Robert Moog
By: David Smay | Categories: HiLo Heroes


The Theremin was the sound of the Fifties future, and it was a cold, cerebral eerie soundtrack, entirely appropriate for John Campbell’s brand of science fiction. It signaled a funkless future for square jawed white male engineers in bleakest outer space. Dr. ROBERT MOOG (1934-2005) grew up idolizing Leon Theremin and his work, and formed his first business by selling Theremin kits. Moog’s innovations were many, but the most important was a simple conceptual one: one volt per octave change of pitch. This fuses music and electronics in an intuitive and fantastically flexible way, allowing ease of pitch transcription and can be built with the simplest circuitry. The original Moog synthesizers were large, complex modular consoles designed only for studio work, and they peppered late sixties rock records as a novelty. It was Moog’s collaboration with Wendy Carlos that refined the instrument and established its popularly with the huge selling Switched On Bach. And it is not insignificant that Wendy Carlos was born Walter, that the first great Moog musician was the first transexual musician to go platinum. Like convention-bending science fiction authors Samuel Delaney and Norman Spinrad, Robert Moog was a Bronx Science alumnus, and the sound of his inventions signified a new future, the one seen in Dangerous Visions and New Worlds, a future of drugs and sex, paranoia and collapse. And what fantastical instruments he made: the Minimoog’s Pitch and Mod wheel controllers became the standard for all analog synths; the Taurus Bass Pedal synthesizer produced the phattest science-fictional P-Funk. As it turns out, the Seventies had a better angle on the future than the Fifties: transexual, perverse, multiracial, fractured, funky. Dr. Moog gave us nothing less than The Ineluctable Grooviness of Tomorrow.

ALSO BORN ON MAY 23: Hergé.

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David Smay is the co-editor of two books about pop music, Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, and Lost in the Grooves. He's also the author of Swordfishtrombones, the 33 1/3 series entry on Tom Waits. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and two children.