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May 23: Moog (as in “Vogue”)

moogrc4Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog synthesizer, one of the first electronic instruments widely embraced in the musical world, was born in New York City on this date in 1934. His synthesizer was made possible by the invention of the transistor, which replaced bulky vacuum-tube electronic systems in the 1950s. The Moog synthesizer was demonstrated at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967, and was featured on Wendy Carlos’ 1968 hit record album, Switched-On Bach, the success of which made synthetic music very popular — especially after Moog released his mini-moog in 1970, a synthesizer small enough for rock bands to take on tour. (The success of Switched-On Bach also enabled Wendy Carlos to undergo male-to-female sex reassignment surgery.) Robert Moog also constructed theremins (the synthesizer featured for high-shrill background music in horror and sci-fi movies), and eventually manufactured thousands of them, as well as publishing a do-it-yourself theremin guide. Moog preferred the pronunciation of his name that rhymes with “vogue.” He died in Asheville, NC in 2005, age 71.

“I see myself as a toolmaker and the musicians are my customers.” —Robert Moog

Listen to a :58 excerpt from Wendy Carlos’s Switched-On Bach, Bach’s 2-Part Invention No. 8 in F

Watch an interview with Wendy Carlos about her electronic/classical work.

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Comments (6)

  1. Was Moog really Jewish? I though he was German-Dutch. Online biographies don’t seem to mention any Jewish roots, and one even includes the following: “He won a place at New York’s Bronx Science, one of the best high schools for science anywhere in the United States. But there he still felts socially isolated, “and here are all these super-vain, loquacious, garrulous Jews and I was out of that too because I was a shy kid and all these kids had fathers who were lawyers…””

    • LLillan Garfinkel - Reply

      I remember reading in Pakntreger, the magazine of the National Yiddish Book Center, that Robert Moog visited there and was very interested in their activities, and knew Yiddish. Unfortunately, I don’t remember any dates for his visit. As graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, I can imagine that a shy kid could feel out of place there even though he was Jewish. (There were so many Jews in the school when I was there, in the late 1940’s, that the school virtually shut down during Jewish holidays. By the way, some teachers told Yiddish jokes in class.)

  2. 76.15.9.99
    Submitted on 2013/05/24 at 5:57 am

    Moog is buried in the Lou Pollack cemetery, a private Jewish cemetery in Asheville, NC. It’s not likely that a non-Jew would be buried there. And an announcement for his funeral described it as a Jewish service. Beyond that it was hard to pinpoint information about his Jewishness, and perhaps I’m wrong in asserting it. See:
    http://www.karma-lab.com/forum/showthread.php?t=5494
    http://dj2librarian.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/51/

  3. Victoria Free Presser - Reply

    My dad, Stan Free, was a member of the First Moog Quartet. Moog synthesizers could play only one note at a time, hence, multiple Moogs were needed for a chord! Dad was a jazz musician, composer, conductor and arranger, and he wrote an arrangement of the jazz classic “Four Brothers” for the Quartet. He had one big hit on the Moog — “Popcorn” — and although the artist is listed as “Hot Butter”, that is indeed Stan Free tickling the non-ivories.
    Incidentally, the impresario for the First Moog Quartet was Gershon Kingsley, an Israeli as I remember.

  4. George Jochnowitz - Reply

    In 1955 or some such year, when I was taking the required course in Music Humanities, our teacher mentioned the Moog synthesizer and played a recording of something on it. It sounded very synthetic indeed.

  5. George Jochnowitz - Reply

    My Music Humanities teacher, by the way, was Vladimir Ussachevsky. He didn’t play any of his own compositions for the class during his lecture on the Moog synthesizer, even though he composed such music.

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