Bob Moog Demonstrates His Revolutionary Moog Model D Synthesizer

There are far bet­ter play­ers of Bob Moog’s won­der­ous ana­log syn­the­siz­ers than Bob Moog himself–from Wendy Car­los, who rein­ter­pret­ed Bach for the new­fan­gled instru­ment in the 60s to Rick Wake­man and Richard Wright to Gior­gio Moroder to Gary Numan, to vir­tu­al­ly any­one who has ever record­ed music with a Moog. Bob Moog was not a musi­cian, he was an engi­neer who took piano lessons before earn­ing his B.A. in physics, M.A. in elec­tri­cal engi­neer­ing, and Ph.D. in engi­neer­ing physics from Cor­nell.

Aca­d­e­m­ic cre­den­tials have no bear­ing on what moves us musi­cal­ly, but it’s always worth not­ing that the Moog synthesizers—which did more to change the sound of mod­ern music than per­haps any instru­ment since the elec­tric guitar—came out of decades of dogged sci­en­tif­ic research, begin­ning when Moog was only 14 years old and built a home­made Theremin from plans he found print­ed in the mag­a­zine Elec­tron­ics World. That was 1949. Almost thir­ty years lat­er, the Min­i­moog Mod­el D appeared, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary portable ver­sion of stu­dio-sized machine Car­los used to reimag­ine clas­si­cal music in the late 60s.

“It’s an ana­logue mono­phon­ic syn­the­siz­er,” says Moog in the video above. “That means it makes the wave­forms by elec­tron­ic means and it plays one note at a time.” Sounds rather prim­i­tive by our stan­dards, but watch the demon­stra­tion below by Marc Doty, who walks us through the sweep­ing range of func­tions in the com­pact machine, made between 1970 and 1981 (and reis­sued for a lim­it­ed run in 2016). Its banks of wave­form selec­tors, oscil­la­tors, fil­ters, and envelopes pro­duce “some­thing sweet­er,” says Doty, than your aver­age syn­thet­ic sounds, though he can’t quite put his fin­ger on what it is.

We’ve all heard the dif­fer­ence, whether we know it or not, and dis­crim­i­nat­ing ears can pick a Min­i­moog out of any line­up of ana­logue synths. It is, Doty declares in the descrip­tion for his video, “per­haps the most beau­ti­ful, beau­ti­ful sound­ing, and func­tion­al syn­the­siz­er ever pro­duced.” Called the Mod­el D because it was the fourth iter­a­tion of pre­vi­ous ver­sions made in-house between 1969–70, it was tru­ly, says author and com­pos­er Albert Glin­sky, “the first portable syn­the­siz­er where every­thing is con­tained in one unit. It real­ly is the pro­to­type, the ances­tor, of every portable key­board in every music shop today.”

One of its inno­va­tions, the pitch wheel, now stan­dard issue on almost all of those mass-pro­duced suc­ces­sors of the Min­i­moog, was the first of its kind. If Moog “had patent­ed [the pitch wheel],” says David Bor­den, one of the first musi­cians to play the Min­i­moog live, “he would have been an extreme­ly wealthy man.” Oth­ers have made sim­i­lar obser­va­tions about Moog’s pio­neer­ing sound-shap­ing tech­nolo­gies, but as Richard Leon points out at Sound on Sound, it’s a good thing for us all that the inven­tor wasn’t moti­vat­ed by prof­it.

Com­pe­ti­tion near­ly buried the com­pa­ny Moog sold in the mid-70s (only reac­quir­ing rights to his own name in 2002), but had Moog “tried to cre­ate a monop­oly on these fun­da­men­tals,” Leon writes, “it’s like­ly the synth indus­try as we know it today would nev­er have hap­pened.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How the Moog Syn­the­siz­er Changed the Sound of Music

Hear Glenn Gould Sing the Praise of the Moog Syn­the­siz­er and Wendy Car­los’ Switched-On Bach, the “Record of the Decade” (1968)

A 10-Hour Playlist of Music Inspired by Robert Moog’s Icon­ic Syn­the­siz­er: Hear Elec­tron­ic Works by Kraftwerk, Devo, Ste­vie Won­der, Rick Wake­man & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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