Sometimes in the in and out world of popular culture the smallest ripple can make the biggest splash. Such was the case for electronic music pioneer Robert Moog who in 1964 created the synthesizer, an instrument that converted, blips, bleeps and fuzz into bombastic bursts of layered sound that transformed modern music for decades to come.
Moog’s synthesizer not only changed the shape, texture and sound of popular music, it reformed it in his own image. It allowed musicians to electronically expand their musical abilities by simply turning a knob or pressing a button. With a flip of the switch Moog’s new contraption caught on revolutionizing music along the way. The Moog synthesizer was embraced early on by bands like the Beach Boys, The Beatles and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
Despite competition from other electric keyboards and synthesizers, Moog’s device quickly became the industry standard. It was perfect for the musician on the road or in the studio because it was lightweight, portable, adaptable and relatively inexpensive.
Over the next few decades, as times changed and the musical landscape of pop music became more guitar driven, Moog’s synthesizers became less cool. Fortunately synthesizer proponents like Kraftwerk, OMD, Laurie Anderson, The Human League, Neu and Gary Numan garnered enough chart success and critical acclaim to keep the medium alive.
Moog achieved his biggest when Britpop exploded on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1990s. As Britpop became all the rage, Moog was suddenly “in” again. Bands like Stereolab, Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys moved away from the industrial metallic clang that had consumed electronic music and returned to Moog’s basic sound.
As the decade closed Moog keyboards helped usher in the electronica genre. His metal machines became as revered as the Fendercaster or Wurlitzer. This new binge in electronic music introduced the work of this simple physicist to an entirely new generation. The simplicity, nostalgia and retro-istic warmth created by Moog keyboards tremored beyond musical stereotypes and shaped pop music. Artists like Air, Moby, Weezer and even Mariah Carey cited his creation as an influence. Eventually the Moog moved the dance floor as DJs like Ben Watt and Felix Da Housecat utilized the Moog sound in their sets.
Late in his life, as he battled a brain tumor, Moog must have taken solace in the fact that his seemingly meaningless instrument took the innocent genre of electronic music to incredible new heights leaving its creator a legacy complete with tribute albums, websites and musical exploration.
So the next time you hear that drop dead perfect pop record, complete with a blazing digital riff that frames the entire song with beauty, charm, poise and grace, stop take pause and remember the genius of the father of electronic music, Robert Moog.