Robert Moog

Last updated

Robert Moog
Bob Moog3.jpg
Robert Arthur Moog

(1934-05-23)May 23, 1934
DiedAugust 21, 2005(2005-08-21) (aged 71)
Alma mater Bronx High School of Science
Queens College
Columbia University
Cornell University [1]
Occupation Electronic music pioneer, engineer, inventor of Moog synthesizer
Spouse(s)Shirleigh Moog (m. 1958, div. 1994; three daughters, one son)
Ileana Grams (m. 1996, his death 2005) [1]
Relatives Florence Moog (aunt)
Bill Moog (cousin, founder of Moog Inc.) [1]

Robert Arthur Moog ( /mɡ/ MOHG; May 23, 1934 – August 21, 2005) was an American engineer and electronic music pioneer. He was the founder of the synthesizer manufacturer Moog Music and the inventor of the first commercial synthesizer, the Moog synthesizer, which debuted in 1964. In 1970, Moog released a more portable model, the Minimoog, described as the most famous and influential synthesizer in history. Among Moog's honors are a Technical Grammy Award, received in 2002, and an induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.


By 1963, Moog had been designing and selling theremins for several years, while working towards a Ph.D in engineering physics at Cornell University. He developed his synthesizer in response to demand for more practical and affordable electronic music equipment, guided by suggestions and requests from composers. Moog's principal innovation was the voltage-controlled oscillator, which uses voltage to control pitch. He also introduced fundamental synthesizer concepts such as modularity, envelope generation and the pitch wheel. He is credited for bringing synthesizers to a wider audience and influencing the development of popular music.

Moog pursued his work as a hobby, and he is regarded as a poor businessman. His only patent was on his filter design; commentators have speculated that he would have become extremely wealthy had he patented his other innovations, but that their availability in the public domain helped the synthesizer industry flourish.

In 1971, Moog sold Moog Music to Norlin Musical Instruments, where he remained as a designer until 1977. In 1978, he founded the company Big Briar, and in 2002 renamed it Moog Music after buying back the rights to the name. In later years, Moog taught at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and worked on designs for further instruments. He died at the age of 71 from a brain tumor.

Early life and education

Robert Moog was born in New York City on May 23, 1934, and grew up in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens. [2] He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1952. [3]

When he was a boy, Moog's parents forced him to study the harp, but he preferred spending his time in the workroom of his father, a Consolidated Edison engineer. [4] He became fascinated by the theremin, an electronic instrument controlled by moving the hands over radio antennae. In 1949, aged 14, he built a theremin from plans printed in Electronics World . [2]

Moog received a Bachelor of Science in physics from Queens College and a Master of Science in electrical engineering from Columbia University, before earning a PhD in engineering physics from Cornell University in 1965. [4]


RA Moog

In 1953, Moog produced his own theremin design, and the following year he published an article on the theremin in Radio and Television News. In the same year, he founded RA Moog, selling theremins and theremin kits by mail order from his home as he completed his education. [2] [5] One of his customers, Raymond Scott, rewired Moog's theremin for control by keyboard, creating the Clavivox. [4]

Moog synthesizer

A Moog synthesizer Moog Modular 55 img2.jpg
A Moog synthesizer

At Cornell, Moog began work on his first synthesizer components with the composer Herb Deutsch. [6] At the time, synthesizers were enormous, room-filling instruments; [7] Moog hoped to build a more compact synthesizer that would appeal to musicians. [6] He believed that practicality and affordability were the most important parameters. [6]

In 1964, Moog began creating the Moog synthesizer. [6] It was composed of separate modules which created and shaped sounds, connected by patch cords. [2] Previous synthesizers, such as the RCA Mark II, had created sound from hundreds of vacuum tubes. [8] Instead, Moog used recently available silicon transistors — specifically, transistors with an exponential relationship between input voltage and output current. With these, he created the voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO), which generated a waveform whose pitch could be adjusted by changing the voltage. Similarly, he used voltage to control loudness with voltage-controlled amplifiers (VCAs). [9] One innovative feature was its envelope, which controlled how notes swell and fade. [4] According to the Guardian , Moog's 1964 paper Voltage-Controlled Music Modules, in which he proposed the Moog synthesizer modules, invented the modern concept of the analog synthesizer. [10]

Moog debuted the instrument at the 1964 Audio Engineering Society convention in New York. [7] It was much smaller than other synthesizers, such as the RCA Synthesizer introduced a decade earlier, and much cheaper, at US$10,000 compared to the six-figure sums of other synthesizers. [7] Whereas the RCA Synthesizer was programmed with punchcards, Moog's synthesizer could be played via keyboard, making it attractive to musicians. [7] New Scientist described it as the first commercial synthesizer. [11]

Moog described himself as a toolmaker, designing things for his users, not himself. [2] His development was driven by requests and suggestions from various musicians, including Deutsch (who devised the instrument's keyboard interface), Richard Teitelbaum, Vladimir Ussachevsky and Wendy Carlos. [2] His other early customers included choreographer Alwin Nikolais and composer John Cage. [6] Universities established electronic music laboratories with Moog synthesizers. [2] The Moog synthesizer was followed in 1970 by a more portable model, the Minimoog, described as the most famous and influential synthesizer in history. [12] [13] [14]

Company decline

Though commentators have praised Moog's engineering abilities, they described him as a poor businessman. [4] [6] Moog had pursued the development of his synthesizer as a hobby; he stressed that he was not a businessman, and had not known what a balance sheet was. [15] He likened the experience to riding theme park amusements: "You know you're not going to get hurt too badly because nobody would let you do that, but you're not quite in control." [15]

Moog only patented his filter design; David Borden, one of the first users of the Minimoog, felt that if Moog had patented his pitch wheel design he would have become extremely wealthy. [14] According to Sound on Sound , if Moog had created a monopoly on other synthesizer ideas he created, such as modularity, envelope generation and voltage control, "it's likely the synth industry as we know it today would never have happened". [16]

Beginning in 1971, Moog Music took on investors, merged with Norlin Musical Instruments, and moved to "less than ideal" premises near Buffalo, New York, amid a debilitating recession. [6] Moog remained employed as a designer at the company until 1977. [2] He said he would have left earlier if his contract had not required him to remain employed there for four years to cash his stock. [6] By the end of the decade, Moog Music was facing competition from cheaper, easier-to-use instruments by competitors including Arp, Aries, Roland and E-mu. [17]

Big Briar, return of Moog Music

A mural depicting Moog in Asheville, North Carolina Dr. Moog on the wall art - Asheville, North Carolina (2013-11-08 03.15.15 by denise carbonell).jpg
A mural depicting Moog in Asheville, North Carolina

In 1978, Moog moved to North Carolina and founded a new electronic instrument company, Big Briar. [2] He also worked as a consultant and vice president for new product research at Kurzweil Music Systems from 1984 to 1988. [7] In the early 1990s, he was a research professor of music at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. [18] In 2002, he renamed Big Briar to Moog Music after buying back the rights to the name. [2] In later years, he continued to design electronic instruments, including a touchscreen-operated piano. [4]

Personal life and death

Moog's first marriage, to Shirleigh Moog, ended in divorce in 1994. He was survived by his second wife, Ileana, four children, one stepdaughter, and five grandchildren. [2]

Moog was diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor on April 28, 2005. He died on August 21, 2005, at the age of 71 in Asheville, North Carolina. [6]


Moog has had a lasting influence on music. The BBC describes him as a pioneer of synthesized sound. [5] According to the Guardian , his inventions "changed the complexion of the pop and classical music worlds". [6] Moog's name became so associated with electronic music that it was sometimes used as a generic term for any synthesizer. [2] [19] In 2004, Moog was the subject of Moog , a documentary by Hans Fjellestad, who said in 2004 that Moog "embodies the archetypal American maverick inventor". [17]

Moog's awards include honorary doctorates from Polytechnic Institute of New York University (New York City), Lycoming College (Williamsport, Pennsylvania), and Berklee College of Music. [20] Moog received a Grammy Trustees Award for lifetime achievement in 1970. He received the Polar Music Prize in 2001 and a Special Merit/Technical Grammy Award in 2002. [21] In 2012, to celebrate Moog's birthday, Google created an interactive version of the Minimoog as its Google Doodle. [22] In 2013, Moog was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. [23]


The Moogseum Moogseum.jpg
The Moogseum

On July 18, 2013, Moog's widow Ileana Grams-Moog said she planned to give her husband's archives, maintained by the Bob Moog Foundation, to Cornell University. The foundation offered her $100,000, but Grams-Moog said she would not sell them. She said Cornell could provide better access for researchers, and that the foundation had not made enough progress toward a planned museum to be worthy of keeping the collection. The foundation responded that it had sufficiently preserved the collection and made efforts to improve storage, though it could not yet afford to build the museum. [24]

In August 2019, the Bob Moog Foundation opened the Moogseum, a museum dedicated to Moog's work, in Asheville, North Carolina. The displays include rare theremins, prototype synthesizer modules and Moog's documents. [25]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Electronic musical instrument</span> Musical instrument that uses electronic circuits to generate sound

An electronic musical instrument or electrophone is a musical instrument that produces sound using electronic circuitry. Such an instrument sounds by outputting an electrical, electronic or digital audio signal that ultimately is plugged into a power amplifier which drives a loudspeaker, creating the sound heard by the performer and listener.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Theremin</span> Electronic music instrument

The theremin is an electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact by the performer. It is named after its inventor, Leon Theremin, who patented the device in 1928.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Analog synthesizer</span> Synthesizer that uses analog circuits

An analogsynthesizer is a synthesizer that uses analog circuits and analog signals to generate sound electronically.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Minimoog</span> Synthesizer

The Minimoog is an analog synthesizer first manufactured by Moog Music between 1970 and 1981. Designed as a more affordable, portable version of the modular Moog synthesizer, it was the first synthesizer sold in retail stores. It was first popular with progressive rock and jazz musicians and found wide use in disco, pop, rock and electronic music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Modular synthesizer</span> Synthesizer composed of separate modules

Modular synthesizers are synthesizers composed of separate modules for different functions. The modules can be connected together by the user to create a patch. The outputs from the modules may include audio signals, analog control voltages, or digital signals for logic or timing conditions. Typical modules are voltage-controlled oscillators, voltage-controlled filters, voltage-controlled amplifiers and envelope generators.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Voltage-controlled filter</span> Electronic filter circuit controlled with voltage

A voltage-controlled filter (VCF) is an electronic filter whose operating characteristics can be set by an input control voltage. Voltage controlled filters are widely used in synthesizers.

Paul Henry Beaver Jr. was an American musician who was a pioneer in popular electronic music, using the Moog synthesizer. From 1967, Beaver collaborated with Bernie Krause as the recording duo Beaver & Krause.

Sequential is an American synthesizer company founded in 1974 as Sequential Circuits by Dave Smith. In 1978, Sequential released the Prophet-5, the first programmable polyphonic synthesizer; it became a market leader and industry standard, used by artists including Michael Jackson, Madonna, and John Carpenter. In the 1980s, Sequential was pivotal in the development of MIDI, a technical standard for synchronizing electronic instruments.

<i>Electronic Sound</i> 1969 studio album by George Harrison

Electronic Sound is the second studio album by English rock musician George Harrison. Released in May 1969, it was the last of two LPs issued on the Beatles' short-lived Zapple record label, a subsidiary of Apple Records that specialised in the avant-garde. The album is an experimental work comprising two lengthy pieces performed on a Moog 3-series synthesizer. It was one of the first electronic music albums by a rock musician, made at a time when the Moog was usually played by dedicated exponents of the technology. Harrison subsequently introduced the Moog to the Beatles' sound, and the band featured synthesizer for the first time on their 1969 album Abbey Road.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Moog Music</span> American synthesizer manufacturer

Moog Music Inc. is an American synthesizer company based in Asheville, North Carolina. It was founded in 1953 as R. A. Moog Co. by Robert Moog and his father and was renamed Moog Music in 1972. Its early instruments included the Moog synthesizer, followed by the Minimoog in 1970, two of the most influential electronic instruments of all time.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Moog synthesizer</span> Electronic musical instrument

The Moog synthesizer is a modular synthesizer developed by the American engineer Robert Moog. Moog debuted it in 1964, and Moog's company R. A. Moog Co. produced numerous models from 1965 to 1981, and again from 2014. It was the first commercial synthesizer, and is credited with creating the analog synthesizer as it is known today.

Beaver & Krause were an American musical duo comprising Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause. Their 1967 album The Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music was a pioneering work in the electronic music genre. The pair were Robert Moog's sales representatives on the U.S. West Coast and were instrumental in popularizing the Moog synthesizer during the late 1960s. As recording artists for Warner Bros. Records in the early 1970s, they released the critically admired albums In a Wild Sanctuary and Gandharva.

The Memorymoog is a polyphonic electronic music synthesizer manufactured by Moog Music from 1982 to 1985, the last polyphonic synthesizer to be released by Moog Music before the company declared bankruptcy in 1987. While comparable to other polyphonic synthesizers of the time period, such as the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 and Oberheim OB-Xa, the Memorymoog distinguished itself with 3 audio oscillators per voice and greater preset storage capacity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Synthesizer</span> Electronic musical instrument

A synthesizer is an electronic musical instrument that generates audio signals. Synthesizers typically create sounds by generating waveforms through methods including subtractive synthesis, additive synthesis and frequency modulation synthesis. These sounds may be altered by components such as filters, which cut or boost frequencies; envelopes, which control articulation, or how notes begin and end; and low-frequency oscillators, which modulate parameters such as pitch, volume, or filter characteristics affecting timbre. Synthesizers are typically played with keyboards or controlled by sequencers, software or other instruments, and may be synchronized to other equipment via MIDI.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Electronics in rock music</span>

The use of electronic music technology in rock music coincided with the practical availability of electronic musical instruments and the genre's emergence as a distinct style. Rock music has been highly dependent on technological developments, particularly the invention and refinement of the synthesizer, the development of the MIDI digital format and computer technology.

"Save the Life of My Child" is a song by American music duo Simon & Garfunkel from their fourth studio album, Bookends (1968).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Moogfest</span> Music and technology festival

Moogfest is a music and technology festival held annually or bi-annually in Durham, North Carolina that honors engineer Robert Moog and his musical inventions.

In sound and music, an envelope describes how a sound changes over time. It may relate to elements such as amplitude (volume), frequencies or pitch. For example, a piano key, when struck and held, creates a near-immediate initial sound which gradually decreases in volume to zero.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Albert Glinsky</span> American composer and author (born 1952)

Albert Glinsky is an American composer and author. His music has been performed internationally by soloists, ensembles, and dance companies. His book, Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage won the 2001 ASCAP Deems Taylor Award, and is regarded as the standard work on the life of Leon Theremin. In 2009 Glinsky was invited by the family of synthesizer pioneer, Bob Moog, to create Moog's biography. Switched On: Bob Moog and the Synthesizer Revolution, with a Foreword by Francis Ford Coppola, will be released by Oxford University Press in 2022.


  1. 1 2 3 "Robert Moog". Retrieved February 15, 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Kozinn, Allan. "Robert Moog, Creator of Music Synthesizer, Dies at 71". New York Times. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  3. Trangle, Sarina (May 30, 2012). "Synthesizer reunion". The Riverdale Press. Archived from the original on March 3, 2018. Retrieved March 3, 2018. In honor of what would've been Robert Moog's 78th birthday, the Bronx High School of Science started its day with a tribute to the 1952 alumnus who began pioneering the synthesizer in high school.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Bernstein, Adam (August 23, 2005). "Robert Moog Dies; Created Electronic Synthesizer". The Washington Post . ISSN   0190-8286 . Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  5. 1 2 "Obituary: Dr Robert Moog". BBC News . August 22, 2005. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Stearns, David Patrick (August 25, 2005). "Obituary: Robert Moog". the Guardian. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 "Robert Moog biography (1934-2005)". Wired. Retrieved December 3, 2017.
  8. McNamee, David (August 10, 2010). "Hey, what's that sound: Moog synthesisers". The Guardian . Retrieved October 12, 2018.
  9. Pinch, Trevor; Trocco, Frank (2004). Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer. Harvard University Press. ISBN   978-0-674-01617-0.
  10. McNamee, David (August 10, 2010). "Hey, what's that sound: Moog synthesisers". The Guardian . Retrieved October 12, 2018.
  11. Hamer, Mick. "Interview: Electronic maestros". New Scientist. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  12. "Clear Some Space on Your Synth Rack: The Minimoog Returns". WIRED. Retrieved November 28, 2018.
  13. PINCH, T. J.; Trocco, Frank; Pinch, T. J. (June 30, 2009). Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer. Harvard University Press. ISBN   9780674042162.
  14. 1 2 "Red Bull Music Academy Daily". Retrieved November 28, 2018.
  15. 1 2 Pinch, Trevor; Trocco, Frank (2004). Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer. Harvard University Press. ISBN   978-0-674-01617-0.
  16. "Dr Robert & His Modular Moogs |". Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  17. 1 2 Kozinn, Allan. "Obituary: Robert Moog, 71, creator of music synthesizer" . Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  18. "Robert Moog". Obituaries. Variety. 400 (2): 85. August 29, 2005 via EBSCOhost.
  19. "Has Moog become a generic trademark?". April 12, 2020. Retrieved January 28, 2021.
  20. Pinch, Trevor (2002). Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer (1 ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp.  12–16. ISBN   0-674-00889-8.
  21. "The Laureates of the Polar Music Prize 2017 are..." Polar Music Prize. Retrieved March 4, 2017.
  22. "Google Outdoes Itself With Moog Synthesizer Doodle (Play It Here)". WIRED. Retrieved November 28, 2018.
  23. "Moog Inducted into Inventors Hall of Fame". School Band & Orchestra. 16 (5): 10. May 2013. ISSN   1098-3694.
  24. Frankel, Jake (August 12, 2013). "Family feud continues over Moog archives". Mountain Xpress . Retrieved August 15, 2013.
  25. Deahl, Dani (May 26, 2019). "There's now a museum dedicated to Robert Moog and synthesis called the Moogseum". The Verge. Retrieved November 16, 2019.