Bob Moog - A Remembrance
The year was 1969.
Love was in the air, the world
was young, my friends were at Cornell, and I had been fascinated
by the auditory wizardry of Stockhausen's Kontakte
and Gesang der Jünglinge, and Steve Reich's
Out To Show Them. Switched-On
Bach had just come out, I had heard of the work Bob
Moog was doing with Theremins
and large synthesizers, and I was invited to visit Ithaca and
meet him. It was a trip which would soon change my life in no
My first visit was to a somewhat
plain storefront building that had been transformed into a gentle
mad scientist's laboratory. It seemed the other people who worked
there did not quite understand the technical inspiration and
magic that was taking place in the next room. I had a distinct
deja vu that here was someone like an Oppenheimer, or a Dirac,
(while I felt somehow like a young Feynman) and that some new
sort of particle physics was being invented and discovered within
these four walls; not in what might be a "bad" way
(like a bomb) but in some sort of breakthrough way that would
affect the psyche of people for years to come, if not forever.
It was partially the quiet, the silence of the air; it was partially
the ions that you feel after a thunderstorm, it was partly the
way the universe stops when your eyes meet someone special across
a room, and it was partly feeling I was on the edge of some
science that transcended magic and I just HAD to learn
all about it.
I somehow was able to talk openly
to Bob. We hit it off and I probably blurted out all sorts of
odd sentences, and yet he seemed genuinely interested and patient.
Quite a few hours went by - my head was beginning to swell -
and I said good-bye and went off with my Cornell friends to
I wasn't really sure why I felt
I HAD to visit there, but I did. I then proceeded to study everything
I could get my hands on about the intricacies of what Bob was
doing, from voltage control to music theory... I met Steve Reich
in New York and sat in on THE spectacular presentation
Zukovsky's Violin Phase. I managed to assemble a
comprehensive electronic music library and studied and memorized
every piece, and to my friends, who had been used to seeing
me listen to Brubeck and Beethoven, I must have appeared totally
lost in space.
One Sunday evening, months later,
I got a phone call from Bob. Was I interested in a job at Moog?
Was I! I was so excited I could hardly sleep. On Monday I gave
my notice at work. On Tuesday I told my landlord I was moving.
On Wednesday and Thursday I packed up my entire apartment. On
Friday I rented a trailer. On Saturday I drove from Boston to
Ithaca, my poor Volvo Station Wagon nearly scraping the ground
under the weight of all my 'stuff' and me and my cat. On Sunday
I moved in, and on Monday I started my new life: just like that.
Although I was at the Moog company
for less than a year, I felt I had a lifetime there, and then
some. ANY conversation with Bob was a groundbreaking, paradigm-shifting,
technical revelation. One time he played a movement from Swan
Lake for me on the theremin. It was with the smoothness and
control of a David Oistrakh on violin, coupled with an unearthly
artistic sensitivity, coupled with the engineering precision
of a scientist. He was conducting the music of the spheres simply
by moving his hands in space! I felt more than honored to be
on the same planet with this man, let alone being his private
audience! Now, some 36 years later, it is as if it was yesterday,
it's so clear.
Bob had other artists-in-residence
visiting the "factory" in Trumansburg and it seems
as if we had years to setup incredible audio gadgetry, to experiment,
try "this" and "that"... We had the first
Harold Bode Ring Modulator. We had a homemade mixing console
with 741 op amps. We had among the first Dolby A noise reduction
modules on early Scully tape recorders. We set up banks of tweeters,
left and right, and fed 21,000 Hz into one bank and 21,440 into
the other bank, and heard the A-440 differential frequency "globule"
of sound floating around the room like an apparition. The
Who had written a song called MaryAnne With The Shaky
Hands, and we were honored with MaryAnn's presence: she
set up a room full of subwoofers and fed each one with a SLIGHTLY
different mostly square-wave frequency (22.5 Hz, 22.7 Hz, 23.1
Hz...) and we all sat in this room, trancelike, and felt the
phase differential pressure waves slide by like some sort of
solar wind, modulating our hearts in the process.
The Summer of Woodstock was upon
us and we tried - oh how we tried - to get to The Woodstock
Festival with a synthesizer. By the time we got started on the
road and made it halfway across the state of New York the roads
were so crowded we thought we'd never get there, so, foolishly,
and sadly, (as it turned out) we turned around and never made
it to Woodstock.
Various composers and amazed
famous musicians came and went. Originally, Bob never thought
that the instruments would be used for "live" performances;
the first thought was that they would be teaching tools, classroom
bound, and then would find a place in serious experimental recording
studios. No one could foresee the groundbreaking stage antics
of a Keith Emerson or the live presence of a magic Stevie Wonder
and how all these musicians would take to the synthesizer as
a live tool. And no one could yet see the portability and eventual
polyphony of the keyboard-sized units of the future.
In September of 69 we put on
the first official live synthesizer concert in the garden of
the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Bob and some of the fellows
were in the hotel room trying to add temperature compensating
capacitors to the keyboard circuitry because being VERY
analog, the keyboard voltage was drifting in the summer heat;
up until that point the design and testing had only taken place
only in the narrow temperature confines of the Trumansburg Studios
and Labs. Running on no sleep, they managed to null out the
drifts and the concert presentation took place both to an appreciative,
spellbound and yet cheering audience and to glowing reviews
by somewhat originally skeptical writers who had essentially
no idea of what was to come from all this!
With only gentle fanfare, and
Bob's quiet yet intense demeanor, the musical landscape was
irrevocably changing and the lives of millions of musicians
and listeners were being altered, even if they were not immediately
aware of it. Even though there are and were other synthesizer
pioneers (to be sure) no one else has had the impact and presence
that the real wave of the Moog has had.
The juxtaposition of art, science,
audio, taste, engineering elegance and finesse, the poetic presentation
and crystal clear explanations of the technology are and were
what set Bob Moog apart from everyone else. When he spoke, the
room would drop into silence, and it seemed as if time stood
I am eternally grateful for the
time we had together; the experience and knowledge I gained
has stood me well in every facet of my audio career.
Bob, we all love you and miss
you. Be well with the music of the spheres.