This story about Bob Moog was found in the (Swiss) Neue Zürcher Zeitung, related to the introduction of the “Switched on..” book by Albert Glinksy. Please note that all (c) are with the Zeitung and its authors.
Robert Moog invented the synthesizer. His biography shows how he changed the music of the Beatles.
Trumansburg was a sleepy town in upstate New York. Then in 1963 the music inventor Bob Moog moved here with his startup and caused a loud revolution. In 1964, Moog invented the synthesizer, a sound machine that synthetically generates sounds. In doing so, he initiated a development that has since come to dominate music.
The Moog synthesizer first attracted greater attention in 1967 at the Monterey Pop Festival in California, when young pop musicians bought seven of the miracle machines at the company’s sales stand. From then on, bands like The Byrds, The Beach Boys and Grateful Dead experimented with the new sound generator. The Beatles also used a Moog synthesizer on their album “Abbey Road”. In the 1970s, groups like Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Yes placed him at the center of progressive rock music.
Bach on the synthesizer
In 1968, an LP brought the breakthrough for Moog: “Switched-On Bach” was the name of the album on which compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach were played on his synthesizer. The album became a bestseller worldwide. The name Moog temporarily became synonymous with synthesizers par excellence.
In his 480-page and detailed biography, the American author Albert Glinsky illustrates how Robert Arthur Moog, born in New York in 1934, developed a soft spot for technical things as a child. As a teenager, he made a theremin, an obscure electronic musical instrument that you play without touching, and wrote about it in trade journals. He later financed his physics studies by selling theremin kits.
Thanks to «Switched-On Bach», his synthesizer not only turned out to be good business, it also aroused the interest of an ever-widening circle. Every pop musician who could afford it wanted to buy these wonderful sound machines. But not just pop stars.
In 1969, the young German conductor Eberhard Schoener also traveled to Trumansburg to inspect the new instrument on site. “No way,” said Bob Moog at first when Schoener wanted to buy a synthesizer; the order list was way too long. “I went to the workshop every day. Moog sat there with two technicians and screwed around with components,” Schoener recalls. “I drew the different connections because I had no idea how it worked.” One day there were four boxes in the yard. John Lennon had sent his instrument back: “Too complicated”, it said in the accompanying letter. Schoener recognized the opportunity and said: “I take it!”
Florian Fricke lived in Miesbach in Upper Bavaria in the immediate vicinity of Schoener and got to know the new sound apparatus through him. The young pianist was so fascinated that his well-to-do wife gave him one of the 60,000-mark devices. Fricke worked around the clock with the device, which was difficult to get a handle on. There were hundreds of knobs and controls, but no instruction manual. The various modules had to be plugged in with a jumble of cables. Fricke fought his way through and with his group Popol Vuh provided soundtracks for films by Werner Herzog – most impressively in “Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes” (1972).
In 1970 the so-called Minimoog provided the next big step in the development of synthesizers. Finally there was a handy instrument that was affordable, easy to use and portable. These characteristics made the little Moog a bestseller. The fact that the company of the synthesizer inventor did not really flourish was due to the growing competition: the London company EMS or ARP in America had meanwhile also developed smaller models.
Before the digital revolution
Bob Moog lacked business acumen. Heavily in debt, he was forced to sell his company in 1971 – although he continued to act as its figurehead. The sale came at the right time. A few years later, Japanese companies such as Roland, Yamaha, Korg and Casio entered the market, which they soon dominated with their digital models.
After a frustrating few years as an employee of his own company, Bob Moog once again founded a company specializing in developments in music technology. When the synthesizer pioneer died in 2005 at the age of 71, he had long since noted with satisfaction how the technology of electronic sound generation, which he had helped to invent, shaped a new world of sound – from synthetic sounds in pop and new classic to the beeping of the Mobile phones, coffee machines or washing machines.