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Tuesday 23 August 2005

RIP Bob Moog

Bob Moog, inventor of the Moog Synthesizer just died of brain cancer. It's sad news. I spent many hours in the Moog Studio at Mills, working on a gigantic Moog Modular P3. It was such a beautiful synthesizer. I miss it.

This morning, I heard on Democracy Now that Moog invented the analog synthesizer. Moog may have built the best synthesizer, but he didn't invent it.

There were oscillators and pieces of things for music synthesis dating far back before the Moog. The term Amy Goodman was looking for was "Voltage-controlled Synthesizer." But she still would have been wrong. Mills College has the first VCS ever built. It was commissioned by the San Francisco Tape Music Center (which moved to Mills and became the Center for Contemporary Music) and was built by Don Buchla.

The smithsonian wants it, but Mills has got it. I can't say how their early Moog compares in sound to that first Buchla, because the Buchla wasn't really working when I was there. I have seen it and seen the wiring for it. Oh my god, what a mess. Unshielded wires in a rat's nest of incomprehensibility. Yeah, it was a prototype, but if anything went wrong, forget fixing it. I've heard the shipping ones weren't all that much better. Moog, by contrast, published schematics and had a neat layout. Which means if your Moog broke, you could fix it. That certainly contributed to his success. That and his beautiful, lovely filters. The filters were so very very wonderful, especially the lowpass. (Cuts out high frequencies, allows lows through.) It has a round sound, warm. Like a great, german, big tuba. They were the filters that everyone was trying to copy. those squeely, squeltchy sounds of the TB303 et al didn't come into vogue until recently. Back in the day, everybody wanted to sound like Moog.

The Times has a nice obit, but they felt the need to call Wendy Carlos "Walter", followed by a parenthetical, " (who later had a sex-change operation and is now Wendy Carlos)" and insisted on referring to her again as "Walter" when discussing Switched on Bach. In the same paragraph. In the next sentence. In a totally gratuitous re-use of first names that contradicts normal writing style. Also: my copy of Switched on Bach says "Wendy" on it.

Anyway, I recommend listening to Switch on Bach, "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" some Maggi Payne and Bagels and Bongos. (Ok, I haven't actually heard the last one . . . but I want to)

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