Collaborations with Other Musicians

In 1970 Bob Moog realized he needed more capital investment in order for R.A. Moog to survive. Following the explosive 1968 success of Switched-On Bach, 1969 was a bumper year for sales of the modular synthesizer. But Switched-On Bach turned out to be a one-hit wonder. The numerous “Switched-On” albums that followed, such as Switched-On Bacharach, Switched On Nashville, and even Switched On Santa, did not result in many sales. Although Bob’s Los Angeles sales agents, Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause, had surfed the wave of popularity with new sales to West Coast psychedelic musicians, demand for the big, expensive modular synthesizers soon dried up and the Minimoog arrived too late to save the company. Bob sold the company to what we would today call a venture capitalist, and R.A. Moog moved to Williamsville, near Buffalo, New York. In 1973 the company became part of the Norlin group, which was in turn part of Fender.

Although new synthesizers such as the Polymoog continued to be produced, Bob was less than enamored with life as an engineer in a big commercial instrument company. He left Norlin in 1977 and moved to Ashville, North Carolina, where in 1978 he formed a small company, Big Briar, to make Theremins, carry out research into new instruments and interfaces, and produce small batches of customized electronic music gear. Meanwhile, the synthesizer industry was transformed in the 1980s by the birth of digital synths and MIDI, with Japanese multinationals such as Korg and Roland dominating the market.

The sales of his earlier companies meant that by the 1990s, Moog no longer held the right to use his own name. With the help of Cornell Professor and Moog scholar Trevor Pinch, who supplied a legal deposition that Bob Moog was indeed the inventor of the synthesizer, he won back the right to use his name in 2002, and Moog Music, located in Ashville, North Carolina, was born. The company, led by Bob in partnership with Mike Adams, produced new instruments such as an updated version of the Minimoog known as the Voyager. This led to a whole new range of synths including the Little Phatty. The analog revival and continued interest in Moog’s original creations now provide the basis for a highly successful business which manufactures Moog modular synthesizers and the original Minimoog alongside new models.

Bob’s archive at Cornell contains letters, photographs, schematics and other documents that offer insight into his collaboration process with multiple musicians. Despite the turbulent transformations of his business over the years, Bob continued to deeply value his personal and professional relationships with the musicians with whom he worked.

Photographs. Isao Tomita with Robert Moog. (2 images)
After hearing Switched-On Bach in the early 1970s, the renowned Japanese composer Isao Tomita acquired an identical Moog III modular system and formed the electronic music collective Plasma Music with musicians Kinji Kitashoji and Mitsuo Miyamoto. Tomita further explored synthesizer arrangements of rock, pop, and classical music, most notably orchestral works by Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Igor Stravinsky. His 1976 synthesized rendition of Gustav Holst’s The Planets was widely acclaimed for realizing the expressive potential of imbuing orchestral classics with futurist sounds. Bob’s archive includes keyboard circuit diagrams made for Tomita dating from February and March 1975, along with correspondence with Kinji Kitashoji about their collaborations.

Photographs. Roger Powell with Bob Moog, 1974. (2 images)
Roger Powell played keyboards and synthesizers with the rock band Utopia, led by Todd Rundgren, from 1975–92 and served as a touring keyboardist for David Bowie. Bob and Roger are pictured here on location at the Systems and Technology in Music store, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and at Radio City Music Hall with the custom dual keyboard controller and two System 55 Cabinets. Powell recalled: “The keyboard was designed to my specifications: two keyboard manuals, pitchbend and mod wheels, a mixer section with four faders, an effects loop, VU meter, and sockets for a Ribbon Controller and standalone Sample/Hold module. Bob himself worked on the mixer circuit design, and also handcrafted aluminum edge protectors for the 55 cabinets to help with wear-and-tear on the road!”

Robert Moog. Note about modifications to Neil Diamond’s Freeman String Symphonizer. February, 1976. Shown with: Photograph of the Symphonizer. (2 images)
This photograph and note documents the custom modifications made to the Freeman String Symphonizer for Neil Diamond. The Symphonizer was a five-octave synthesizer designed by Ken Freeman to emulate the sound of a string orchestra, and the modification involved adding resonant filters to the unit. Bob also customized a Freeman Symphonizer for keyboardist and composer Jan Hammer, best known for scoring the popular 1980s television show Miami Vice.  Miami Vice is widely regarded as the first major TV show to use synthesizer music as “mood music.” Jammer also played a Minimoog in the highly influential jazz fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra, which also featured guitarist Jon McClaughlin.

Photograph. Chick Corea and Bob Moog, August 31 1992. (1 image)
Legendary keyboardist and jazz fusion pioneer Chick Corea began to incorporate the Minimoog in his solo live performances and in recording sessions with his band Return to Forever. They produced three critically acclaimed synth-dominated jazz albums during the fusion craze of the mid-1970s: Where Have I Known You Before (1974), the Grammy-award winner No Mystery (1975), and Romantic Warrior (1976). These three albums cemented an association between Corea’s keyboard sound and the Moog Synthesizer to the extent that he became a featured artist on a series of 1976 Norlin promotional posters, also featured in this exhibition. After Return to Forever disbanded in 1977, Corea explored collaborations in acoustic jazz, returning to the electronic fusion sound in 1986 with the Chick Corea Elektric Band, which lasted until 1999.

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