The Rise of Moog Music – From Ithaca to Trumansburg

Bob lived in Cornell dorms and at various addresses in Ithaca before settling into a farm house by the Falls in Trumansburg. Ithaca is famous for being “centrally isolated” – five hours from anywhere you would want to be. Trumansburg, some people like to quip, is just plain isolated! There was, however, a vibrant sixties scene in Trumansburg, focused around Elaine Gill and the Crossing Press.

It seems the rustic life suited Bob and his family. It is often claimed that the best-sounding synthesizers from the Trumansburg era are made from walnut Bob harvested from his own property and stored in his barn. He established his business on Trumansburg’s main street in a former furniture store. He eventually had over thirty employees working for him at the factory, including a tight-knit group of engineers: Bill Hemsath, Jim Scott, Chad Hunt, and Gene Zumchek. It was during this period in Trumansburg that his two most famous inventions—the modular Moog Synthesizer and the Minimoog—were created. It happened very fast: Bob Moog went from anonymous graduate student to appearances on NBC’s The Today Show in just a few years.

Many remain amazed today that one of the hippest instruments in the history of music was developed in tiny Trumansburg. The combination of a nearby Ivy League University, rural isolation, a sixties vibe, and the presence of New York City just a bus ride away created a favorable environment for invention.

R.A. Moog Co. Moog Music Newsletter, 1962. (1 image)
Bob formed Moog Music with his father in 1953 in Queens, New York City. It was the era of tubes, as can be seen from the first company logo on this 1962 issue of the Moog Music Newsletter.

Photograph. Robert Moog with one of his synthesizers, ca. 1966. (1 image)
Bob Moog is shown here cradling his personal demonstration Moog Synthesizer.

Photograph. Moog Studio, 1967. (1 image)
The Moog Company was unique in having a studio attached to the factory, where musicians could experiment with the latest gear and Bob could learn about their needs and desires.

R.A. Moog Co. Hand-drawn circuit diagram. October, 1968. (1 image)
Although this was the analog era, this hand-drawn circuit diagram shows that Bob was already thinking about digital control.

Electronic Music Review. Number 1. January, 1967. (1 image)
Bob Moog realized that the emerging electronic industry would only flourish if people knew about the latest gear, records, and technological inventions. Bob started his own magazine, Electronic Music Review, to disseminate news about innovations in the field. Edited by the composer Reynold Weidenaar, the journal was initially published from the Trumansburg factory. Although it lasted only 7 issues (January 1967-July 1968), it was a precursor to later hobbyist magazines such as Keyboard.

Photograph. Robert Moog with Herb Deutsch, 1970. (1 image)
In 1963 Herb Deutsch, an experimental musician, invited Bob to New York City to record an early electronic music concert. This loft concert involved percussionists banging the well-known automobile bumper sculptures of Cornell artist Jason Seeley (his “Herakles in Ithaka I” sculpture stands outside the Statler Hotel). It was from conversations between Herb and Bob at this concert that the idea of the synthesizer was born. Deutsch visited Moog in 1964 in Trumansburg and the first prototype modules were built soon afterward. This photograph was taken at the dedication of Hofstra University’s Electronic Music Studio in 1970.

R.A. Moog Co. Spec Sheet for the Low-Pass filter. June 15, 1970. (6 images)
The most iconic sound of the Moog Synthesizer is produced by its famous Low-Pass (or “Ladder”) filter—Module 904-A, selling in 1970 for $265 (about $1,800 in 2020). With its unique “ladder” of transistors, this is the only module for which Bob held a patent. The filter removed the higher harmonics to make its distinctive sound.

R.A. Moog Co. Advertising sheet. “For Total Electronic Control…The Moog Music Modifying System.” Trumansburg, NY, 1967. (2 images)
Bob’s vision was to encompass a complete electronic music studio in a modular system. While each module could be purchased separately, composers and performers could combine key modules such as oscillators, filters, envelope shapers, and amplifiers to gain “Total Electronic Control.”

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