In the annals of modern music, one of those name brands may be lesser known to the public, but it is as significant as any to the development of rock, pop and experimental music: Moog. (Point of information: While the spelling encourages “moo-ing,” the name is pronounced with a long “oh.”)
Moog is the name most associated with an electronic device called the synthesizer. The Moog synthesizer is an instrument (a term that applies loosely here) that put sophisticated electronic effects into the hands of musicians. Instead of a traditional instrument, the synthesizer was a contraption with knobs and levers that permitted musicians to create endless variations of electronic sounds and compose entire electronic compositions.
Developed by inventor Bob Moog in the early 1960s, the Moog synthesizer was both a sound machine and an entirely new way for musicians to express themselves. While other electronic sound machines preceded the Moog synthesizer, they were more primitive, custom-designed units that used earlier vacuum tube technology. The advent of the transistor made it possible for Moog to build a smaller unit that cost less, had greater reliability and could be produced in quantity. Bob Moog advanced the technology further by creating a Minimoog in 1970.
The Moog synthesizer is widely recognized as changing the course of rock and pop music. It was employed in such seminal recordings as “Abbey Road” by The Beatles and spawned a career direction for John Cage, a world-renowned Moog synthesizer aficionado. The Moog synthesizer achieved cult status; indeed, it may well be one of the symbols of the changing music scene in a turbulent era.
A record called Switched-on Bach is credited with launching the Moog craze. Moog himself tells the story of playing an excerpt from the recording at a speech he gave before an Audio Engineering Society conference in 1968: “I walked off the stage and went to the back of the auditorium while people were listening, and I could feel it in the air. They were jumping out of their skins. These technical people were involved in so much flim-flam, so much shoddy, opportunistic stuff, and here was something that was just impeccably done and had obvious musical content and was totally innovative. The tape got a standing ovation” (“R. A. Moog, Inc.,” Synthmuseum.com). Released as an album in 1968, “Switched-on Bach” went on to sell over a million records and became one of the best-selling classical music albums ever. “All the record producers had to have their Moog record for 1969,” Bob Moog said.
While Bob Moog died in 2005, his name lives on as a revered brand in the form of Moog Music and, more recently, the Bob Moog Foundation. The company, located in Bob’s hometown of Asheville, N.C., continues in the founder’s innovative tradition. Ten years ago, Moog Music introduced the “Moogerfooger” (itself a rather memorable brand name). To date, Moog has sold 10,000 units of this descendant of Moog’s original modular synthesis design.
More recently, Moog Music introduced the “Moog Guitar.” According to the company, “only a very few guitars have the capability of sustaining notes indefinitely and none at all have the ability to electronically mute the strings. The Moog Guitar is completely unique: It makes new sounds by acting on the strings themselves, changing the way they vibrate or stopping vibration altogether.” The Moog Guitar has won several awards, including Popular Science magazine’s 2008 “Best of What’s New Award” and the 2009 “Reader’s Choice Award” for Most Innovative Product from Guitar Player magazine.
Now the Moog name brand is ready to achieve immortality. The Bob Moog Foundation has announced plans for a US$ 3 million museum celebrating Moog’s work. Of course, it would be called the “Moogseum” and be located in Asheville.
Moog’s daughter, Michelle Moog-Koussa, executive director of the foundation, says the museum is probably three to five years from becoming a reality, but plans for a mini-Moogseum are in the works, and that could open as early as this summer. According to Moog-Koussa, the Moogseum will be “an interactive sonic ‘exploratorium’ at the intersection of science and music” (Asheville Citizen-Times, April 7, 2009).
The vision for the Moogseum is as unique and innovative as Bob Moog’s inventions. It will include an interactive timeline of the life and work of Bob Moog, an archival center of rare documents that can be viewed on an interactive LED screen, interactive instrument-based exhibits so visitors can experiment with electronic music, a Young Inventors Lab for children and a 200-seat performance space.
The Moogseum will be a fitting tribute to a man whose influence on modern music cannot be underestimated. Through it all, though, Bob Moog had a great deal of humility, according to the Bob Moog Foundation. Perhaps Bob said it best when he spoke of collaborating with Herb Deutsch, a music instructor and composer of experimental music, on the first synthesizer: “Mind you, neither of us had any idea of where this was leading.”