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Fifty years of Moog (arstechnica.com)
85 points by yiransheng on Sept 21, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 26 comments

When I was younger, I always felt like Moogs were expensive, maybe even overpriced. Last year, I was in Asheville, NC for the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Festival, and took the opportunity to tour their factory, which by no coincidence is in that same town.

It really changed my perspective on things. There are a couple dozen people there who design, assemble, inspect and repair everything right there in that little shop. Sure, you can get a reproduction Korg MS-20 for $600, but there was something charming about seeing exactly who puts together a Moog Voyager or Sub 37 - the latter of which I pre-ordered this year, and I never pre-order anything.

It's well worth seeing if you're ever in Asheville - but the tour is typically only open during the week, during regular business hours.

On the flip side, you have DSP-based manufacturers of synthesizers who are selling their products for >$2.5k, whereas the true cost is really more like $300. The synthesizer world is just as prone to the economies of luxury and privilege as any other consumer, non-essential device.

(Disclaimer: worked in the synth business for decades.. its a truly heinous world if you peek beneath the covers for too long. Smoke, mirrors, deceit .. its all there, being applied, in the never-endless pursuit to 'market to the cool and gullible..')

Moog is a little like Apple. Their hardware is more expensive than the competition but the build quality is amazing and their synths are a pleasure to use. They also hold their resale value very well so they're a good investment for the long term.

Moog also happens to do bass sounds better than anybody else. You'll find Moogs in most serious hip hop and dance music studios.

Moog having the best sounding bass is absolutely subjective. You can't sum up dozens of analog synthesizers brands by one sentence like this. Some prefer DSI, some prefer Vermona and so on.

Also it's a question of generation. Today's Moog synths sound a little different to the older generations, generally are more precise, cripy compared to warm vintage tones.

Two things concerning Moog:

* It is pronounced /ˈmoʊɡ/ mohg.

* They did monophonic synths only besides the Polymoog.

Sure bass sound is subjective. A bunch of other synths also do bass very well. I'm sure a lot of people still keep a Waldorf Pulse around just for its ridiculously fat bass.

Personally I'll go for a Moog if I need a guaranteed huge, warm bass sound though.

The Memorymoog was polyphonic:


In high school I decided I was going to build my own analog synthesizer, I spent hours designing various oscillator circuits and patch panels. At school I took an Electronic Music class and got to use the Moog Model 15 to do various compositions. It wasn't until much later on Usenet after a big hoax had gone around about a 'new' Analog synth did I find out that Roger Arrick, I guy I knew from robotics work, was building synthesizers[1]. I got a smaller one from him (22 slots) about 10 years ago and have had so much fun with it.

[1] http://synthesizers.com -- the plural is important!

One of the first popular Moog songs -- the original Gershon Kingsley "Popcorn": http://youtube.com/watch?v=OSRCemf2JHc

This is predated by Switched-On Bach, one of the most successful classical music albums in history.


Popcorn has the distinction of having been composed specifically for the Moog; as far as I know it was the first piece of music composed for a synthesiser, as opposed to a reinterpretation of a piece originally composed for traditional instruments.

As a purely electronic piece, it's predated by Silver Apples of the Moon, by Morton Subotnik [1], the first electronic album to be produced in the record industry.

I had the pleasure of taking a class by Mort at NYU and learned a lot from his philosophy of music. He provided the musical philosophy behind the design of Don Buchla's eponymous electronic sound platform [2]. Mort is responsible for the Buchla's lack of a familiar 12-key per octave keyboard. Mort felt that as long as they were synthesizing sound from scratch, there was no reason to box themselves into traditional scales, which result from the harmonic nature of sounds produced by resonant instruments (like winds and strings).

By contrast, Bob Moog created a synthesizer that is very much within the tradition of classical music. I imagine that this continuity, exemplified by Switched On Bach, is probably why the Moog is the far more famous instrument today. It's a much easier on ramp for musicians used to traditional instruments.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_Apples_of_the_Moon.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buchla_Electronic_Musical_Inst...

Both were predated by music made on the original Columbia-Princeton synthesizer (academic/experimental)


And by Raymond Scott, who had been using custom electronic circuitry for ads and commercial music since the 1950s.


Scott was a genius because he realised that you could not only make sound electronically, you could build hardware that would compose music. Everyone else is still playing catch-up with that idea.

There was also a fully electronic score by Bebe and Louis Barron for a film called Forbidden Planet.


Moog basically made the technology self-contained and sort-of affordable. With a Moog you had a complete keyboard synthesizer in a box, and you didn't need a room for it.

My favourite Moog music is the classical albums made by Isao Tomita in the 70s. I don't think anyone else has come close to the inventiveness, poetry, and sheer programming genius in the sound design.


That's not the original, of course: Carlos is a notoriously active sender of YouTube takedown requests.


History will record the 21st century as a time when artists stopped trying to emerge from obscurity and started trying their best to disappear into it.

Interesting. Makes sense why a lot of synths come pre-programmed with a "Popcorn" patch.

The Popcorn sound was as ubiquitous in 70's synth music as the DX Bass sound was in 80's music, as the Pizzo sound was in the 90's, and so on .. each generation has their favourite factory preset. ;)

If you're interested in modular synths and fancy audio devices generally, the place to check out is http://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/

Prepare to spend all of your money.

A couple of documentaries I would recommend if you're into Moog synths.

Moog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5HRa9nEVVU

History of the Minimoog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLx_x5Fuzp4

My favorite Moog products might just be the whole suite of effects pedals, sold under the Moogerfooger brand (http://www.moogmusic.com/products/moogerfoogers). I have a bunch of them and a CP-251 and it's audio mayhem in the best way.

The Moog company also made a great iOS synth app called Animoog. Very fun to play with. Also probably the cheapest way to own a genuine Moog product :-)

Anyone seen I Dream of Wires yet? ( http://www.idreamofwires.org/ )

I have the Bluray. The voiceovers near the start initially kinda annoyed me, but I got more into it over time! Definitely worth checking out if you're into this kind of stuff.

Thanks, saw it last night. Not too bad, but the filmmakers sure missed a lot of low-hanging fruit. They spent a lot of time talking about music and not much time playing it, they overemphasized the Buchla/San Francisco stuff, and they missed the disco era entirely. (Sorry, say what you want about disco, but if you make a movie about electronic music that ignores people like Giorgio Moroder, you're just wasting your own time...)

They also could have done more to make it accessible to people who didn't already know a lot about music synthesis.

Repasting something I coped in previously ( https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7844295 ) , an excerpt from Bob Johnstone's /We Were Burning/ http://www.amazon.com/We-Were-Burning-Entrepreneurs-Electron... , pp. 230-231 http://www.amazon.com/We-Were-Burning-Entrepreneurs-Electron... (or Search Inside for "Keith Emerson"):

> For about ten years, from roughly the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies, the small but rapidly growing market for synthesizers was dominated by tiny U.S. start-ups, most notably Moog and ARP (a Massachusetts-based firm best remembered as the maker of the synthesizer used to communicate with the aliens in the movie /Close Encounters of the Third Kind/). People were going apeshit over these funny electronic sounds," Moog recalled.

> "I heard Walter Carlos doing /Switched-On Bach/," rock keyboardist Keith Emerson said, "and on the cover of the album was this thing that looked like a telephone exchange."[11] Fascinated, Emerson made enquiries, and managed to borrow a Moog synthesizer for a live rendition of the theme music from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

> The extraordinary noises the synthesizer made baffled the audience to such an extent that Emerson decided he had to have a Moog synthesizer of his own to play on stage. So the rock star called the inventor and told him what he wanted to do. Moog replied that he would not recommend it—his synthesizers were only meant to be studio equipment. Nonetheless, Emerson insisted, eventually shelling out £30,000—a princely sum—for a massive, modular system. He was very proud of his new acquisition. "Trouble was it arrived with no instruction book—three oscillators, a reverb unit, trigger controls, filters, mixers, and a load of strange wires and plugs, and I couldn't even switch the damn thing on. You needed to be a rocket scientist."

> Such problems were typical of products made by early U.S. synthesiszer firms, all of which suffered from bad management and chronic underfinancing. "We were always in the red," Moog lamented, "we had no capital. None. Zero." They would stumble along from one National Association of Music Manufacturers show (where instrument dealers gather to place orders) to the next. If you didn't have a hit at one year's show, then you had better have one at the next, or you were dead."

> A second problem was quality. According to Moog, "In the late sixties and early seventies, you could put five pounds of shit in a box, and if it made a sound you could sell it." In addition to poor manufacturing, another recurrent vexation was the inherently unstable nature of these early, analog synthesizers.

> The oscillators that generated the sound were controlled by electrical voltages. To boost an oscillator's pitch up an octave took a corresponding increase in voltage. The trouble was that the damn things wouldn't stay in tune—their pitch was notorious for drifting. A ripple in the power supply, a change in temperature as the hall heated up or as the components themselves became warmer, almost anything was enough to set them adrift, necessitating a retune.

> "The tuning was a nightmare," Emerson recalled, "I had a frequency counter built into my system which I had to keep an eye on, plus I was playing the Hammond and two other instruments. When I look back now, I don't know how I got through it, I really don't."

> An expanding market, undercapitalized firms, poor manufacturing, and unreliable components—this was a scenario that was virtually tailor-made for the Japanese, with their deep pockets, superb production skills, and long-term commitment. Japanese firms began to make their presence felt in the synthesiser market from the mid-seventies on.

Did they seriously write an article about the Moog synth without mentioning Daft Punk ?

Sort of. They seriously wrote an article about Bob Moog, the synth pioneer, and his company, which has produced a lot of different synths, without mentioning Daft Punk.

Or Abba, or the Beatles, or Coldplay, or Deadmau5, or Brian Eno, or any of the literally hundreds of other artists here:


Daft Punk are important to the history of Moog the way that Daring Fireball is important to the history of Apple. Notable users, worthy in their own right, certainly not entitled to an automatic mention.

Daft Punk are the new kids on the block. Why should they be mentioned in this article, in particular? They use factory presets (canned sounds) and derivative riffs - in fact, its difficult to see, as a seasoned synthesist, just why anyone would care what Daft Punk have done with synthesizers of any merit. Anyone can use factory presets to sell millions of albums - and many, many have. Why mention Daft Punk in particular?

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