Driving north on Lexington Avenue, a block before you pass under I-240, you can’t help but notice a brick building ahead and to the right. Its windows have been obscured by an orange and black mural. What is it?
As you drive closer, you make out a goofy organ/keyboard/thingy with all sorts of dials on a control panel and cartoon lightning bolts emanating from the sides. The artwork takes up the entire north side of the building, except for a small rectangle containing the letters: m-o-o-g.
“Oh—that must be a billboard for Moogfest,” you might wonder “or maybe that’s the Moog museum. I think I read about that somewhere….”
Many Ashevillians would be surprised to know what really goes on inside that crazily decorated building. It is the world headquarters of Moog Music Inc., a company started forty years ago, by Bob Moog, the inventor of the first purely electronic musical instrument: the Moog synthesizer.
MOOG—IT RHYMES WITH VOGUE[dropcap]A[/dropcap] synthesizer is an electronic instrument, which creates sound by the oscillation of electrical voltage passing through components in a transistorized circuit. These oscillations, or vibrations, are amplified and played through a speaker, which your ear interprets as sound.
The usual way to command notes from a synthesizer, or ‘synth,’ is with a keyboard. So, most times, a synth resembles a very small electric piano or portable organ.
Is electronic music a series of ‘bloops and bleeps’ from the soundtrack of a bad sci-fi film? Hardly. If you were listening to the radio anytime in 1968, you could not have escaped hearing the album Switched on Bach by Wendy Carlos. It was a collection of classical music played exclusively on the (then unknown), Moog synthesizer. Everyone loved it—from uptight classically trained purists to incense burning rock-n-rollers—they bought it. Switched on Bach won three Grammys and became the first Platinum-selling classical record in history.
This recording is credited with putting Bob Moog’s instrument in the public spotlight and launching his business. All of the electronic instruments on today’s market are, in one way or another, offshoots of Bob Moog’s original design.
You may never have heard Switched on Bach but you have heard a synthesizer, we assure you. Across all genres, today’s music industry relies heavily on synthesizers of all brands. Synths can reproduce the sounds of a chorus of violins or brass instruments—why hire an orchestra when a synthesizer can create the same effect? Synths can also sound like a guitar or acoustic bass, thunder, or a freight train. Sounds that emanate from the keys are limited only by the musician’s creativity. If you listen to music, any kind of music, you’ve heard a synthesizer.
Ten years after Carlos’ breakout-hit record, Bob lost control of his company, Moog Music Inc., and moved from the Northeast to Asheville in 1978. Moog was a brilliant inventor…business wasn’t his strong suit.
In Asheville, he continued building his musical products under the new brand, ‘Big Briar.’ In addition to his own products, Bob consulted for other musical instrument companies like Crumar and Kurzweil.
Twenty-four years after he lost the company in 2002, Bob regained the right to put his name on the equipment he manufactured. Moog Music was his again, but all was not rosy. The company had a lucrative backlog of orders but no capital with which to fulfill them. Bob needed help to save his enterprise, so he hired an experienced local businessman, Mike Adams, who continues today as the CEO of Moog Music.
Bob Moog passed away in 2005, the casualty of an inoperable brain tumor, but to his employees and millions of fans, he never died. He lives on through the products manufactured at 160 Broadway. Touring the Moog facility, you easily get the impression that you just missed Mr. Moog; he stepped out to run an errand minutes ago.
A senior engineer for Moog Music is Steve Dunnington, who worked alongside Bob Moog for 11 years until the latter’s passing. Dunnington and chief engineer, Cyril Lance, have some big shoes to fill, as the Moog name is associated with the analog synthesizer and a plethora of musical inventions spanning 50 years. As a result, the engineering team takes great care to build new products that align with Bob’s innovative design philosophy.
Bob Moog wasn’t a musician. He was a brilliant physicist who loved to design electronic machines that make or alter sounds. Moog’s reputation as a tireless inventor continues after his passing.
While their competitors rely on the music-industry marketing technique of highlighting stars that use their gear, Moog Music has done a remarkable job of using their founder’s eclectic, techno-wizard image to a strong marketing advantage.
Today, the Minimoog synthesizer provides the largest percentage of Moog Music’s revenue, but the Theremin, Bob’s first product, ships in the highest volume. Sandwiched between these two, is an assortment of smaller analog synths, as well as guitar and bass effects boxes.
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