Robert Moog is being awarded the Polar Music Prize for 2001 for his design of the MiniMoog, the first compact, easy-to-use synthesizer, which paved the way to the realm of electronic sounds that has revolutionised all genres of music during the past half-century.

Chapter: Electronics & music

Electronics & music

Born in 1934 in New York City, son of a piano teacher and an electronics engineer, Moog took piano lessons as a child. In 1957, he earned a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Queens College, a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Columbia University and a PhD in Engineering Physics from Cornell University. In 1954, Moog founded the R. A. Moog Company as a part-time business, designing and building electronic musical instruments in a small apartment together with his wife.

Moogs in music
Columbia University, New York City (Photo: By Ilan Costica (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons)
Chapter: Switching to synthesizers

Switching to synthesizers

Switched on Bach – a classical album played on modern synthesizers was released in 1968. It played a key role in popularizing classical music performed on electronic synthesizers, which had until then been relegated to experimental and “pop” music. A significant interest rose in the in electronically rendered music in general, and the Moog synthesizer in particular.

Album Switched on Bach - a classical album played by Wendy Carlos on modern synthesizers was released on Columbia in 1968 and Grammy awarded for Best Classical Performance. (Photo: Columbia records)
First prototype of an electronic sound generating machine with keys (Photo: By Brandon Daniel via Wikimedia Commons)
The first commercialised Moog synthetizer (Photo: By Chad via Wikimedia Commons)
Chapter: The minimoog

The minimoog

During the pioneering days of electronic music from 1948 to 1965 electronic tones were generated primarily by laboratory instruments and equipment designed for radio and telephonic purposes – Radio France in Paris and WRD in Cologne are two examples where musicians could compose and study.

Moog Sonic 6, Moog modular 55, Moog 1130 Percussion Controller, Minimoog. Via Wikimedia Commons

A studio built up in this way proved to be difficult to use, the equipment unwieldy and impracticable. The emerging composition were almost more like lab research around sound, together with new musical compositions like the serial music of Polar Music Prize Laureates Stockhausen and Boulez. Thus, by the beginning of the 1960s, the need for developing a specially designed machine or instrument became more and more apparent.

Moog Music Inc.™ (Photo: Moog Music Inc.)
History of the MiniMoog

Changing phases of popular music

Robert Moog moved the synthesizer from the laboratory into the musical arena. The MiniMoog boasted a compact design and a functional minimum of sound-generating devices controlled by a keyboard. The unit was built to be sturdy. At the same time, it could be moved and set up easily, just as any other musical instrument.

Keith Emerson from Emerson, Lake & Palmer, whose synthesizers dominated the progressive rock of the trio. (Photo: Surka, via Wikimedia Commons)

This basic concept has continued to be an integral part of all later innovations, from the MiniMoog to today’s sophisticated computer programmes for generating and working with sounds and musical tones.

Max Brand Synthesizer (Photo: Andrew Garton, Australia, via Wikimedia Commons)
Early MiniMoog, around 1970 (Photo: glacial23, via Wikimedia Commons)
Chapter: New genres

Creating new genres

The MiniMoog had the added advantage of not requiring any special knowledge or expertise within the field of engineering or electronics and it could be played like any other instrument. The synthesizer paved the way towards new realms of sound and a new kind of structural thinking in the creation of music. It would soon revolutionize music in all its genres, from symphonic and chamber music to jazz, rock and rhythm & blues.

The Moog Lab invites bands and artists to play on Moog instruments
Chick Corea talking about the MiniMoog sound
Robert Moog shows how a theremin works on Swedish TV
Chapter: The Theremin

The Theremin

Invented by Russian inventor Léon Theremin and patented in 1928. This early electronic instrument is played without any physical contact between the instrument and its player who controls pitch and volume with the left respectively right hand. Moog constructed his own already in 1948.

Etherwave Theremin from Robert Moog's kit (Photo: Hutschi via Wikimedia Commons)
Pamelia Kurstin explaining the basics
Fair use/Bridge Records/via Wikimedia Commons

Theremin virtuosa Clara Rockmore made the instrument and its specific, quite mystic sound famous in the 20-30′, but after that the theremin got a bit forgotten and not considered a “serious” instrument. Robert Moog, interested in how to produce sounds electronically started to build prototypes as early as a 14-year old boy, Moog continued to build Theremins and kits through high school.

Theremin in classical music.
Léon Theremin playing his instrument.
Chapter: Polar Music Prize ceremony

Stockholm, May 2001

In 2001 the Polar Music Prize celebrated its 10th Laureates and this year, they were three; Karlheinz Stockhausen, Robert Moog and Burt Bacharach. Manfred Mann, legendary progressive rock keyboard player, read the citation for Robert Moog. And a poem.

All three Laureates of 2001. (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
Receiving the prize from the hands of His Majesty the King of Sweden (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
Manfred Mann at the Polar Music Prize Ceremony (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
With the Polar Music prize diploma. (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
Manfred Mann reading a poem for Bob Moog
Bob Moog's speech at the Prize Ceremony
Manfred Mann at the Polar Music Prize ceremony