During the last half
century, a handful of visionary entrepreneurs have achieved a status as
iconic as the pop musicians who used their instruments.
There are Leo Fender
and Les Paul, whose electric guitars inspired the rock revolution, and there
is Chicagoan William F. Ludwig, whose drums powered its rhythms. Then there
is Robert A. Moog, whose synthesizers started the next wave of the music's
evolution, taking its sounds into a new millennium.
Mr. Moog died at his
home in Asheville, N.C., on Sunday as the result of an inoperable brain
tumor detected in April. He was 71.
Born and raised in
New York, Mr. Moog (which rhymes with "vogue") was, as a teenager in the
early '50s, intrigued by the theremin, a simple electronic instrument played
by waving your hands near two antennas, one controlling volume and the other
pitch. At the time, it was mostly used to add creepy sound effects to
science fiction films, but a decade later it provided the hook for the Beach
Boys' "Good Vibrations," as well as the otherworldly sounds in Led
Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused."
Mr. Moog started
building his own theremins and marketing them via the R.A. Moog Co. while
still attending college. He eventually earned degrees in physics from Queens
College and electrical engineering from Columbia University, as well as a
Ph.D. in engineering physics from Cornell University.
THANKS TO MOOG
Many of the most
innovative and groundbreaking efforts in rock history wouldn't have
been possible without the instruments built by Robert Moog.
The best way to remember the pioneering musical figure, then, is to
listen to the craftsmen who have made creative use of Moog's
instruments. Check out these albums:
*Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon"
*Stevie Wonder's "Innervisions"
*Brian Eno's "Another Green World"
*The Who's "Who's Next"
*Nine Inch Nails' "The Downward Spiral"
This hardly sounds like the resume of a rock legend, and indeed, Mr. Moog
was later uncomfortable with his status as a cult hero, a position he
achieved thanks to another instrument he introduced in 1964.
Mr. Moog wasn't the
first or the only engineer working to perfect the modular synthesizer, a
much more complex electronic instrument that could produce virtually
limitless tones. But while working with composer Herb Deutsch, he was the
first to grasp the practical applications, attaching an easily playable
keyboard where previously there had been a morass of jacks and wires
resembling a telephone switchboard.
Walter (later Wendy)
Carlos used an unwieldy modular Moog to record the 1968 album "Switched-On
Bach," a Top 10 hit that won three Grammys. But the synthesizer's popularity
really exploded thanks to the keyboardist-friendly Minimoogs that began
appearing on rock albums in 1970, including the Beatles' "Abbey Road" and
numerous releases by progressive rock bands such as Yes, Genesis and
Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
Keyboardists and Moog
fans Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman first made the slide-ruler-toting
engineer a reluctant celebrity in the early '70s, before Mr. Moog sold and
lost control of the company bearing his name. But his fame grew even greater
starting in the early '90s, when a new generation of musicians rediscovered
the early Moog synths and began championing them over snazzier but much less
exciting digital keyboards.
The charm of Moog's
analog synths is that they consistently surprise their operators: A vast
array of knobs, dials and switches yields unexpected, unusual and completely
unique sounds. Old Moogs began to appear on countless new albums by techno
artists who favored their fat, atmospheric drones, hip-hop artists who loved
their massive, teeth-rattling bass tones and inventive indie-rockers such as
Stereolab and Chicago's Tortoise. (John McEntire's Soma Studio in Wicker
Park boasts an entire wall full of vintage Moog gear.)
A decade ago, Mr.
Moog began making theremins again through a new company, Big Briar, but in
2002, he reacquired the right to sell instruments under his own name, and
Moog Music began marketing a new version of the Minimoog called the Voyager,
a futuristic moniker befitting its space-age sound (and its stellar price).
Mr. Moog's creations
have since been celebrated in several books (including 2004's Analog
Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer by Trevor Pinch
and Frank Trocco) and films (notably the 2004 documentary "Moog," recently
issued on DVD), and at musical events such as last year's "Moogfest," all of
which were greeted with mild bemusement by the man himself.
"I'm an engineer,"
Mr. Moog said in 2000. "I see myself as a toolmaker, and the musicians are
my customers. They use the tools."