Synthesizer Pioneer Bob Moog Dies At 71

Published in Billboard Magazine


Bob Moog, one of the most influential figures in the evolution of electronic music, died Aug. 21 at his home in Asheville, N.C., after a four-month battle with brain cancer. He was 71.
As the inventor of his name-sake range of analog synthesizers, Moog was revered in music circles for fashioning a new palate of sounds for artists to work with. And as an entrepreneur, he gave rise to the commercial synthesizer industry.

“His pioneering work in developing the synthesizer had a truly profound effect on the direction of music,” Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes tells Billboard. “His understanding of sound sculpture and complex rich electronic tones was a lifetime ahead of what we all now take for granted.”

From the age of 14, Moog joined his engineer father in building and selling theremins, one of the earliest electronic musical instruments. Later, an introduction to experimental artist Herbert Deutsch lead to the creation of his prototype, the Moog Modular Synthesizer. The instrument created a buzz immediately following its 1964 unveiling at the Audio Engineering Society Convention.

“I got into the electronic musical instrument business like slipping backwards on a banana peel. It was just one easy thing after another, and there I was,” Moog recalled in the Hans Fjellestad-directed 2004 documentary “Moog.”

Moog’s instruments were initially used for generating evocative sound effects in broadcast commercials. Their sounds went mainstream on Wendy Carlos’ groundbreaking 1968 Columbia Records release “Switched-On Bach,” which won three Grammy Awards. The Beatles classic 1969 album “Abbey Road” featured a Moog instrument.

Through his company R. A. Moog Inc., Moog enhanced his product line to include the compact Minimoog and the Micromoog instruments. The new versions allowed artists to take the instruments into a live performance environment.

Moog later sold his firm to Norlin Musical Instruments. In 1978, he relocated from his native New York to North Carolina, where he started a new firm, Big Briar; the company was later known as Moog Music. Even in his later years, Moog could be found in its workshop, building instruments.

Moog “contributed to a new soundscape-a legacy that we will continue in his honor,” says Mike Adams, president of Moog Music.

During his lifetime, Moog was honored on numerous occasions for his work, including a Grammy Trustees Award for lifetime achievement in 1970. In 2001 the Royal Swedish Music Academy awarded him Sweden’s Polar Music Prize-the musical equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

Upon receiving his $100,000 award, Moog noted, “Among the less reliable ways of making a living in the world is electronic music manufacturing. I’ve no trouble in finding constructive things to [spend the money] on.”

As testimony to his status in the contemporary electronic music scene, T-shirts bearing the Moog moniker are commonplace at dance parties throughout the world. The Smithsonian Institute has also exhibited his instruments.

Moog was to deliver the keynote speech at the upcoming Amsterdam Dance Event, to be held Oct. 27-29, but was forced to cancel his appearance shortly after his April diagnosis. The inventor is survived by his wife, Ileana, and five children.

His family has established the Bob Moog Foundation, a charity dedicated to the advancement of electronic music. A host of his collaborators, including Carlos and Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman, will sit on its board.

“The instruments are his legacy and will continue to fill our world with sound,” Rhodes says. “Every synthesizer that you hear on any song today has a little of Bob Moog in it.”


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