In Memoriam

Bob Moog
5/23/34 - 8/21/05

 

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 Come 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 small measure.

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 socialize.

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 of Paul 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 still.

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.

Barry Ober
www.soundoctor.com

Back to the Boston Audio Society website

For many electronic music links, see the BAS Links page HERE

The Moog Foundation

The official Moog Music site

The CaringBridge site