A History of Moog Music Pre 1970
The Day of the Theremin
Leon Theremin devised the original Theremin in Russia around the time of the Bolshevik revolution. Lenin, who was in power at the time, had 600 units made firstly for the Soviet people and secondly to showcase Russian engineering. To achieve the latter Lenin distributed some of the Theremins globally but after the second world war the Soviets “discouraged” further work on electronic music stating that “electricity should be reserved for the execution of traitors”.
In 1953 the first compact Theremin was designed by Bob Moog who was living in Flushing, New York, USA. This was to be his first commercial product and at the age of 19 it is estimated that he had built 20 vacuum tube Theremin Model 201′s out of his home in Flushing.
The second and third models (351 and 301) were released under the R.A.Moog Co. brand with the new R.A.Moog “vacuum tube” logo printed on the front. The Theremin 351 and Theremin 301 were released in 1954 and were identical aside from two features that were added to the 351. Firstly it had a switch that enabled the performer to inject one of three overtones alongside the basic tone and a secondly it had a switch that allowed the user to select one of four basic timbres.
Between the years of 1960 and 1964 the Moog Theremin range was expanded and transistorised. The Vanguard was promoted as a “self-contained electronic musical instrument” and released in 1960 costing $395 which was roughly £549. A more powerful version of the Vanguard followed and was aptly named “The Professional”. The Professional was completely transistorised without a single vacuum tube and in addition had four clear timbres which were principal, horn, string and woodwind. Again released in 1960, the Theremin Professional was priced at $650 which in pounds was £849.
Bob Moog believed that everyone should have the opportunity to create and understand the Theremin concept. For £39 you could buy The Melodia which was simply a Theremin in kit form aimed at the “circuit benders” of the early 60’s and science fair contestants. The Melodia was also available in assembled form and tuned at the R.A.Moog factory for £99 ($75 US). Both units unlike their predecessors required amplification and stand.
The final part of the Theremin puzzle was the Troubador. This was a professional version of the Melodia and in 1960 was released costing £199 / $160. It had a 115 volt AC power supply instead of a battery along with shielding and improved tuning adjustments.
A chance meeting – Moog and Deutsch
In 1963 Bob met Herbert Deutsch at the New York State School Music Association Convention in Rochester. At this point Bob was exploring the combination of his passion for music and his skills in electronics and engineering. Initial conversations revolved around the existing Theremin work and many concept synthesisers. Although the two parted company at this time Bob’s mind had begun to work overtime.
In 1964 they both attended a concert in Greenwich Village held at Jason Seley’s studio. This concert contained compositions that were very unusual for their time, questionably the first complete program of avant garde electronic music that Bob Moog had heard. At this point the need to create an instrument was at the front of Moog and Deutsch’s mind. The new duo received a grant six months later that enabled them to focus their entire time on experimentation with potential electronic musical instruments. Taking the work of composers like Edgard Tonawanda and Harold Bode, Moog employed solid state devices controlled by D.C. voltage changes and filter architecture. These developments helped reduce the size of circuits and created the distinctive filter sound of synthesis today. In 1965 protoypes were built and these are currently held in Hofstra University and Toronto University.
R.A Moog Company was formed in 1965 and by the summer had a team of assistants employed at the Trumanburg workshop. Bob brought together a collection of musicians to use as sounding boards for his work to date. Soon after the orders began to appear, the first of which was from the composer Alwin Nikolias of New York City.
The Moog Modular is born
The Moog 900 series was similar to other voltage-controlled systems however it was designed modularly using a range of individual components. The modules were interconnected with patch cables and that’s how “patch” came to be used as the term for specific sounds in modern day synthesisers.
The voltage output of the Moog keyboard was linked directly into the 901 Voltage Controlled Oscillator input, here the range and scaling of the keyboard were set to tune the intervals. The 901A and 901B were used when two or more oscillators were required and shared the same controller section, these may be tuned to intervals or the same. Eventually the 901 oscillators were replaced with 921 modules, which had far better frequency stability.
The 902 Voltage Controlled Amplifier patched into the 911 Envelope Generator which produced an ADSR (attack, decay, sustain and release) type envelope. The 904 Filters included the 904A low pass, the 904B high pass and the 904C coupler. The 907 Filter Bank was a graphic EQ with knobs instead of sliders with an alternative of the 914 fixed filter bank.
One of Moog’s big breakthroughs was the Sequential Controller module, the 960, which provided a series of control voltages. The 960 had eight stages of which one could be active at a time. Each stage is a column of three knobs, switches and two jacks. If a stage was active the knob would set the voltage at the output jack. The 960 had a built in oscillator which was similar in style to the 901 module. In addition Moog systems featured a number of homemade functions not available in the original series. These were modules such as Low Frequency Oscillators, Sample and Hold, Input Processors and Stereo Mixer.
Moog allowed customers to purchase each module individually whilst promoting three primary modular systems: The Moog System 15 with five sound sources, two VCA’s and Envelope Generators. Two-voice/two-note generation and processing cost $4700 dollars. The Moog System 35 was a studio-designed synthesiser with seven sound sources, three VCA’s and Envelope Generators. Fast switch selection of the most common control function plus an improved power supply for worldwide operation. The System 35 was priced in the US at $7300. Moog offered a flagship “Total Studio System” containing the most sophisticated synthesiser functions of its time for $11900 with built in sequencer for programmed control and nine sound sources with five VCA’s and Envelope Generators.
The Moog modular below is a classic example of the custom design of multiple modules within a dual frame utilizing two 960 sequential controllers, a work of art and quite simply the road map for audiophiles going forward.
In 1982 an attempt was made to sell the original Moog Synthesiser prototype at Sotherby’s auction house in New York. At the time it did not even reach the minimum bid which was suspected to be as little as $20,000. The classic piece of electrical engineering remained in the possession of Herbert Deutch who donated it to the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit.
At their peak Moog were building two or three modular systems a week with a work force of 42. Throughout 1969 and the first quarter of 1970 modular was back-ordered then the world changed. The market became saturated and musicians creating “Moog records” stopped having hits. With competition from companies like ARP creating products with stable oscillators and no patch cables – quarter of a million dollars in back orders for Moog Modular dropped to ZERO overnight.
Moog did however have Minimoog…