Robert “Bob” Moog

Robert “Bob” Moog was not a musician but he had an indelible impact on nearly all genres of  music and musicians through his invention of the first commercially available synthesizer. Prior to Moog, the creation of synthesized music came from huge computers that were programmed through punch cards or typewriter keyboards. Through both his ingenuity and as a result of guidance from musicians, Robert Moog made the synthesizer smaller, utilized a  keyboard interface, and created a wide variety of robust sonic capabilities, all of which made the instrument accessible to musicians in a way that was not possible prior. That led to the expanded sonic possibilities in electronic music, hip hop, R&B, pop, rock music, and more.

Robert Moog was born in New York City on May 23, 1934 and grew up in Queens. His father was an engineer with Consolidated Edison. Robert graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1952 and was dedicated to electronic musical instruments his entire life. 

When he was 14, Robert built a theremin, a very early electronic musical instrument controlled by moving the hands over antennae from instructions printed in Electronics World magazine. At age 19, he was proficient enough at building theremins that he wrote an article for Radio and Television News, a popular hobbyist magazine, instructing readers how to build their own theremin. From that article, he received numerous inquiries regarding where to purchase theremin parts. In response, he started his own company, R.A. Moog, Co., selling theremin parts and fully assembled theremins. 

Moog earned a B.S. in physics from Queens College and B.S. in electrical engineering from Columbia University before earning a Ph.D. in engineering physics from Cornell University in 1965. During his time in college, he built and sold theremins by mail, through his company, R.A. Moog, Co.. One of his customers, Raymond Scott, rewired Moog’s theremin so it was controlled by a keyboard, which became one element of his innovative Clavivox

Moog began work on his first synthesizer modules in the winter of 1964 with his collaborator, composer Herb Deutsch. Their goal was to create an electronic music performance system that was compact and accessible to musicians. He developed the first prototype in late summer of 1964 and displayed and demonstrated it at the Audio Engineering Society’s Convention in New York the following October. After that demonstration, Moog was in the synthesizer business. 

In 1970, Moog’s company, R.A. Moog, Co.,  created the Minimoog, which was a smaller and less expensive version of the larger modular synthesizers,  so musicians could easily carry it to performances. This contributed to a revolution in  synthesizers by making  them available to music professionals as well as amateurs. 

The Moog synthesizer gained attention when Wendy Carlos recorded “Switched-On Bach,” which won 3 Grammy awards for Best Classical Album, Best Classical Performance — Instrumental Soloist or Soloists, and Best Engineered Classical Album. Soon artists such as Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, Donna Summer, the Doors, Kraftwerk, Ramsey Lewis, and numerous others were using synthesizers on their recordings. 

By the end of the 1970s, Moog Music was challenged by competitors ARP, Aries, Roland and E-mu. 

In 1978 Moog moved to North Carolina with his family and founded a new electronic instrument company, Big Briar, Inc., and later worked as a consultant and Vice President for New Product Research at Kurzweil Music Systems. During the early 1990s, Moog was a research professor of music at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

In 2002, Big Briar, Inc. became Moog Music, Inc., and the company released the lauded Moog Voyager, an updated version of the iconic Minimoog. Over 14,000 units of this archetypal instrument were sold.  

In 2005, Robert Moog developed brain cancer and passed on August 21st of that year in Asheville, North Carolina. 

Robert Moog’s inventions revolutionized the face of the electronic, rock, pop, R&B, hip hop, country and classical music worlds.