Robert Arthur Moog
May 23, 1934
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||August 21, 2005 (aged 71)|
|Alma mater||Bronx High School of Science|
|Occupation||Electronic music pioneer, engineer, inventor of Moog synthesizer Entrepreneur|
|Spouse(s)||Shirleigh Moog (m. 1958, div. 1994; three daughters, one son) |
Ileana Grams (m. 1996, his death 2005)
|Relatives||Florence Moog (aunt)|
Bill Moog (cousin, founder of Moog Inc.)
Robert Arthur Moog (// MOHG; May 23, 1934 – August 21, 2005) was an American engineer and pioneer of electronic music. He was the founder of Moog Music and the inventor of the first commercial synthesizer, the Moog synthesizer, debuted in 1964. This was followed in 1970 by a more portable model, the Minimoog, described as the most famous and influential synthesizer in history.
Moog created fundamental synthesizer concepts such as the pitch wheel, modularity, envelope generation, and voltage control. He is credited for helping bring synthesizers to a wider audience and influencing the development of popular music. His only patent was on his filter design; commentators have speculated that he would have become extremely wealthy had he patented his other innovations, but that their availablity in the public domain helped the synthesizer industry flourish.
In 1971, he sold Moog Music to Norlin Musical Instruments, where he remained as a designer until 1977. In 1978, he founded the company Big Briar, and in 2002 renamed it Moog Music after buying back the rights to the name. In his later years, Moog taught at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and worked on designs for further instruments.
As a boy, Moog's parents forced him to study the piano, but he preferred his time in the workroom of his father, a Consolidated Edison engineer. He became fascinated by the theremin, an electronic instrument controlled by moving the hands over radio antennae. In 1949, aged 14, he built a theremin from plans printed in Electronics World.
Moog completed a bachelor's degree in physics from Queens College and a master's degree in electrical engineering from Columbia University before earning a Ph.D. in engineering physics from Cornell University in 1965.
In 1953, Moog produced his own theremin design, and the following year he published an article on the theremin in Radio and Television News. In the same year, he founded RA Moog, selling theremins and theremin kits by mail order from his home. One of his customers, Raymond Scott, rewired Moog's theremin for control by keyboard, creating the Clavivox.
At Cornell, Moog began work on his first synthesizer modules with composer Herb Deutsch. At the time, synthesizers were enormous, room-filling instruments; Moog hoped to build a more compact synthesizer that would appeal to musicians. He believed that practicality and affordability were the most important parameters.
In 1964, Moog began creating the Moog synthesizer. The synthesizer was composed of separate modules which created and shaped sounds, connected by patch cords. One innovative feature was its envelope, which controlled how notes swell and fade. Moog debuted the instrument at the 1964 Audio Engineering Society convention in New York. It was much smaller than other synthesizers, such as the RCA Synthesizer introduced a decade earlier, and much cheaper, at $10,000USD compared to the six-figure sums of other synthesizers. Whereas the RCA Synthesizer was programmed with punchcards, Moog's synthesizer could be played via keyboard, making it attractive to musicians. New Scientist described it as the first commercial synthesizer.
Moog's development was driven by requests and suggestions from musicians including Richard Teitelbaum, Herb Deutsch, Vladimir Ussachevsky, and Wendy Carlos. His other early customers included choreographer Alwin Nikolais and composer John Cage. Moog described himself as a toolmaker, designing things for his users, not himself. Universities established electronic music laboratories with Moog synthesizers. The synthesizer was followed in 1970 by a more portable model, the Minimoog, described as the most famous and influential synthesizer in history.
Though commentators have praised Moog's engineering abilities, they described him as a poor businessman. He only patented his filter design; David Borden, one of the first users of the Minimoog, felt that if Moog had patented his pitch wheel design he would have become extremely wealthy. According to Sound on Sound, if Moog had created a monopoly on other synthesizer ideas he created, such as modularity, envelope generation, and voltage control, "it's likely the synth industry as we know it today would never have happened".
In 1971, following a recession, Moog Music took on investors, merged with another company, and moved to "less than ideal" premises in Buffalo. Moog sold the company to Norlin Musical Instruments, where he remained employed as a designer until 1977. He said he would have left earlier if his contract had not required him to remain employed there for four years to cash his stock. By the end of the decade, Moog Music was facing competition from cheaper, easier-to-use instruments by competitors including Arp, Aries, Roland and E-mu.
In 1978, Moog moved to North Carolina and founded a new electronic instrument company, Big Briar. He also worked as a consultant and vice president for new product research at Kurzweil Music Systems from 1984 to 1988. In the early 1990s, he was a research professor of music at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. In 2002, he renamed Big Briar to Moog Music after buying back the rights to the name. In later years, he designed electronic instruments including a piano operated by touchscreen.
Moog's first marriage, to Shirleigh Moog, ended in divorce in 1994. He was survived by his second wife, Ileana, four children, one stepdaughter, and five grandchildren.
Moog has had a lasting influence on music. The BBC describes him as a pioneer of synthesized sound. According to the Guardian, his inventions "changed the complexion of the pop and classical music worlds". Moog's name became so associated with electronic music that it was sometimes used as a generic term for any synthesizer. In 2004, Moog was the subject of Moog, a documentary by Hans Fjellestad, who said in 2004 that Moog "embodies the archetypal American maverick inventor".
Moog's awards include honorary doctorates from Polytechnic Institute of New York University (New York City), Lycoming College (Williamsport, Pennsylvania), and Berklee College of Music. Moog received a Grammy Trustees Award for lifetime achievement in 1970. He received the Polar Music Prize in 2001 and a Special Merit/Technical Grammy Award in 2002. In 2013, Moog was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In 2012, to celebrate Moog's birthday, Google created an interactive version of the Minimoog as its Google Doodle.
On July 18, 2013, Moog's widow Ileana Grams-Moog said she planned to give her husband's archives, maintained by the Bob Moog Foundation, to Cornell University. The foundation offered her $100,000, but Grams-Moog said she would not sell them. She said Cornell could provide better access for researchers, and that the foundation had not made enough progress toward a planned museum to be worthy of keeping the collection. The foundation responded that it had sufficiently preserved the collection and made efforts to improve storage, though it could not yet afford to build the museum.
In August 2019, the Bob Moog Foundation opened the Moogseum, a museum dedicated to Moog's work, in Asheville, North Carolina. The displays include rare theremins, prototype synthesizer modules, and Moog's documents.
In honor of what would've been Robert Moog's 78th birthday, the Bronx High School of Science started its day with a tribute to the 1952 alumnus who began pioneering the synthesizer in high school.
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