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Robert Moog

Dr Robert Moog, the inventor of the electronic synthesiser, aged 71, died of brain cancer on 21 August 2005

Adapted from the BBC obituary:

His synthesiser, which bears his name, revolutionised music from the 1960s onwards, and was used by bands like the Beatles and the Doors. Today, the electronic manipulation of sound is a ubiquitous feature of popular music. This was not always the case, and Moog was one of the pivotal pioneers of synthesised sound. His instruments transformed pop music during that most revolutionary and experimental of times, the 1960s.

Alongside his hobby, Moog was studying hard. From the Bronx High School of Science, he went on to Queens College, before graduating in electrical engineering at Columbia University and earning a doctorate in engineering physics at Cornell.

Although RCA had already built a musical synthesiser, it was a vast beast, and never intended for sale. What Moog did, in 1964, was to produce and market a practical instrument, a small keyboard synth which could be used with relative ease. Hollywood soon expressed an interest, but it was Wendy Carlos’ 1968 Grammy-winning album, Switched-On Bach, which brought the Moog synthesiser to spectacular prominence. Before long many musicians and groups, including the Doors, the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, were using Moog synthesisers. Keith Emerson, of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, was the first musician to use one for live concerts. These two photographs show the monstrous Moog synthesiser used in Switched-on and the other the Minimoog model.

But the boom days were not to last. Even though the Minimoog, a stripped-down version of the original instrument and beloved by artists like Rick Wakeman, made waves when it came out in 1970, the writing was on the wall. With interest in purely electronic sound falling, and huge competition from other synthesiser manufacturers, most notably ARP Instruments and Electronic Music Studios, the bottom fell out of the market.

Synthesisers evolved from the analog model of voltage control to digitally controlled model, and then to the wave table model of the modern machines.

Bob Moog sold a controlling interest in his struggling company and, more important, rights to the Moog Music name to a venture capitalist. In 1978, he started a new company, Big Briar, building custom instruments and sound-effect boxes. Even so, many musicians, including Brian Eno, Frank Zappa, The Cure and Fat Boy Slim, sought the Moog sound, keeping it alive, even as analogue synthesisers were wiped-out by their digital cousins. After a lengthy legal battle, Moog reclaimed the rights to the Moog brand in 2002 and began selling instruments bearing his name for the first time in more than two decades.