tomita and Wendy
Carlos made their music by hand, laboriously recording each short
monophonic phrase onto separate tape tracks, producing assorted sub-
mixes where necessary, and then eventually blending everything into a
single final mix. With no MIDI, no polyphony, no digital editing, and
only the most basic of outboard effects, this was synthesis on a
heroic scale.
Keith Emerson is usually credited with introducing the Moog to the
rock world as part of prog trio Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Emerson was
one of the few people to tour with a Moog, although he was perhaps
better known for his suggestive performances with a Moog ribbon
controller than for his programming skills. Although impressively
equipped, the ELP Moog was typically set up as a simple three-
oscillator lead monosynth. In fact, the bottom row of modules on the
ELP Moog were dummy panels with no electronics behind them! A rather
gimmicky monitor at the top of the system was also largely for show.
Albums such as Tarkus and Brain Salad Surgery introduced the Moog
sound to a whole new audience, and helped make synthesizers less
about cerebral mood music, and more about rock and roll.
German innovators Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze created their own
slant on the Moog sound by using step sequencers to produce hypnotic
evolving sound patterns, anticipating today's trance and ambient
music by a good 20 years. Tangerine Dream's Ricochet from 1974
showcases some intricate live sequencer work, while 1975's live
Encore continues in a similar vein with some fascinating manually
controlled patch-morphing. Klaus Schulze's X double album is similar
but darker in tone, and features highlights such as a classical
digressions from a string quartet punctuated by imaginatively
programmed Moog side effects, and ending with the fattest and most
immensely seismic Moog bass drone ever heard.
Finally there's Gershon Kingsley's classic tune 'Popcorn'. Available
over the Internet in various versions (Jean-Michel Jarre contributed
one of his own), 'Popcorn' is the definitive Moog bubblegum pop track.

Published in SOS October 2003