Stumax 2

Digital Boogaloo

I am lucky enough to have met Robert A. Moog, the engineer who changed the world with his eponymous synthesizers. I was 12 years old, or thereabouts, attending a kind of science and technology camp at Western Carolina University. Bob Moog lived in nearby Asheville, and invited our class to his house for a tour of his workshop. I was too young to appreciate who I was meeting at the time, but Moog’s enthusiasm and love for technology and music won me over, and I certainly have never forgot — nor ever will forget — the time spent in his presence.

I had spent most of my first week at camp playing with a sound generator. The thing was a monster and looked and worked like an old telephone switch board. To get the sound, you would use patch cables to hook up different tone generators, and then tweak the switches and dials to get the desired effect. The process was crude and cumbersome, and the output wasn’t impressive by any means, but to a curious young geek it was an absorbing pursuit. Little did I know that I would soon meet the man who had consigned beasts like this to the scrap heap, and had enabled a generation of musicians to explore and extend music in ways no one had dreamed possible.

I remember Moog as kind, gracious, funny, and charming, We toured his workspace, oohing and aahing over vintage synthesizers and getting a sneak peek at a Fairlight CMI, a powerful new type of computerized synth with dual 8-bit processors and a green monochrome screen. I think that he and I talked about my adventures with the beast back at the college, but I can’t be sure that I wasn’t merely tongue-tied and shy.

I do remember that Moog was gregarious and garrulous, conducting the tour himself with an unmistakable enthusiasm for his work. We ended up sitting on his porch eating cookies and drinking lemonade while his wife showed off some treasured memorabilia, including some early albums recorded with Moog synthesizers.

Bob Moog died Sunday of a brain tumor at his home in Asheville. He was 71. His inventions paved the way for the kind of creative tools that I take for granted today. His work enabled and inspired the musicians that wrote the soundtrack to my youth. And, personally, he was a really cool guy. May he rest in peace and be ever remembered.

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