Influential synth pioneer Robert Moog dead at 71
Robert A. Moog, the synthesizer pioneer who invented the Moog, has died at the age of 71.
Moog had been diagnosed with brain cancer in April. He received radiation treatment and chemotherapy, but died Sunday at his home in Asheville, N.C.
Moog (which rhymes with vogue) created and marketed the first commercial modular synthesizer in 1964, while studying engineering physics at Cornell University.
The instrument allowed musicians to generate a range of sounds – both naturalistic and otherworldly. It was small, light and versatile, and was quickly embraced by musicians.
The first record to feature a Moog was Cosmic Sounds by the Zodiac. The instrument was quickly picked up by other musicians, such as the Beatles, looking for ways to fuse their psychedelic drug experiences with their music. The Beatles used a Moog on their 1969 album Abbey Road, and a Moog was the source of the eerie sound on the soundtrack to the 1971 movie A Clockwork Orange.
Keyboardist Walter (later Wendy) Carlos, a friend of Bob Moog, demonstrated the range of the synthesizer by using it as his only instrument on the 1968 album Switched-On Bach – one of the best-selling classical music recordings of all time.
“Suddenly, there was a whole group of people in the world looking for a new sound in music, and it picked up very quickly,” composer Herb Deutsch said Monday. He is the Hofstra University music professor emeritus who helped develop the Moog prototype back in the 1960s.
“The Moog came at the right time,” he said.
Popularity of the Moog surged in the 1970s, being used in extended keyboard solos in songs by groups like Manfred Mann, Yes and Pink Floyd.
“The sound defined progressive music as we know it,” said Keith Emerson, keyboardist for the rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
It also heavily influenced the development of 1970s funk, hip-hop, disco, and early techno.
In the 1980s, the Moog was used less, as digital synthesizers took over, but later the instrument experienced a bit of a revival. In 2004, a New York concert promoter staged the first Moogfest, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Moog, and featuring members of Yes and Parliament/Funkadelic.
In 1973, Robert Moog, who had initially set up shop in suburban Buffalo, N.Y., sold his company. Five years later, he moved to a remote plot outside Asheville N.C. – a scenic Appalachian Mountain city and centre for new-age pursuits that Rolling Stone magazine once dubbed “America’s new freak capital.”
Despite traveling in circles that included jet-setting rockers, he always considered himself a technician.
“I’m an engineer. I see myself as a toolmaker and the musicians are my customers,” he said in 2000. “They use the tools.”
Robert Moog is survived by his wife Ileana and five children.
Some influential or memorable albums featuring the Moog:
Cosmic Sounds, the Zodiac
Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones, the Monkees
Switched-On Bach, Walter Carlos
The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, Walter Carlos
Moog Power, Hugo Montenegro
Abbey Road, the Beatles
The In Sound from Way Out, Perrey and Kingsley
Christmas Becomes Electric, the Moog Machine
Popcorn, Hot Butter
A Clockwork Orange (soundtrack), Walter Carlos
Star Wars (soundtrack), Patrick Gleeson
Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Ricochet, Tangerine Dream
Innervisions, Stevie Wonder
X, Klaus Schulze
Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome, Parliament
Who’s Next, the Who
Pet Sounds, Beach Boys
Beggar’s Banquet, Rolling Stones
Moving Pictures, Rush