It takes some doing for a brand name to become so synonymous with its product that the public don’t even refer to the product anymore and use the brand name instead, sometimes completely forgetting there was ever another name for it. Some good examples of this are when we say Google to search for something on the internet, Hoover to vacuum and (in the US) Xerox to photocopy – incredibly, the trademark Moog was often used instead of the word synthesizer in the 70’s and there was good reason for this.
At the time there was pretty much no other synths available! Bob Moog’s contribution to synthesizer technology is unparalleled. He didn’t just design the world’s first commercially available synth, he did something far more profound that is taken for granted today. Mr. Moog and his team were largely responsible for the dramatic shift in the public’s perception of music created by machines. The Moog company were integral in the transformation of the music worlds view of recording made using synthesized sounds. Prior to their world-changing innovations that the Moog team were responsible for, the notion that music might be created by a machine was pretty much regarded as something of a gimmick.
Whilst the concept of synthesizers already existed, most of the synths designed prior to Moog’s ground breaking modular and keyboard breakthroughs were either Theremins or hand-built bedroom experiments which lacked the sound quality we strive for today. The unmistakable Theremin sound was often the basis of many sci-fi movies in the 50’s as the other-worldly warblings they produced were perfect for informing the viewer a flying saucer from another planet was about to land on Earth. But there lay the issue. It was essentially a sound effect, a novelty. Not really considered a true musical instrument. At the time, few people had considered synthesized sounds would someday become a credible alternative to traditional instruments. That is until Bob Moog and his team came along and shook things up a bit.
Its predecessor, The Moog Modular was first released in 1970. The name Minimoog came about due to the scaling down of the Moog Modular Synthesizer System. With a full modular system it was literally the size of a wardrobe due to the fact that it consisted of many individual modules, each of which performed a different task. Sound synthesis, envelope generation, oscillation, amplification, filter and so on. They were separately responsible for the various elements a synthesizer consists of. The modular design offered the user considerable flexibility to configure the machine in a variety of formations. Unfortunately, the colossal size of the modular systems made the segmental synthesizer extremely difficult to transport. Unsurprisingly, this made them very difficult to tour with. The solution was the Minimoog. There were a number of iterations before they perfected the design, hence the name Minimoog Model D. Suggesting, the model that made it to market was the 4th incarnation of their developments.
The Minimoog Model D can be broken down into 3 separate sections: the sound generator, the filter and the amplifier. Although these components are a fairly standard affair in most modern synthesizers today, we have Mr. Moog and this team of engineers to thank for their existence. The sound generation section is referred as the voltage controlled oscillator (VCO) and white noise. The filter section is referred to as the voltage controlled filter (VCF) and the amplifier is called the voltage controlled amplifier (VCA).
The innovations the Moog engineers were responsible for is quite staggering. Many of these are now typical elements in most synthesizers today. We take the pitch wheel for granted on synths as it is something we find on most keyboards nowadays. This was a Moog invention as was the very concept of the modular. The control of various synthesizer elements such as amplification, filter or oscillation by an electrical current was also something we have Moog to thank for. Another Moog invention was envelope generation, again now a staple of any modern synthesizer.
Bob Moog's creations were so successful, it was inevitable they would one day they would become ubiquitous in the synthesizer world, which makes it extremely difficult to pick the finest Moog moment.
Kraftwerk and the Moog
One of the first artists to produce a record using a Moog were German synthesizer legends, Kraftwerk. When they released their 23 minute synthesizer epic Autobahn in 1974, it must have sounded unlike anything most people had ever heard before as it achieved worldwide commercial success.
How Gary Numan helped popularize the Moog
Gary Numan's band Tubeway Army used the Minimoog extensively on their album Replicas. The first single off the album, "Are Friends Electric" topped the UK singles charts ensuring an even wider audience for the Minimoog sound. Numan had no intentions of making synthesized music before he entered the studio to record his Replicas album. His band Tubeway Army were in to record a Punk album but he says the sheer volume of energy the Minimoog produced resulted in a quick rethink of the sound the band were to produced. With a number 1 single in the British charts and international success beckoning for Tubeway Army, the Minimoog’s demand was about to rocket to new heights.
New Order’s Classic and Trent Reznor’s big surprise
Another contender for most iconic track to use a Moog is New Order's “Blue Monday”. Parliament, a funk band from another universe also made great use of their Moog when they released their single “Flashlight” in 1977. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nail has had a lifelong obsession with Moog synthesizers. The first synth he bought was the Moog Prodigy and he says that was a huge turning point for the music he was about to produce. After he released his second album “Downward Spiral” in 1989, Bob Moog himself was so impressed with Reznor’s use of his machines, he decided to pay the band a visit backstage at one of the Nine Inch Nails gigs, much to Reznor's surprise and amazement.
Pivotal moments in Moog's history
Other pivotal moments in music history involving Moog synthesizers include Lipps Inc's “Funkytown”, Space's “Magic Fly”, Hot Butter's “Popcorn”, The Beatles' “Here Comes the Sun”, Emerson Lake and Palmers “Lucky Man”, Rush's “Closer to the Heart” & Pink Floyd's “Wish You Were Here”.
Arguably, the greatest use of a Moog which had Brian Eno describing the track as “the sound of the future” was Donna Summer's “I Feel Love” where every sound but the kick and voice was made on a Moog synthesizer.
Production of the Minimoog stopped in 1981 but with analogue synthesizers increasing in demand the Moog company decided to revisit their classic machine in 2002. It was redesigned by the creator himself, Robert Moog and released as the Minimoog Voyager but the excitement of the synthesizer communities reached fever pitch when the Moog company announced in 2016 that the original Minimoog Model D was to be released. The reissue was as close as they could build it to the original design. Despite Moog stopping production of them in 2017, brand new supplies of the iconic machines are still in stock in a few music instrument retailers. Admittedly, they’re almost the price of small car but if you can afford the $3500 price-tag, bag yourself one of the iconic synths before it’s too late. They’ll no doubt rocket in price once they’re gone for good!