[MUSIC - THE BEATLES, "HERE COMES THE SUN"] THE BEATLES: (SINGING) Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun. I say it's all right. Little darling, it's been a long, long--
TREVOR PINCH: We've just been listening to a piece of music by the Beatles. In fact that's the best-known track by the Beatles, "Here Comes the Sun" composed by George Harrison. What is lesser known is that that track contains a new instrument, the Moog electronic music synthesizer used by the Beatles on the album Abbey Road. And that track came out in 1969.
The Moog synthesizer is generally known as the granddaddy of all commercial electronic music synthesizers. Now, first of all, about the name. It's spelled M-O-O-G, and I'm pronouncing it "mogue."
Many people, including myself, think it's "mogue." And I actually thought it was a made-up name which characterized the sound of the synthesizer, "moo-gh." But in fact, there was a real engineer, Bob Moog. And he was rather insistent on the pronunciation of his name. He had a little label in his office on his desk saying, it's Moog rhymes with rogue, not Moog rhymes with fugue.
The late Bob Moog lived from 1934 to 2005. And the electronic music synthesizer that he invented took place in the period of 1963 to 1971, when he had his factory in a tiny place called Trumansburg in upstate New York.
Now, this lecture is coming to you from Cornell University, where I'm a professor. And people that visit Ithaca, where Cornell University is located, like to say it's centrally isolated. It's hard to get here. It's about five hours from other big cities. And Ithaca's a tiny, little place.
Five hours from anywhere you might want to be, like New York City, or Philadelphia, or Toronto, or Boston.
Now, this place, Trumansburg, is just isolated. It's about 12 miles north of Ithaca. A tiny, tiny little town. And it's incredible that this whole new instrument was developed there in a former furniture factory there.
And I've interviewed workers in that factory. And I just found it incredible that this instrument was being developed in this tiny, little place. An instrument that was, as I said, used by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and many other famous people. And really, changed the shape of popular music.
So what we're going to talk about today is the invention of this instrument. Where did it come from? What was its impact? And why is it even interesting to look at the invention of a musical instrument?
Well, first off, one of the reasons it's very interesting to look at the invention of a musical instrument is that new musical instruments very rarely come along. If you look back through the 20th century, there are very few new instruments. And the synthesizer is one of those few new classes of instruments.
There's the electric guitar, but that's the application of electricity to the existing guitar. I think the electric guitar is actually more interesting than that because with Jimi Hendrix, you get feedback and so on. You get a whole new sound.
But you really have to go back to 1840 Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, to get another significant instrument. You can actually go to a music store, like with synthesizers, and buy.
And the saxophone really only took off in the 1930s with the development of jazz. And there's a clue there as to the part of the story, the invention of new musical instruments, because it often takes a new form of music for an instrument to take off.
With the development of jazz in the 1930s, the saxophone finally found its audience. It had originally being used for marching bands, but it took off in jazz and became a standard instrument.
And the synthesizer also had a form of music which Bob Moog was very fortunate about came about at that period. And this is psychedelic music. Washes of new sound, unusual instruments, like the sitar that George Harrison had formerly used and championed as well. This is the sort of thing people were looking for with psychedelic music.
So the Moog synthesizer in its original form was a gigantic instrument. It was like a big dresser.
Now over here, I have the much more miniaturized form, the portable keyboard mini-Moog synthesizer, which is known as one of the classic synthesizers and developed by Bob Moog around the period 1969 to '71. And this is a hard-wired version of that much bigger machine, which had these patch wires, rather like an old analog telephone exchange for connecting inputs to outputs.
This synthesizer, I will just give you some of the characteristic waveforms it produces, so you get a little feel for the sorts of electronic sounds that were being produced. And this instrument, by the way, is analog technology, transistors just like the original Moog synthesizer.
Bob Moog, by the way, had a background in electrical engineering. He had a PhD from my own university, Cornell, in engineering physics. But it was that background in electrical engineering and his interest as a kid with his dad working in his dad's basement workshop as a hobbyist building electronic instruments. An early one called the Theremin, which is an instrument you play. It makes a wailing sound without touching, that got him into building synthesizers. So let's just listen.
Here's a typical sound produced by this instrument here.
You can hear that. You can change the waveform. His original Moog synthesizer had four different waveforms. There's a square wave. Just listen to the different. There's a triangle wave.
Now, we hear this in a higher pitch here, different ranges of pitch. So synthesizers contain oscillators that are sources of sound. Another source of sound was known as noise sources.
So you can hear here, if I play some white noise.
Filtering in here some white noise into this, you can start to hear it. There's white noise being filtered into it as well.
So these instruments have sources of sound, like oscillators, noise sources. Their ways of processing sound. And the only thing that Bob Moog held a patent on his instrument was this filter here. It's known as a low-pass filter. And that produces pretty much the characteristic sound of the synthesizer. Just listen to the filter there.
We'll go down a bit. Bring in another oscillator.
Very typical, the throaty sound of the Moog synthesizer. OK.
Now, one of the interesting stories about the invention of the synthesizer is that there were two engineers at this period in the 1960s working on synthesizers. There was Bob Moog on the East Coast. There was a guy called Don Buchla on the West Coast.
And Don Buchla had a very similar idea for a synthesizer as Robert Moog. It was this technology known as voltage-controlled transistorized technology. It was a modular synthesizer built from different sorts of ways of making sound, processing sound, and controlling sound.
The main difference was in the actual controllers that they used. Moog favored the keyboard. And early on, he hooked a keyboard up to his Moog synthesizer. And you see here, the keyboard on the mini-Moog. And it's built-in to the actual hard-wired mini-Moog.
Don Buchla worked at the tape center in San Francisco, in the middle of Haight-Ashbury. And this was remember, was the time of the '60s. So Haight-Ashbury is a very cool place to be in the 1960s. And he was very influenced by the aesthetic of John Cage. And Buchla thought, we have a new source of sound-- electronics. Why be stymied by an old way of interacting or controlling that sound, which comes from organs, pianos, harpsichord? Namely, the keyboard. Let's think of more interesting ways of interacting with this new form of electronic sound. So he devised all sorts of interesting arrays that didn't play the 12 tones of the octave in any conventional way.
He had things you would press, arrays that were shaped like this, so you would get different voltages when you pressed these different arrays, different parts of the arrays. And he was trying to get away from the whole idea that you needed to compose this conventional sort of music.
So there were two basically, rival designs for the synthesizer in this period. There was this West Coast vision of Don Buchla and the East Coast vision of Moog.
And Moog's instrument was very much more standardized because it had the keyboard there. It was easier to use. People could recognize it as being a musical instrument. And you've got to remember, a new device with lots of wires and knobs on it isn't automatically seen as a musical instrument.
The Buchla instrument was slightly harder to use. And because it didn't have that conventional keyboard, it gave you the advantage of not being stymied by conventional ways of thinking about music, but had a disadvantage that people didn't quite know what to do with it.
So for Moog, it was very important to stay with the keyboards. And he standardized his synthesizer. And we know in the history of technology, standards are really important around something called the volt per octave. And this means that a voltage input, say from an oscillator that's a sinusoidal wave, could be fed back into another oscillator. And this would produce a change of pitch. So a voltage change of pitch would produce an octave. A voltage change, one-volt change, would produce a change in pitch of one octave.
You could get vibrata by a slowly moving sine wave. So very interesting musical effects could be gotten by feeding these oscillators back on each others with these patch wires. And this is all done internally by switches in this mini-Moog synthesizer. OK.
So the keyboard turned out and the standardization around per volt per octave turned out to be some of the key technical decisions that Robert Moog took.
And I'm often asked-- I do the cultural history of technology-- what's the link between culture and technology? I think here, we have a very clear demonstration of it. Because when you think of the volt per octave, who says that music has to be about octaves? But by having the keyboard there and standardizing around the volt per octave, it's as though a piece of our culture/music is embedded into the technology. And this is how culture gets into technology, which I think is one the most important messages to think about in terms of the interaction between technology and society.
Another aspect from the history of technology that's particularly interesting here is, who's going to use these instruments? This is a new instrument that comes into being. As I said, this very first invention of Moog and Buchla was around about '63, '64. They had no clue who was going to use them. These instruments were very, very expensive.
Back then, a Moog synthesizer-- and you needed to have a tape recorder as well. A very fancy tape recorder. You could hardly play this live, so you had to make tapes of the sorts of electronic sounds you were producing to make a workable piece of music. It was about the cost of a small house back then. So only wealthy universities could buy this equipment.
And Moog initially thought these were going to be his main customers. Or extremely wealthy composers. But very early on, his second customer was a guy called Eric Siday. And he discovered a whole new use for this instrument. Eric Siday made advertisements, little jingles of sound to sell commercial products. He made a famous one for the Maxwell House coffee advert, which was the sound of coffee percolating.
And Eric Siday was very well-paid for this. So this became a whole new use for the Moog synthesizer, that it could be used for making commercials, advertisements. And eventually, used in movies.
And one must remember that Star Wars, which comes out in 1976, it was done on a rival synthesizer, the ARP synthesizer produced in Boston. It was the first synthesizer where all the special effects-- sorry, the first movie in where all the special effects were done on a synthesizer.
Clearly, the famous R2-D2 voices, the Millennium Falcon going across the screen, which has this incredible roaring sound. It's always fascinating to me that sound because, in fact, a spaceship in a vacuum should make no sound at all. There's an interesting notion of how we have to find certain sounds credible in movies when, in fact, they probably should be silent.
So the uses of these synthesizers were very important to Moog. And he learned from the new uses that his customers were adopting for his synthesizer. And he'd do things like this.
When he had a synthesizer-- this seems amazing. He's in upstate New York in Ithaca. Most of his customers are in New York City. He would take the synthesizer down on the Greyhound bus to New York City and install it in the musicians' studios, perhaps hang out with them for the weekend, and see how they're used the synthesizer. So he was learning from his customers. So this is a very important link here in the history of technology between the users and the inventors.
And Moog's users, they had this new instrument. They were saying things to him like, oh, we need new controls on this synthesizer. We need something called portamento to glide between notes. This was an idea that Wendy Carlos, one of the most famous users of the synthesizer, came up with. And so Bob Moog added this to his synthesizer. So he was learning from his customers.
And this is very important in terms of-- it wasn't like he had a business plan. They were friends, customers, and he did business with them, and he interacted with them. And he learned how to improve the technology as a result of this. And as I said, all these new uses were coming in.
Now, one of the biggest, most luckiest things that happened to Bob Moog at this time was the development of a whole new brand of music. Psychedelic music.
As I mentioned this before, the searching for new washes of sound. And it was actually Buchla who discovered this, because Buchla was friends with the Grateful Dead. And a guy called Ken Kesey, the author who wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. And Ken Kesey was part of this group called the Merry Pranksters.
You've got remember, this is a time-- psychedelics-- when LSD as a drug was actually technically legal. And Ken Kesey had this crazy idea to try and turn on America. And he went in this bus with "fervor" written on the front of the bus across America trying to turn on America. And in that bus, we now know was an early Buchla synthesizer.
But it was Moog who actually was able to tie-in this link with the psychedelic movement much better because of a very famous pop concert called Monterey Pops in 1967. Many of you will have seen the movie Monterey Pops with Jimi Hendrix famously burning his guitar, Pete Townsend destroying his guitar. This is known as the place where the record industry discovers the San Francisco sound.
Groups like The Doors, The Birds, representatives of the Beatles were at that famous Monterey Pops. And Robert Moog had two salesman on the West Coast, Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause set up in a tent at Monterey Pops with interesting sounds on the Moog synthesizer. And these musicians came along, and they listened to the Moog synthesizer on the headphones. And they were blown away by the incredible sound coming from the Moog synthesizer.
Bands like The Doors. Strange Days by The Doors is one of them. They started to want to have the sound of the Moog synthesizer on their albums. And that's how the Beatles came to have it on Abbey Road.
And then, of course the whole thing starts to take off with full-blown psychedelia. Then, one of the most important moments in the history of the synthesizer comes along with Wendy Carlos' Switched-On Bach in 1968.
Now, those of you of my age, you may remember this album. If you look back through your vinyl records, you'd probably remember it. You younger people, look through your parents' record collection. This is probably the one album you will find. So it's Bach done on the Moog synthesizer. An absolutely incredible piece of music, and an album that became a huge hit and made the Moog synthesizer famous.
Now, it's the way of the record industry that when they have a hit, they immediately think, well, we've got to cash in on this. So 1969 was the only year that Bob Moog made a profit from his business when he was based in Trumansburg. And this is because of all the other switched-on genres of albums that came out.
The record industry immediately thought any genre of music can be switched on. So we found albums. You can buy these on eBay, like Switched On Nashville, Switched On Bacharach, or More Switched On Bacharach, Switched On Country. These are absolutely fairly kitschy albums. Some of them do stand up. Most of them don't. And they've got absolutely incredibly beautiful covers as well. So this made the Moog synthesizer famous.
But of course, Bach is keyboard music. And the Moog synthesizer's now starting to be associated with keyboard music. And of course, when the mini-Moog comes along, which as I said, is a hard-wired Moog synthesizer, this takes it even more in the direction of keyboards.
There's an interesting, little story about the mini-Moog. We're coming to an end here, but I wanted just to say a little bit about it. The mini-Moog is the first synthesizer to get into retail music stores. And this is very significant. Because if you can't sell these instruments in retail music stores, you're not going to have a major innovation. These instruments are not going to take off. You just got what we call an invention.
To make it into an innovation, people have got to have access to it. And there's one charismatic salesman, known as David Van Koevering, a former TV evangelist, who takes these mini-Moog synthesizers into music stores. And they're very hard to sell. It's like, imagine you're in a music store with a violin for the first time. You haven't got violin music. Nobody quite knows what to do with it. You get a scratchy sort of sound from playing the violin.
This thing has got 34 knobs and switches. It's very complicated. People didn't know how to use it. So how was he going to get retail music stores to take it? He devised a very clever sales plan.
He went out in the clubs, found musicians who were using other keyboard instruments-- Fender Rhodes, maybe Hammond-- got them to use the Moog. And then when they were hooked on the Moog, took them to the music store. And the key thing about the Moog in those days-- and you can think of here, pieces of music like ELP, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, a famous rock Moog solo at the end of a track called "Lucky Man" is it made the keyboard the star, like the electric guitars. Like the Jimi Hendrix of the day.
You could do these solo piercing sounds. And here with this instrument, you also have something called pitch bend. Let's see if we can get some sound from this instrument.
Let's go up a bit. You can bend the sound here. Keith Emerson would do this with a big gesture.
These two controls here have turned out to be two of the best controls. This is for something known as modulation. This is for pitch bending, like a guitarist or violinist can bend the pitch. And Bob Moog once told me, if they'd had a patent on these-- these came from their Trumansburg factory on the mini-Moog, they would have made tons of money because you see these controls on all synthesizers.
So just to wrap up here, this is a long, complicated story. And I've just given you some of the highlights, because the synthesizer goes on with all sorts of different forms, different companies. I mentioned the ARP Company. There's a company in London called EMS. And a band called the Pink Floyd used the EMS synthesizer on a famous album called Dark Side of the Moon.
And you've probably heard of the use of the synthesizer by craftwork. And it eventually gets into techno music. And it's in disco music with an Italian producer called Giorgio Moroder and the late Donna Summer, who died just very recently. Became an incredible disco hit for the Moog synthesizer. So it really did transform popular music.
And in this case, there are two different designs of the Moog synthesizer. By the way, Bob Moog passed away. Late Bob Moog. Don Buchla is still out there. And he still manufactures these synthesizers. So it's a kind of niche market that Buchla's in. He has much more high-end synthesizers. They're much more expensive, but they're all-- in the heyday in the [INAUDIBLE], there are two designs. There's the Moog design and the Buchla.
And I think you can argue that it's the interaction between the synthesizers and the uses of the synthesizers. This mutual interaction between users and designers that bring about this new instrument. But for this new instrument to be born, it does require this wider social movement that led to the psychedelic music. It needs new musical genres and sounds, like progressive rock later.
I think there's a story in this about standardization and ease of use, why keyboards tend to predominate. And why Moog standardized around the keyboard. The importance of that standard, which was taken up by other synthesizer manufacturers.
And also, this familiar interface. We have to remember, we have very few interfaces of interacting with complex machines. And this is essentially an analog computer. And you know, we have the mouse. We have the QWERTY keyboard. And so keyboards tend to dominate familiar interfaces.
And Bob Moog also learned about new ways to recruit and learn from his users. And there were new types of use for this synthesizer. So it's a complicated story, emergence of technology and society interacting together, new forms of music. And from it comes this incredible musical instrument, which I'm not playing very well here today, but which you can find many great artists playing.
Thank you very much.
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Trevor Pinch, professor of sociology and of science and technology studies, gives a brief history of the Moog synthesizer and how it changed the course of popular music.
The synthesizer Robert Moog invented sparked a revolution in electronic music in the 1960s. He set up shop in a Trumansburg, N.Y., storefront from 1963 to 1971, and The Beatles, Mick Jagger and Sun Ra were among the first customers for the then-$11,000 instrument. Moog went on to design dozens of instruments, including the Minimoog.
Moog, who received his Ph.D. from Cornell in engineering physics in 1965, died in 2005 at age 71. His notes, plans, drawings and recordings have found a home at Cornell University Library thanks to a donation from his widow, Ileana Grams-Moog. The Moog archive will be housed in the library's Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.