October 11, 2010

The Moog Modular Story

When most people think of synthesizers they think of all-in-one instruments that are programmed by pushing buttons, turning knobs, or pushing sliders. However, that is not the way it all began.
The first synthesizers were modular, in that they were a group of modules that each performed a separate function. For example, one module, called an oscillator, produced a waveform (sawtooth, sine, pulse, etc...) and another, the amplifier, modified the amplitude (volume) of the waveform. Each of these two modules had inputs for control voltage (CV). For the oscillator, the higher the control voltage, the higher the frequency of the wave. For the amplifier, the higher the control voltage, the larger the amplitude of the waveform was, and therefor the volume of the sound. These modules can be patched together in an almost infinite number of ways, making sound far more complex than today's synthesizers can even dream of making.

Moog Modular Synthesizer System refers to any of a number of monophonic analog modular synthesizers designed by the late electronic instrument pioneer Dr. Robert Moog and manufactured by R.A Moog Co. (Moog Music after 1972) from about 1963 until 1981. In 1964, Robert Moog created one of the first modular voltage-controlled music synthesizers, and demonstrated it at the AES convention that year. Moog employed his theremin company to manufacture and market his synthesizers which, unlike the synthesizers created by Don Buchla (the other prominent figure in the early history of the synthesizer), featured a piano-style keyboard as a significant portion of the user interface. Moog also established standards for analog synthesizer control interfacing, with a logarithmic one volt-per-octave pitch control and a separate pulse triggering signal.

Between the years 1967 and 1981, Moog Music was designing, improving upon, and selling modules for their modular synthesizers. Although each modular system was available custom configured, there were many stock design models of the Moog modular synthesizer. Models included: 3C, 2C, 1C, 3P, 2P, 1P, 10, 12, 15, 55, 35, and C.E.M.S. (Co-ordinated Electronic Music Studio).

1967 Modular System III
The Moog modular system consists of a number of various modules mounted in a cabinet. Each module performs a specific signal-generating or -modifying function. These modules offered unprecedented control over creating sounds by allowing a user to modify primary sound waveforms (sine waves, square waves and other waveforms provided by voltage controlled oscillators or VCO) with amplitude modulators (voltage controlled amplifiers or VCA) and spectral modulators (voltage controlled filters (VCF) or fixed filter banks) and other modifiers. Envelope generators provided further control by modulating the attack, decay, sustain and release (ADSR) parameters of the VCAs, VCFs and other modules. The modules are patched together with patch cords with ¼i-inch mono plugs. The patch cords and module parameter knobs could be adjusted in countless ways to create a nearly infinite number of sounds. The final sound was heard ('triggered') from the system by pressing a key on an attached keyboard or pressing on the ribbon controller.

Patent - The Filter Ladder
Oct. 28, 1969 -- R.A.MOOG -- Patent no. 3,475,623
Filed Oct. 10, 1966

In the early and experimental days of electronic instruments, Moog sold made-to-order synthesizer systems composed of whatever modules the musician desired. Starting in 1967, the company began manufacturing a number of pre-assembled stock modular systems that contained a predetermined number of modules. Later on, these systems were manufactured and modified based on customer specifications. Produced from 1967 to 1972, the earliest Moog modular systems were named the Moog 3, the Moog 2, and the Moog 1. The "C" series featured solid walnut cabinets and, starting in 1970, the "P" series, designed for portability, came in a road case.From 1971 to 1973, the Moog 10 and the Moog 12 were manufactured, each mounted in a road case. Produced from 1972 to 1981, the Moog 15, the Moog 35 and the Moog 55 featured walnut cabinets like the earlier "C" series. Moog also produced the Moog Co-ordinated Electronic Music Studio ( C.E.M.S.).

The Moog modular synthesizer offered musicians a revolutionary new way to produce sound when it was released in the 1960s. It was originally intended for use in recording studios and universities and was not intended for (or widely embraced by) musicians for use in live performance. The analog electronics of the system often made sound generation unreliable and unpredictable during live performances. For example, the VCOs were notorious for their inability to hold a fixed frequency for any extended period of time and would often change pitch and go out of tune, especially in hot or damp environments. Additionally, modular sounds could not be programmed and stored for retrieval due to the instrument's analog nature. Changing sounds on the system was a time-consuming task requiring the physical re-routing of numerous patch cords and manual knob adjustments.

1969 Moog 3P with 3 add portable cabinets plus accessoires (totally 71 modules)

Another common problem is the Moog's incompatibility with the gate/trigger voltage used in most other synthesizers of the time. Moog equipment used a high-state logic called S-trig, which maintained at +8-10 volts until the trigger was sent, dropping the voltage to 0, the opposite of what was commonly used by other manufacturers. In addition to this incompatibility, if a certain patch used an extensive amount of triggering connections, each module would cause a voltage drop sending the logic over into low-state and firing the S-trigger.

In spite of all its shortcomings, a few notable artists successfully toured with Moog modular systems:
Wendy Carlos, John Cage, Paul Bley, Jean-Jacques Perrey, Gershon Kingsley, Dick Hyman, Klaus Wunderlich, Eberhard Schoener, George Harrison, Keith Emerson, Sun Ra, Earthstar, Vangelis, Klaus Schulze, Edgar Froese, Florian Fricke (of Popol Vuh), Vince Clarke, Beaver & Krause, Giorgio Moroder, Isao Tomita, Yellow Magic Orchestra (a.o.)

Wendy Carlo's Modular Moog

Stevie Wonder plays the Arp and Moog synthesizers on the album "Talking Book", with Robert Margouleff and the Tonto's Expanding Head Band (T.O.N.T.O.) "The Original New Timbral Orchestra" became a drastically expanding Moog Modular Series 3, Moog Sytems 55 were played by Larry Fast and Richard Pinhas – and even Mick Jagger "plays" a Moog in the Movie 'Performance'.

The first Moog system was bought by choreographer Alwin Nikolais. Lothar and the Hand People began using the modular Moog in 1965. Composers Eric Siday and Chris Swansen were also among the first customers, with Paul Beaver being the first to use a modular Moog on a record in 1967. It was Wendy Carlos' 1968 Switched-On Bach which featured Carlos' custom-built modular synthesizer as the only instrument on the recording which brought widespread interest to the Moog synthesizer. Shortly after, Keith Emerson, the Monkees, Jan Hammer, Tangerine Dream, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones also became owners of modular Moogs.

Modular System of Tonto's Expanding Head BandThis new popularity led to the 1970 release of the classic Minimoog and subsequent Moog synthesizers, modeled after the larger modular systems and designed for portability, usability, and affordability. A number of universities purchased Moog systems or modules; the University of Iowa where composer Peter Tod Lewis was a faculty member, for example, owned a Moog Modular IIIC with an optional double-sequencer addition.
The Moog modular synthesizer is considered by enthusiasts to be the original and definitive synthesizer. Although digital synthesizers and samplers are generally more user friendly than a modular synthesizer and available at a fraction of the price that it would take to acquire and maintain a modular system, modular Moogs continue to be valued by collectors and musicians alike.

No comments: