First of all, so your mind can read it right, the name, Moog, is pronounced with a long “O” sound. Think “oh” not “zoo”. Robert Moog was of Dutch ancestry, and he prefered the “oh” pronunciation.
Bob Moog began his business model back in 1948 with his firm “R.A. Moog Company”. He made and sold Theremin kits that users could build. (A Theremin is a simple electronic instrument that produces various tones by means of two metal antennas that sense the position of the performer’s hands as they move within their proximity. The antennas control oscillators that produce signals that are amplified and heard on loudspeakers.)
By the early 1960s there was just a handful of analogue electronic music synthesizer makers. R.A. Moog, later “Moog Music”, was the first to include a piano-type keyboard as the user-interface. He also patented several other electronic components that I won’t describe here, because I don’t intend for this blog post to be technical and jargon-filled.
The instruments, of which the general public learned, were the Moog Modular Synthesizers, commonly known as Moog Synthesizers, usually mispronounced, too. The LP record album “Switched On Bach” by Walter Carlos aka Wendy Carlos, and Benjamin Folkman is largely credited with introducing the Moog Synthesizer to popular culture.
I don’t have the space here to outline the history of electronic music, so I’ll just hit on a few of the highlights in my personal exploration and enjoyment of analogue electronica. This nostalgia was triggered by last month’s news of the “re-introduction” of the original Moog Modular synthesizers, by Moog Music .
The release of “Switched On Bach” in 1968 was my first contact with music rewritten and performed specifically for synthesizers. My best friend’s dad played his copy for my friend and me. My pal hated it, I fell in love with it.
By the time I could afford to regularly purchase record albums I came across “Laranja Mecânica”, the Spanish release of the soundtrack for Stanley Kubrik’s “A Clockwork Orange”. I couldn’t get enough of it. Sometimes I still play it for old-time’s sake.
Not only did I dig out the old Carlos album after I heard the re-introduction news story, I was compelled to rummage through my stacks of CDs and to salute the life of Bob Moog. This triggered some heavy-duty music nostalgia. I’ll give you just a few quickie reviews, to spark your interest.
In late 1974, I first heard the radio re-mix of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” on the local station. As soon as possible, I ordered my first copy of the album on LP. Every single track sounded delightful to my ears. I played the record until it wore out. In 1986, I added the compact disc version to my stack.
By the late 70’s I had been introduced to the amazing talents of Isao Tomita. He had already released several realizations of classical music on RCA Red Seal by the time of my discovery of him. The Classical Record Club featured his album “Snowflakes Are Dancing” as one of their selections of the month, so I sent for it.
The record turned out to be a collection of Tomita’s realizations of Debussy’s tone poems. I enjoyed most of what I heard. I didn’t and still don’t care for the rapid fire “wah wah wah” high frequency passages that remind me of electronic video games. Evidently Tomita and some of his fans like this feature. To my ears, the effects seriously date the recordings. Otherwise, the music passed muster and triggered a several years-long series of Tomita album purchases.
Another Tomita record that I still play is his adaptation of Gustoav Holst’s “The Planets”. This album has very few irritating passages, and as a whole, is very satisfying to hear in its entirety. The Planets is one of Tomita’s most popular albums and has received much critical acclaim.
My last mini-review has to be that of Tomita’s realization of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures At An Exhibition”. Again, we have a critically acclaimed presentation. Tomita adapted Ravel’s version of Mussorgsky’s classical piece for his own analogue synth. The album is quite enjoyable as a whole work. Again, I wince at passages of cutsie “wah wah wah” that Tomita felt compelled to include. They are expecially irritating in the context of an otherwise brilliant presentation. My favorite tracks are (11) “Catacombs” and (15) the finale “Great Gate of Kiev”. The last track sends tingles up my spine each time I hear it.
Are you a fan of electronica, like that of Tangerine Dream, Tomita, Wendy Carlos, Jean-Michel Jarre and similar artists? If so, I hope I inspired you to dig out some albums from your own collection to play. If you’re new to the genre, there are numerous places on the Web and on YouTube to check out. The variety of styles will astonish you. Click around to find some you might enjoy.