Part of what makes electronic music so wide-reaching and sonically far-seeing, so to speak, is its diversity of influences—classical composition, avant-garde theory, punk and funk energy, the sounds of factories and city streets worldwide—and its range of innovative instrumentation. But foremost among those instruments, many classic analogue synthesizers of old are now found in virtual environments, where their pots, keys, patch bays, and pitch wheels get simulated on laptops and MIDI controllers. Something is lost—a certain “aura,” as Walter Benjamin might say. A certain tremulous imprecision that hovers around the edges of synthesizers like those designed by Robert Moog.
Moog’s creations, writes David McNamee “ooze character” and are “the most iconic synthesizers of all time. FACT.” For this reason, Moog’s analog creations still hold market share as modern instruments while remaining legacy items for their transformation of entire genres of popular music since the 1960s, even though the engineer-inventor had no musical training himself and no real interest at first in making particularly usable instruments.
“Massive, fragile and impossible to tune,” a function Moog initially dismissed, once the Moog was made portable and liberated from specialized, wonky domains, it became a primary compositional tool and both a lead and rhythm instrument.
The Moog’s fuzzy, wobbly, warm sounds are unmistakable; they can purr and thunder, and the breadth of their capabilities is surprising given their relative simplicity. We’ve told their story here before and followed it up with a ten-hour playlist of Moog and Moog-inspired classics. Today, we bring you the playlist above, “Moog This!” which takes a leftfield approach to the theme, and will catch even serious electronic music fans off guard with its selections of not only obscure new sounds inspired by legends like Giorgio Moroder and Vangelis—the music of Firechild, for example—but also tracks from these legends that sit just to the left of their most famous compositions.
Rather than the usual, brilliantly futuristic Donna Summer dance track “I Feel Love”—the Spotify curator here goes for the similar-sounding, but much more elaborate instrumental “Chase” (top), the only track here from Moroder. Rather than the era-defining “West End Girls”—the Pet Shop Boys’ perfect downtempo 1984 pop song—we get “Men and Maggots,” from their moody 2005 score for Sergei Eisenstein’s perfect silent film, Battleship Potemkin. That’s not to say there aren’t any vocal tracks here, but they are mostly of the abstract, highly effected variety, like those from Boards of Canada and Air.
All in all, “Moog This!” the playlist shows what the synthesizer is capable of outside the context of mainstream pop, while still capturing the qualities that make it an ideal vehicle for accessible, emotional music, a pleasing tension so well harnessed by the analog synth-obsessed Stranger Things soundtrack, which, like most of the tracks here, manages to sound both like the soundtrack of a much cooler past and of very cool future.
How the Moog Synthesizer Changed the Sound of Music
A 10-Hour Playlist of Music Inspired by Robert Moog’s Iconic Synthesizer: Hear Electronic Works by Kraftwerk, Devo, Stevie Wonder, Rick Wakeman & More
The Scores That Electronic Music Pioneer Wendy Carlos Composed for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and The Shining
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness
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