The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

22 August 2005


In memory of Robert Moog, a couple of comments from the field — that is, the field as it existed in the late 1960s.

Wendy Carlos, in her notes for her album The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, the sequel to her justly-famed Switched-On Bach:

Synthesizers are musical instruments. They are performing devices that require that the musician be, at the same time, performer and arranger. But the flexibility of the synthesizer is like a two-edged sword: For every detail you can control, you must control.

The synthesizer used on these recordings is noteworthy in itself. It was built for us by Robert A. Moog and has grown to its present size and complexity over a period of several years. It is a unique, custom instrument, about twice the size of the largest standard Moog synthesizer (The Moog Mark III), and it incorporates several features that Bob and I designed that are not available in the Mark III or elsewhere. Its keyboards are the first to employ velocity and depth touch sensitivity, which we developed a couple of years ago. There is a self-contained "polyphonic generator," a collection of 49 little synthesizers, on which chords and clusters are available (although it was used less than 5% of the time). Several pedal- and keyboard-triggered switches and controls are incorporated and, although experimental, have proven to be essential to certain types of musical phrasing and shaping.

The "polyphonic generator" was devised because the original Moog synths could not actually do chords, as noted by Norman Dolph, who produced a pop album called Switched-On Rock about the same time:

The amazing thing about all the sounds is not that they are done one voice at a time, but rather one finger at a time. The silly machine only plays one note at a time and the temptation to play a chord must be overcome ... you only get the lowest note if you press more than one key.

[But] compared with the old cut-and-splice way of making electronic music, the Moog is a tune boon. As great as we feel the Moog is for making music, in the light of what is possible and what Mr Moog is no doubt cooking up, the Moogs are today are like the Kon-Tiki.

Moog himself is quite a guy, too. Most cooperative, and now has a weekly emissary to New York to touch up any fixits and keep everyone up on the new discoveries. Moog really made quite an invention — and how appropriately space-age his name is! How bland would be the "Jones" or the "Irving Spidorsha" as a nickname for the gadget. If he ever comes to town for a lecture, go listen.

Robert Moog died yesterday at his home in Asheville, North Carolina, a victim of brain cancer. He was seventy-one years old.

Posted at 5:40 PM to Tongue and Groove

TrackBack: 8:31 AM, 24 August 2005
» Unsynthesized appreciation from BatesLine
Bob Moog, inventor of the synthesizer, died on Sunday at the age of 71. Charles G. Hill marks his passing with a couple of comments from those who recorded with the instrument in the 1960s....[read more]