The Moog Synthesizer Goes Public

Soon after Bob worked with composer Herb Deutsch in 1964 to develop the first modular synthesizer, he began seeking opportunities to show off its features in front of audiences. The summer of 1965 was a busy time for live performances. On July 23rd Bob worked on the equipment for the premiere of John Cage’s Variations V at Lincoln Center. The following month, one of the first live performances of the newly developed Moog Synthesizer modules took place with a concert held at the Trumansburg factory following Bob’s three-week summer seminar. Among the performers was Herb Deutsch, Bob’s original collaborator, who played a composition called “A Little Night Music.”

Another landmark live Moog concert happened in August 1969: the “Jazz in the Garden” performance held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It featured two bands using the specially customized “preset” synthesizers Bob made for the event. One band was led by Herb Deutsch and the other by Chris Swansen. Also in 1969, Ithaca composer and musician David Borden launched the first live synthesizer ensemble, Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company, which began performing at Cornell and other events. In 1970 Mother Mallard and Chris Swansen played at the famous peace rally held at Cornell University’s Barton Hall.

Photograph. Chris Swansen at MOMA, New York City, 1969. (1 image)
Chris Swansen, a notable jazz performer, was a Moog studio musician who often performed with the very latest Moog equipment. He is pictured here preparing for the legendary live Moog concert at MOMA. The event, which involved customized synthesizers featuring the first “presets,” took place in August 1969, just two weeks after Woodstock, and is widely considered to have turned into a “happening.” The band Chis Swansen led featured Jon McLaughlin, Hal Galper, and Bobby Moses.

Photographs. “America is Hard to Find” Event. Cornell University, April 17-19, 1970. (3 images)
The late 1960s and early 70s saw increasing numbers of protests against the war in Vietnam. In these photographs we see Moog studio musician Chris Swansen playing at a peace rally at Cornell University’s Barton Hall, and other views of that event. The occasion was organized in honor of Father Daniel Berrigan, associate director of Cornell United Religious Work, who had been sentenced to three years in jail for his participation in the burning of selective service files with homemade napalm. Among the other entertainers scheduled to appear were Judy Collins, Phil Ochs, Country Joe and the Fish, and the Bread and Puppet Theater, which can be seen amid the throngs. During the rally, Berrigan, who was on the run from the FBI, made a famous appearance, having been smuggled through lines of waiting FBI agents disguised as a puppet.

Images courtesy of Roger Luther.

Vinyl Records from Robert Moog’s archive. (1 image)
The record albums shown here and throughout the gallery are from Bob’s personal collection.

Mother Mallard

David Borden, a Harvard-educated composer living in the area, was one of Bob’s local studio musicians who, along with Chris Swansen, got to play the latest synthesizers. The idea was for David—who was not an expert in electronics—to try anything. Bob asked that if David broke the equipment, he was to leave everything exactly in place so that the engineers could “idiot-proof” the synthesizer. Bob’s reputation for producing reliable gear that could survive rough treatment from gigging musicians and road crews may have originated from David’s early experiments! In 1969, David founded Mother Mallard’s Mobile Masterpiece Company, the first-ever live synthesizer ensemble, as well as the Digital Music Program at Cornell University. Mother Mallard played at the Berlin Atonal festival in 2015 and marked their fiftieth anniversary with a series of concerts at Cornell in 2019.

David Borden. Self-portrait (screen print), ca. 1970. (1 image)
David Borden Papers, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.

Photograph. Mother Mallard performing at Cornell’s Johnson Museum of Art, 1978. (1 image)
From the collection of David Borden.

Poster. Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company, 1969. (1 image)
This poster advertises a performance by Mother Mallard in Willard Straight Hall’s Memorial Room at Cornell University on October 29, 1969. The event was sponsored by the Women’s Phys Ed Department at Cornell. Entrance fee: $1.

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