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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.