Zoë Blade's notebook

Bob Moog

Robert A. Moog, Bob Moog to his friends, helped evolve the synthesiser. Contrary to popular belief, he didn't invent it,[1] but he did make some important contributions:

He was able to do these things largely because he was a good engineer at the right place and time, and willing to build equipment for the musicians he knew. The right place was Columbia University, and the right time was 1964 to 1965, not too long after mass produced transistors first became available, and just a few years after Moog read about Harald Bode's voltage controlled modules.[3][4]

Moog made whatever anyone wanted: he made a controller keyboard, VCOs, and VCAs for Herb Deutsch;[5] transistorised one of Raymond Scott's sequencers;[6] made some ADSR envelope generators for Columbia University professor Vladimir Ussachevsky;[5][1] made a VCF for Gustav Ciamaga;[5] and made a fixed filter bank for Ussachevsky's student Wendy Carlos.[5]

Before long, he'd made enough devices that he had a whole synthesiser's worth, so he turned them into standardised modules and built up standard configurations of them. This quickly evolved into the 900 Series of modules and synthesisers.

East Coast and West Coast synthesis

In New York, Moog pioneered the East Coast philosophy of making relatively intuitive instruments — at least they had a recognisable keyboard — on which to make commercially useful electronic music, using modules that each served one distinct purpose. Meanwhile, in California, Don Buchla pioneered the West Coast philosophy of making radically unusual instruments on which to make radically unusual music, using modules that each served multiple purposes.

You'd use one of Moog's 900 Series modular synthesisers to make electronic versions of recognisable music, or one of Buchla's 100 Series modular synthesisers to make unrecognisable electronic music that bordered on pure sound design with no recognisable twelve-tone equal temperament pitches in earshot. Both systems came after Harald Bode's modular effects unit, which let you turn existing sounds into something strange and novel sounding, and made use of control voltages.

The Minimoog

Several of Moog's employees, chiefly Bill Hemsath and Jim Scott,[7] invented the all-in-one portable Minimoog, with the former scavenging parts on his lunch breaks, cobbling together prototypes out of the broken modules strewn about the company's attic.

By all accounts, Moog himself simply couldn't muster the same enthusiasm for this hardwired synthesiser as he could for its glorious modular predecessors. The Minimoog marked the end of the golden age of modular synthesis, which had been Moog's era.


Incidentally, I may have owned the first polyphonic synthesizer — built for me — but designed and constructed by Bob Moog in '63 or '64... Around '64, '65 I decided to construct an all solid state version of my sequencer — this, however, was beyond me — so I asked Bob Moog to design it for me. He built a four stage model — all solid state — no relays. And, by the way, I believe he coined the word "sequencer" in titling the schematic for the unit.

— Raymond Scott, circa 1980[6]

After publishing the story on the multiple sound processor, there was a great deal of interest in this device, and among others, a young student by the name of Robert A. Moog contacted me. He was very interested in getting together, but somehow this fizzled out. At a later date, in 1964 when I was chairman of the AES session on music and electronics, Robert Moog presented a paper on his new modular devices. I immediately recognised the potential of this young, very shy gentleman, and was quite impressed. We stayed in touch. He already had formed his own company. At a later time, we arranged a royalty deal under which the Moog company produced my frequency shifters and ring modulators. I think this pretty much describes our relationship and who influenced whom. He stated at a later time that he was quite impressed with the work I had done, and had picked up on the modular idea which I had initiated. His claim to fame is, of course, the development of a set of voltage controlled modules.

Harald Bode, 1981[4]


  1. "An Interview With Bob Moog" 2000
  2. "Electronic high-pass and low-pass filters employing the base to emitter diode resistance of bipolar transistors" Robert A. Moog, US Patents, 1966
  3. "Voltage-Controlled Electronic Music Modules" Robert Moog, Audio Engineering Society, Oct 1964
  4. "Harald Bode" Jay Lee, Polyphony, Sep 1981, pp. 14—17
  5. "Robert Moog" Carter Thomas, Synapse, May 1977, pp. 27—30
  6. Raymond Scott: Artifacts From the Archives Raymond Scott, 2017, pp. 13—14
  7. Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer Trevor Pinch & Frank Trocco, 2002, ISBN 0-674-01617-3, p. 215


Engineers: Bob Moog | Harald Bode

Moog: 900 Series (Moog) | Bob Moog | Bode Frequency Shifter | Sequencer Complement | The evolution of the 900 Series