Moog synthesizer

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Moog synthesizer
Moog Modular 55 img2.jpg
A 1975 Moog Modular 55 system
ManufacturerR. A. Moog Co.
Dates1965—1981, 2014—present
Technical specifications
OscillatorVCO
Synthesis typeSubtractive
FilterVCF
Input/output

The Moog synthesizer is a modular synthesizer developed by the American engineer Robert Moog. Moog debuted it in 1964, and Moog's company R. A. Moog Co. (later known as Moog Music) produced numerous models from 1965 to 1981, and again from 2014. It was the first commercial synthesizer, and is credited with creating the analog synthesizer as it is known today.

By 1963, Moog had been designing and selling theremins for several years. He began developing the Moog synthesizer in response to demand for more practical and affordable electronic music equipment, guided by suggestions and requests from composers including Herb Deutsch, Richard Teitelbaum, Vladimir Ussachevsky and Wendy Carlos. Moog's principal innovation was the voltage-controlled oscillator, which uses voltage to control pitch. He also introduced fundamental synthesizer concepts such as modularity and envelope generators.

The Moog synthesizer consists of separate modules—such as voltage-controlled oscillators, amplifiers and filters, envelope generators, noise generators, ring modulators, triggers and mixers—which create and shape sounds, and can be connected via patch cords. It can be played using controllers including keyboards, joysticks, pedals and ribbon controllers, or controlled with sequencers. Its oscillators can produce waveforms of different timbres, which can be modulated and filtered to shape their sounds (subtractive synthesis).

The Moog synthesizer was brought to the mainstream by Switched-On Bach (1968), a bestselling album of Bach compositions arranged for Moog synthesizer by Wendy Carlos. In the late 1960s, it was adopted by rock and pop acts including the Doors, the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles. At its height of popularity, it was a staple of 1970s progressive rock, used by acts including Yes, Tangerine Dream, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. With its ability to imitate instruments such as strings and horns, it threatened the jobs of session musicians, and was banned from use in commercial work for a period. In 1970, Moog Music released a portable, self-contained model, the Minimoog.

Development[edit]

Robert Moog with a Moog synthesizer in the 1970s

In the early 1960s, electronic music technology was impractical and used mainly by experimental composers to create music with little mainstream appeal.[1] In 1963, American engineer Robert Moog, who designed and sold theremins,[2] met composer Herb Deutsch at a New York State School Music Association trade fair. Deutsch had been making electronic music using a theremin, tape recorder, and single-pitch oscillator, a time-consuming process that involved splicing tape. Recognizing the need for more practical and sophisticated equipment, Moog and Deutsch discussed the notion of a "portable electronic music studio".[3]

Moog received a grant of $16,000 from the New York State Small Business Association and began work in Trumansburg, New York.[3] At the time, synthesizer-like instruments filled rooms;[4] Moog hoped to build a more compact instrument that would appeal to musicians.[5] Learning from his experience building a prohibitively expensive guitar amplifier, he believed that practicality and affordability were the most important parameters.[5]

Previous synthesizers, such as the RCA Mark II, had created sound from hundreds of vacuum tubes.[6] Instead, Moog used recently available silicon transistors — specifically, a transistor with an exponential relationship between input voltage and output current. With this, he created the voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO), which generated a waveform whose pitch could be adjusted by changing the voltage. Moog designed his synthesizer around a standard of one volt per octave. Similarly, he used voltage to control loudness with voltage-controlled amplifiers (VCAs).[3]

Moog developed a prototype with two VCOs and a VCA. As the VCOs themselves could output voltage, one could be used to modulate the output of another, creating effects such as vibrato and tremolo.[3] According to Moog, when Deutsch saw this, he "went through the roof" and immediately began making music with the prototype, attracting the interest of passersby: "They would stand there, they’d listen and they’d shake their heads ... What is this weird shit coming out of the basement?"[3]

Herb Deutsch in 2011

In 1964, Moog and Deutsch demonstrated the synthesizer at the electronic music studio at the University of Toronto.[3] After the presentation impressed the composers, Moog was invited by the Audio Engineering Society to present at their annual convention in New York that October.[4] Though he had not planned to sell synthesizers there, some customers placed orders at the show. The choreographer Alwin Nikolais became the first person to purchase a commercially made Moog synthesizer.[3] Moog constructed synthesizers to order.[6] The first order for a complete Moog synthesizer, for which Moog had to design a keyboard and cabinet, came from composer Eric Siday.[3] With no Moog books and no way to save or share settings, early users had to learn how to use the synthesizer themselves, by word of mouth, or from seminars held by Moog and Deutsch.[1]

Moog refined the synthesizer in response to requests from musicians and composers.[7] For example, after Deutsch suggested Moog find a way to fade notes in and out, Moog invented an envelope module, using a doorbell button as a prototype.[3] At the suggestion of composer Gustav Ciamaga, Moog developed a filter module, a means of removing frequencies from waveforms.[3] His first filter design created a sound similar to a wah-wah pedal; he later developed the distinctive "ladder" filter, which was the only item in the synthesizer design that Moog patented, granted on October 28, 1969.[3] Further developments were driven by suggestions from musicians including Richard Teitelbaum, Vladimir Ussachevsky and Wendy Carlos;[7] Carlos suggested the first touch-sensitive keyboard, portamento control and filter bank, which became standard features.[3]

Moog initially avoided the word synthesizer, as it was associated with the RCA synthesizer, and instead described his invention as a "system" of "electronic music modules". The classical meaning of "to synthesize" is to assemble a whole out of parts.[3] After many debates, Moog eventually told composer Reynold Weidenaar: "It’s a synthesizer and that's what it does and we're just going to have to go with it."[3] Moog used the word in print for the first time in 1966. By the 1970s, "synthesizer" had become the standard term for such instruments.[3]

There was also debate as to the role of the keyboard in synthesizers. Some, such as composer Vladimir Ussachevsky and Moog's competitor Don Buchla, felt they were restrictive. However, Moog recognized that most customers wanted keyboards and found they made the instrument approachable; by including keyboards in photographs, it helped users understand that the synthesizer was for making music.[3] Moog also developed alternative controllers, such as the ribbon controller, which allows users to control pitch similarly to moving a finger along a violin string.[3]

Most of the Moog modules were finalized by the end of the 1960s, and remained mostly unchanged until Moog Music ceased trading in the 1980s.[1] Moog had pursued the development of his synthesizer as a hobby; he stressed that he was not a businessman, and had not known what a balance sheet was.[3] He likened the experience to riding theme park amusements: "You know you're not going to get hurt too badly because nobody would let you do that, but you’re not quite in control."[3]

Components[edit]

Modules: 921 VCO, 911 Envelope Generator; 902 VCA

The Moog synthesizer consists of separate modules – such as oscillators, amplifiers, envelope generators, filters, noise generators, ring modulators, triggers and mixers – which can be connected in a variety of ways via patch cords.[6][3] The modules can also be used to control each other.[3] The synthesizer does not produce sound until a workable combination of modules are connected.[1]

The synthesizer can be played using controllers including keyboards, joysticks, pedals, and ribbon controllers.[6] The oscillators can produce different waveforms with different tones and overtones, such as a "bright, full, brassy" sawtooth wave, a thinner, flute-like triangle wave, a "nasal, reedy" pulse wave, and a "whistle-like" sine wave.[3] These waveforms can be modulated and filtered to produce more combinations of sounds (subtractive synthesis).[3] The oscillators were difficult to keep in tune, and small temperature changes would cause them to drift rapidly.[1] As Moog's early customers were more interested in creating experimental music than playing conventional melodies, Moog did not consider keeping the oscillators stable a priority.[6]

The Moog's 24db[8] low-pass filter is particularly distinctive, with a "rich", "juicy", "fat" sound.[3] The filter, based on pairs of transistors connected by capacitors arranged in a ladder-like layout, attenuates frequencies above a level set by the user, and boosts the frequencies around the cut-off frequency.[3] When overdriven, the filter produces a rich distortion described as the "Moog sound".[3]

Impact[edit]

Keyboardist Keith Emerson performing with a Moog synthesizer in 1970

The Moog was much smaller than previous synthesizers, and much cheaper, at US$10,000 compared to the six-figure sums of other synthesizers.[4] Whereas the RCA Mark II was programmed with punchcards, Moog's synthesizer could be played in real time via keyboard, making it attractive to musicians.[4] New Scientist described it as the first commercial synthesizer.[9]

According to the Guardian, Moog's 1964 paper Voltage-Controlled Music Modules, in which he proposed the Moog synthesizer modules, invented the modern concept of the analog synthesizer.[6] According to the authors of Analog Days, "Though the notion of voltage control and Moog's circuit designs were not original, Moog's innovations were in drawing the elements together, realizing that the problem of exponential conversion could be solved using transistor circuitry and building such circuits and making them work in a way that was of interest to musicians."[3]

Most Moog synthesizers were owned by universities or record labels, and used to create soundtracks or jingles; by 1970, only 28 were owned by musicians.[10] The Moog was first used by experimental composers including Richard Teitelbaum, Dick Hyman and Wendy Carlos.[7] In 1968, Carlos released Switched-On Bach, an album of Bach compositions arranged for Moog synthesizer. It won three Grammy Awards and was the first classical album certified platinum.[11][5] The album is credited for popularising the Moog and demonstrating that synthesizers could be more than "random noise machines".[7] For a period, the name Moog became so associated with electronic music that it was sometimes used as a generic term for any synthesizer.[7] Moog liked this, but disapproved of the numerous "cruddy" novelty records released with his name attached, such as Music to Moog By, Moog Espana and Moog Power.[7]

An early use in rock music came with the 1967 Monkees album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.[7] In the same year, the Doors used a Moog synthesizer on their song "Strange Days".[12] In 1969, George Harrison released an album of Moog recordings, Electronic Sound, and that year the Moog appeared on the Beatles album Abbey Road on tracks including "Because", "Here Comes the Sun" and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer".[7] Other rock bands who adopted the Moog include the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones.[2] It was also adopted by jazz musicians including Herbie Hancock, Jan Hammer and Sun Ra.[7]

In the 1970s, at the height of the Moog's popularity, it became ubiquitous as part of progressive rock bands such as Yes, Tangerine Dream, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.[7] Keith Emerson was the first major rock musician to perform live with the Moog, and it became a trademark of his performances; according to Analog Days, the likes of Emerson "did for the keyboard what Jimi Hendrix did for the guitar".[3] Almost every element of Donna Summer's 1977 influential song "I Feel Love" was created with a Moog synthesizer, with the producers aiming to creating a futuristic mood.[13] Robert Moog was critical, saying the sequenced bassline had a "certain sterility" and that Summer sounded like she was "fighting the sequencer".[14] In later decades, hip hop groups such as the Beastie Boys and rock bands including They Might Be Giants and Wilco "revived an interest in the early Moog synthesizer timbres".[7]

The Guardian wrote that the Moog synthesizer, with its dramatically new sounds, arrived at a time in American history when, in the wake of the Vietnam War, "nearly everything about the old order was up for revision".[5] With its ability to imitate instruments such as strings and horns, synthesizers threatened the jobs of session musicians. For a period, the Moog was banned from use in commercial work, a restriction negotiated by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM).[3] Robert Moog felt that the AFM had not realized that the synthesizer was an instrument to be learnt and mastered like any other, and instead imagined that "all the sounds that musicians could make somehow existed in the Moog — all you had to do was push a button that said 'Jascha Heifetz' and out would come the most fantastic violin player".[15]

Moog features such as voltage-controlled oscillator, envelopes, noise generators, filters and sequencers became standards in the synthesizer market.[3][16] The ladder filter has been replicated in hardware synthesizers,[17] digital signal processors,[18] field-programmable gate arrays[19] and software synthesizers.[20]

Models[edit]

Originally produced from 1973 to 1981, Moog reissued the System 55 in 2015 in a limited run of 55 units.[21][22]

Although customers could choose any combination of modules, Moog sold several standard systems:

Name Produced Reissued Reissue price Sources
Ic 1967—1973 N/A N/A [23][24][25]
IIc 1967—1973 N/A N/A [23][26][25]
IIIc 1967—1973 2017 $35,000 [27][28][23][25]
Ip 1967—1973 N/A N/A [23][24][25]
IIp 1967—1973 N/A N/A [23][26][25]
IIIp 1969—1973 2018 $35,000 [29][30][23][25]
Emerson Moog Modular System 1969—1970 2014—2017 $150,000 [31][32][33][34]
Model 10 1971—1973 2019—present $9,950 [35][36][37][23][25]
Model 12 1972—1973 N/A N/A [23][38]
Model 15 1973—1981 2015 $10,000 [22][21][23][39]
System 35 1973—1981 2015 $22,000 [22][21][23][39]
System 55 1973—1981 2015 $35,000 [22][21][23][39]

Successors[edit]

A Minimoog, a portable self-contained version of the Moog synthesizer

In 1970, Moog Music released the Minimoog, a portable, self-contained model, and the modular systems became a secondary part of Moog's business.[1] The Minimoog has been described as the most famous and influential synthesizer in history.[10]

After the sale of Moog Music, production of Moog synthesizers stopped in the early 1980s. The patents and other rights to Moog's modular circuits expired in the 1990s. In 2002, after Robert Moog regained the rights to the Moog brand and bought the company, Moog released the Minimoog Voyager, an updated version. From 2016 to 2017, Moog reissued the original Minimoog with some changes.[1][40] In 2018, Moog released the Grandmother, followed by the Matriarch in 2019; parts of the circuitry used in these instruments were inspired by the Moog synthesizer.[41][42][43]

Clones and emulations[edit]

After production of the original Moog synthesizers stopped in 1980, some manufacturers, such as Synthesizers.com, have created their own modules and clones of Moog modules. Moog modules, known as the "doctom" or "5U" format, are the dominant synthesizer format used today, along with Eurorack.[44] Since 2020, Behringer has manufactured clones of Moog modules in the Eurorack format, also sold in configurations based on the original Moog systems.[45][46]

The Moog synthesizer has been emulated in software synthesizers such as the Arturia Modular V.[47] In 2016, Moog released the Moog Model 15 app, a software emulation of the Model 15 initially for iOS and later in 2021 for macOS.[48][49][50]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Leon, Richard. "Dr Robert & His Modular Moogs". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 20 January 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Obituary: Dr Robert Moog". BBC News. 22 August 2005. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad Pinch, Trevor; Trocco, Frank (2004). Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-01617-0.
  4. ^ a b c d "Robert Moog biography (1934-2005)". Wired.com. Retrieved 3 December 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d Stearns, David Patrick (25 August 2005). "Obituary: Robert Moog". the Guardian. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e f McNamee, David (10 August 2010). "Hey, what's that sound: Moog synthesisers". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 October 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Kozinn, Allan. "Robert Moog, creator of music synthesizer, dies at 71". New York Times. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  8. ^ Sam Gallagher (17 July 2019). "Analyzing the Moog Filter". all about circuits.
  9. ^ Hamer, Mick. "Interview: Electronic maestros". New Scientist. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  10. ^ a b Weiner, Sophie (20 October 2017). "Minimoog: The First Truly Portable Synthesizer". Red Bull Music Academy. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  11. ^ Bernstein, Adam (23 August 2005). "Robert Moog Dies; Created Electronic Synthesizer". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  12. ^ Davis, Stephen (2005). Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend. New York: Gotham Books. p. 197. ISBN 978-1-59240-099-7.
  13. ^ Brewster, Bill (22 June 2017). "I Feel Love: Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder created the template for dance music as we know it". Mixmag. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  14. ^ Snowden, Don (23 May 2012). "Robert Moog: 'I wouldn't call this music' – a classic interview to mark a Google doodle". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 13 January 2020.
  15. ^ Interview with Bob Moog, Plug, Fall 1974,p.2.
  16. ^ Vail, Mark (2014). The Synthesizer. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195394894.
  17. ^ "analogue/digital hybrid synthesiser" (PDF). Modal Electronics. Modal Electronics. 2020.
  18. ^ Antti Huovilainen (8 October 2004). "Analzing the Moog Filter" (PDF). Helsinki University of Technology. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 April 2019.
  19. ^ Jürgen Schuhmacher (17 September 2005). "Moog Filter Module in VHDL 2005". Sound of L.A. Music.
  20. ^ Will Pirkle (2013). "Virtual Analog Filter Implementation and Comparisons" (PDF). www.willpirkle.com.
  21. ^ a b c d "Moog reissues the System 55, System 35 and Model 15 modular synths". Audiofanzine. 19 January 2015. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  22. ^ a b c d "The Return Of The Moog Modular". Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Moog Synthesizer 1c/2c/3c | Vintage Synth Explorer". www.vintagesynth.com. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  24. ^ a b "1968 Modular System Synthesizer 1". MoogArchives. Retrieved 19 July 2021.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g "1971 Moog Music Catalog" (PDF).
  26. ^ a b "1968 Modular System Synthesizer 2". MoogArchives. Retrieved 19 July 2021.
  27. ^ "Reintroducing The Moog Synthesizer IIIc". Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  28. ^ "Moog has reissued one of their earliest synths: Watch". DJMag.com. 1 May 2017. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  29. ^ "We're Bringing the Moog Synthesizer IIIp Back Into Production". Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  30. ^ synthhead (16 February 2018). "Moog Synthesizer IIIp Modular System Reissued For $35,000". Synthtopia. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  31. ^ "Announcing The New Emerson Moog Modular System". Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  32. ^ Reid, Gordon (2014). "The Rebirth Of Keith Emerson's Moog Modular". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 20 July 2021.
  33. ^ "The last ever Emerson Moog Modular System is being built and will sell for $150,000". Mixmag. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  34. ^ "The Final Emerson Moog Modular System". Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  35. ^ "The Moog Model 10 Synthesizer Returns". Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  36. ^ "Moog Announces Limited Reissue Of Model 10 Synth". WMC · Winter Music Conference - Virtual Edition - May 20-21, 2021. 20 September 2019. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  37. ^ Elisabeth (17 September 2019). "Moog Music Reprises Moog Model 10 Synthesizer". Synthtopia. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  38. ^ "Moog Synthesizer 12". Synthmuseum. Retrieved 19 July 2021.
  39. ^ a b c "1976 Japanese Catalog" (PDF).
  40. ^ Rogerson, Ben. "Moog is ending production of the Minimoog Model D". MusicRadar. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  41. ^ Reid, Gordon. "Moog Grandmother". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
  42. ^ Gaston, Ryan. "Moog Matriarch: Who Needs Polyphony - Perfect Circuit". Perfect Circuit. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
  43. ^ Reid, Gordon. "Moog Matriarch". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
  44. ^ "Different Flavours of Modular Synthesizers". Attack Magazine. 17 June 2019. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
  45. ^ Willings, Sam. "Behringer clones over 20 Moog modules for Eurorack". MusicTech. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  46. ^ Willings, Sam. "Behringer bundles its System 55 Eurorack modules into three different rack sizes". MusicTech. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  47. ^ Magnus, Nick. "Arturia Moog Modular V". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
  48. ^ Reid, Gordon. "Moog Model 15 App". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
  49. ^ Sheah, Daniel (9 September 2021). "Moog's Model 15 app is finally available as a VST". MusicTech. Retrieved 21 October 2021.
  50. ^ Betts, Will (20 January 2021). "NAMM 2021: Moog's Model 15 synth app comes to desktop on macOS Big Sur". MusicTech. Retrieved 21 October 2021.

External links[edit]