Robert Moog, born May 23, 1934: “I was a nerd.”

Jonah exams the keys as Wyatt checks the Moog dials.

Robert Moog was born in New York City on May 23, 1934, and although he studied the piano while he was growing up in Queens, his real interest was physics. He earned undergraduate degrees in physics from Queens College and electrical engineering from Columbia University.

Despite traveling in circles that included jet-setting rockers, he always considered himself a technician. ”I see myself as a toolmaker and the musicians are my customers,” he said in 2000. ”They use the tools.” The popularity of the synthesizer and the success of the company named for Mr. Moog took off in rock as extended keyboard solos in songs by Manfred Mann, Yes, and Pink Floyd became part of the progressive sound of the 1970s.


”The sound defined progressive music as we know it,” said Keith Emerson, keyboardist for the rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

At the height of his synthesizer’s popularity, when progressive rock bands like Yes, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer built their sounds around the assertive, bouncy, exotically wheezy and occasionally explosive timbres of Moog’s instruments, his name (which rhymes with vogue) became so closely associated with electronic sound that it was often used generically, and incorrectly, to describe synthesizers of all kinds.

What Moog did, in 1964, was to produce and market a practical instrument, a small keyboard synth which could be used with relative ease.

“I didn’t know what the hell I was doing,” Moog later recalled. “I was doing this thing to have a good time, then all of a sudden someone’s saying to me, ‘I’ll take one of those and two of that.’ That’s how I got into business.”changed the complexion of the pop and classical music worlds, Moog was known mainly within his industry, and as an unassuming individual .

Beginning in his teenage years in New York City where he grew up, Moog (whose name rhymes with “vogue”) learned basic electronics from his radio-operator father and became fascinated with the Theremin, custom building and selling the spooky-sounding electronic instrument as a hobby.

At Cornell University he studied physics, but after a fateful meeting with composer Herbert Deutsch, Moog became aware of electronic music studios in Princeton and Toronto, and in 1964, began working on his own synthesiser prototype. Learning from the mistakes he made in his previous efforts to develop a guitar amplifier that turned out to be prohibitively expensive, Moog realised – like car builder Henry Ford before him – success lay in practicality and affordability.

Before long many musicians and groups, including the Doors, the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, were using Moog synthesisers. Keith Emerson, of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, was the first musician to use one for live concerts.

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