‘Moog Synthesisers’ Robert Moog. USA, 1964

Robert Moog started working with electronic instruments at the age of nineteen when, with his father, he created his first company,  R.A.Moog Co to manufacture and sell Theremin kits (called the ‘Melodia Theremin’ the same design as Leon Termen’s theremin but with an optional keyboard attachment) and guitar amplifiers from the basement of his family home in Queens, New York. Moog went on to study physics at Queens College, New York in 1957 and electrical engineering at Columbia University and a Ph.D. in engineering physics from Cornell University (1965). In 1961 Moog started to produce the first transistorised version of the Theremin – which up until then had been based on Vacuum tube technology.

In 1963 with a $200 research grant from Columbia University Moog Collaborated with the experimental musician Herbert Deutsch  on the the design of what was to become the first modular Moog Synthesiser.

Herb Deutsch discusses his role in the origin of the Moog Synthesiser.

Herbert A. Deutsch working on the Development of the Moog Synthesiser c 1963

Herbert A. Deutsch working on the Development of the Moog Synthesiser c 1963

Moog and Deutsch had already been absorbing and experimenting with ideas about transistorised modular synthesisers from the German designer Harald Bode (as well as collaborating with Raymond Scott on instrument design at Manhattan Research Inc). In September 1964 he was invited to exhibit his circuits at the Audio Engineering Society Convention. Shortly afterwards in 1964,  Moog begin to manufacture electronic music synthesisers.

“…At the time I was actually still thinking primarily as a composer and at first we were probably more interested in the potential expansion of the musical aural universe than we were of its effect upon the broader musical community. In fact when Bob questioned me on whether the instrument should have a regular keyboard (Vladimir Ussachevsky had suggested to him that it should not) I told Bob “I think a keyboard is a good idea, after all, having a piano did not stop Schoenberg from developing twelve-tone music and putting a keyboard on the synthesizer would certainly make it a more sale-able product!!”
Herbert Deutsch 2004

Early version of the Moog Modular, 1964

Early version of the Moog Modular, 1964

The first instrument the Moog Modular Synthesiser produced in 1964 became the first widely used electronic music synthesiser and the first instrument to make the crossover from the avant-garde to popular music. The release in 1968 of Wendy Carlos’s album “Switched on Bach” which was entirely recorded using Moog synthesisers (and one of the highest-selling classical music recordings of its era), brought the Moog to public attention and changed conceptions about electronic music and synthesisers in general. The Beatles bought one, as did Mick Jagger who bought a hugely expensive modular Moog in 1967 (which was only used once, as a prop on Nicolas Roeg’s  film ‘Performance’  and was later sold to the German experimentalist rock group, Tangerine Dream). Over the next decade Moog created numerous keyboard synthesisers, Modular components (many licensed from design by Harald Bode), Vocoder (another Bode design), Bass pedals, Guitar synthesisers and so-on.

Early Moog Modular from 1964 at the interactive Music Museum, Ghent, Belgium.

Early Moog Modular from 1964 at the interactive Music Museum, Ghent, Belgium.

Moog’s designs set a standard for future commercial electronic musical instruments with innovations such as the 1 volt per octave CV control that became an industry standard and pulse triggering signals for connecting and synchronising multiple components and modules.

Despite this innovation, the Moog Synthesiser Company did not survive the decade, larger companies such as Arp and Roland developed Moog’s prototypes into more sophisticated and cost effective instruments. Moog sold the company to Norlin in the 1970′s whose miss-management lead to Moog’s resignation. Moog Music finally closed down in 1993. Robert Moog re-acquired the rights to the Moog company name in 2002 and once again began to produce updated versions of the Moog Synthesiser range. Robert Moog died in 2003.

Moog Production Instruments 1963-2013
Date Model
1963–1980 Moog modular synthesiser
1970–81 Minimoog
1974–79 Moog Satellite
1974–79 Moog Sonic Six
1975–76 Minitmoog
1975–79 Micromoog
1975–80 Polymoog
1976–83 Moog Taurus bass pedal
1978–81 Multimoog
1979–84 Moog Prodigy
1980 Moog Liberation
1980 Moog Opus-3
1981 Moog Concertmate MG-1
1981 Moog Rogue
1981 Moog Source
1982-1985 Memorymoog
Moog Company relaunch
1998–present Moogerfooger
2002–present Minimoog Voyager
2006–present Moog Little Phatty
2010 Slim Phatty
2011 Taurus 3 bass pedal
2012 Minitaur
2013 Sub Phatty


The Mini Moog Synthesiser with Herb Deutsch

Images of Moog Music Synthesisers




Bob Moog Foundation

INTERVIEW WITH HERBERT A. DEUTSCH. October 2003, and February 2004

Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer.  Trevor Pinch, Frank Trocco. Harvard University Press, 2004

‘Milan Electronic Music Studio’ or ”RAI Studio of Phonology’ , Marino Zuccheri & Alfredo Lietti. Italy, 1955

MIlan Electronic Music Studio

Milan Electronic Music Studio

The Milan Electronic Music Studio or  ‘RAI Studio of  Phonology’ was designed by Alfredo Lietti in 1955 with the guidance of the musicians Luciano Berio and Bruno Maderna, and remained in use until 1983. In 2011 the entire studio was archived at the Municipal Collections of the Castello Sforzesco.

'RAI Studio of  Phonology

Marino Zuccheri at RAI Studio of Phonology

The studio was primarily created to produce experimental electronic music but also to create effects and soundtracks for film and TV (and was the model for the 2012 film Berberian Sound Studio). Berio drew inspiration from the working methods of American serialist composers Ussachevsky and Otto Luening at the Columbia University Computer Music Center and from GRMC in Paris through his friendship with Pierre Schaeffer and the Club d’Essai. Maderna’s influence came through his time studying at the Darmstadt summer school with Stockhausen and Meyer-Eppler.


Berio, Zuccheri, Maderna, Lietti, Castelnuovo at the RAI Phonology Studio Milan

At he beginning in 1955 the studio consisted of a few variable speed tape recorder, some filters, an oscillator and an Ondes Martenot. This soon changed with the acquisition of eight sine and square wave oscillators (  the ‘ninth oscillator’ being the voice of  Cathy Berberian. Luciano Berio’s works of this period with Cathy Berberian include Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) and Visage), pulse and white noise generators. These generators were patched manually through a bank of processors; modulators ( including the ‘Tempophon’ a tape device with rotating heads that allowed to vary the duration of the playback of a previously recorded sound, while maintaining the original pitch ), frequency shifters, filters and various types of echo and reverberation units. The output from the studio was monitored on a system of five speakers and recorded to a four-track tape recorder.

“Two of the first electronic works in my record collection – Berio’s Visage from 1961, and John Cage’s Fontana Mix from 1958 – were created there with Zuccheri (Designer and technician at the RAI Studio) . Even today, both of these pieces sound impressively vivid and dynamic, and what we should now recognise is that such qualities should be attributed to the technician as much as to the composer.”
David Toop, The Wire, 2008

Musicians and composers who worked at the studio include Berio, Maderna, Nono, Castiglioni, Clementi, Donatoni , Gentilucci, Manzoni , Marinuzzi Jr., Paccagnini Sciarrino, Sinopoli, Togni , Cage and Pousseur.

Marino Zuccheri and Luigi Nono - courtesy of Fondazione Archivio LN

Marino Zuccheri and Luigi Nono – courtesy of Fondazione Archivio LN

“… I like remembering Marino in his Phonology Studio, master among masters, master of sound among masters of music, because sound for him did not have any secrets, since he was trained in auditoriums while working for the Radio together with the most famous directors of the time. He would always recall how he begun working in Phonology by chance, but it is certain that it wasn’t because of chance that he continued during the years, considering he’s been the only holder of the Studio from when it was created (1955) until it closed down (1983).”
Giovanni Belletti, “Marino Zuccheri in Fonologia”, 2008

Images of the Milan Electronic Music Studio







The ‘Mellotron’ and ‘Novatron’ . Leslie Bradley, UK,1963

The Mellotron

The Mellotron late model 2007 M4000

Mellotrons and Novatrons were produced in England by Streetly Electronics, Birmingham, from the early ’60s until the early ’80 by Leslie Bradley and his brothers Frank and Norman. The original Mellotron was designed as an expensive domestic novelty instrument and were based, knowingly or not on the Chamberlin a very similar tape-sample based instrument from the USA. The Mellotron was an analogue precursor of the modern digital sampler using pre-recorded strips of magnetic tape rather than digital samples. Under each key was a strip of magnetic tape with a recorded sound that corresponded to the pitch of the key (The Mark II had two keyboards of 35 notes each making a total of 1260 seperate recordings). The instrument played the sound when the key is pressed and returns the tape head to the beginning of the tape when the key is released. This design enables the recorded sound to keep the individual characteristics of a sustained note (rather than a repeated loop) but had a limited duration per note, usually eight seconds. The keyboard was fully polyphonic and could reproduce a wide range of wind and string instruments as well as percussion.

“Now, with the fabulous Mellotron, anyone with the slightest ear for music can command his own orchestra – simply by using two fingers and a thumb – producing a wealth of orchestral sounds from a single keyboard…I regard the Mellotron as the “greatest” in home entertainment since television.”
Eric Robinson, c1967
Internal tape mechanism of the Mellotron

Internal tape mechanism of a later version Mellotron, the M4000

Most Mellotrons had 3 track 3/8″ tapes, the different tracks being selectable by moving the tape heads across the tape strips from the front panel. This feature allowed the sound to be easily changed while playing and made it possible to set the heads in between tracks to blend the sounds. Despite attempting to faithfully recreate the sound of an instrument the Mellotron had a distinct sound of its own that became fashionable amongst rock musicians during the 1960′s and 1970′s. The Novatron was a later model of the Mellotron re-named after the original company liquidised after a legal dispute in the USA in 1977. Melltrons became obsolete in the 1980′s with the popularisation of synthesisers and later digital samplers and the Novatron/Mellotron company folded in 1986. Despite this, the nostalgia for the instrument continued and Bradley’s sons restarted the Mellotron company around 2000 with the re-launch of a digitally enhanced  Mk4000.



‘Buchla Synthesisers’ Donald Buchla. USA, 1966

Buchla Series 100

Buchla Series 100 ‘Buchla Box’

Donald Buchla started building and designing electronic instruments in 1960 when he was commissioned by the Avant Garde composer Morton Subotnik to build an instrument for composing and performing live electronic music. Subotnik was interested in developing a single instrument to replace the large complex Electronic Music Studios of the day where most ‘serious’ avant-garde music was composed and recorded. These studios consisted of multiple individual oscillators, processor units, filter and mixers that, with the help of technicians (each of the studios had it’s own unique system), needed to be manually patched together. The advent of transistor technology allowed much of this process to be miniaturised into a single portable, standardised version of the Electronic Music Studio but still using the modular, patchable approach:

The offspring of a technology which is itself but half a century old, electronic music is in its infancy. Instruments specifically designed for its production have been crude and generally unavailable. Therefore, the basic objectives for development of the Modular Electronic Music System were:

1. The achievement of direct, immediate control of musical parameters. Instruments should be played in real time, eliminating such note-forming routines as: set frequency – start recorder – stop recorder – measure – cut – splice – repeat, etc.

2. Compatibility of all equipment, Rules for interconnecting equipment to be straight-forward and consistent. Interfacing with external equipment (recorders, tuners, microphones, etc.) should be readily accomplished.

3. Fully transistorized circuitry, employing conservative design and high quality components. Reliable operation with minimal maintenance must be realized.

4. A special requirement for the system was that the equipment be lightweight and portable, thus making feasible its use in the composer’s home, the concert hall, and on tour.

5. Without compromising other design objectives, cost should be low. Power supplies and cabinetry should be common to several unity, and modular construction should be employed to permit economical system expansion.

Buchla Associates

Donald Buchla

Donald Buchla

With a $200,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation Buchla started building his first modular synthesisers in 1963 at the  “San Francisco Tape Music Center”. The Tape Music Centre was the hub of experimental and electronic  music at the time, founded by  composers Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender and used by artists such as  Terry Riley, Pauline Oliveros, Steve Reich, William Maginnis and Tony Martin. Buchla’s early synthesisers were experimental in design to accommodate the experimental music they were intended to produce, utilising unusual control features such as touch sensitive and resistance sensitive plates – one of Buchla’s inventions form this period was the first analogue sequencer.

Buchla 100

Buchla 100

The first production model synthesiser was the Buchla Series 100 or ‘Buchla Box’, a keyboardless modular synthesiser – or ‘Electronic Music Box’ as Buchla preferred – released 1966 through a manufacturing deal with CBS/Fender (who soon closed the deal, seeing no future in electronic instruments). The Series 100 was an innovative electronic instrument with a logically laid out, intuitive front panel allowing the user to patch and route modules with patch cords (To avoid confusion, the Series 100 uniquely, and unlike the Moog Modular, used separate patch cords for output and control voltages allowing the patching of multiple control voltages with stack-able ‘Banana’ patch cords) designed primarily with the electronic music composer in mind . The manual control of the instrument reflected the concerns of the time around microtonality and the limitations of the tempered scale keyboard; Buchla, very much in the ‘serious’ experimental music camp designed the instrument to be set up and run to produce a continuous piece; more of an electronic music studio than an instrument per-se. The composer could trigger and manipulate multiple parameters using an array of pressure sensitive touch pads or ‘Kinaesthetic input ports’ to free themselves from the constraints of a standard keyboard:

“They [the ports] were all capacitance-sensitive touch-plates, or resistance-sensitive in some cases, organized in various sorts of arrays…I saw no reason to borrow from a keyboard, which is a device invented to throw hammers at strings, later on, for operating switches for electronic organs and so-on. A keyboard is dictatorial. When you’ve got a black and white keyboard there it’s hard to play anything but keyboard music – And when there’s not a black and white keyboard you get into the knobs and the wires and the interconnections and timbres, and you get involved in many other aspects of the music, and it’s a far more experimental way. It’s appealing to fewer people but it’s more exciting”
Donald Buchla

One of the main innovations of the series 100 was the inclusion of one of the first analogue sequencer modules ; Three sequencers were fit into the first Buchla synth, two with eight stages, the third with 16

” There were three voltage-controlled outputs for each stage. I used to cascade two sequencers so that they would run simultaneously, giving you six voltages per stage. One voltage would control pitch, another spatial location, the third amplitude. Then one, which was really clever, would control the pulse generator that was controlling the sequencer, so that you could determine the absolute rhythm. You could literally program a very complex rhythm over a long period of time, for example, by running five stages against 13.’”
Morton Subotnick

Modules of the ‘Buchla Box’ :

Module Number Description
M.101 wooden case for 25 modules
M.106 six channel mixer
M.107 voltage-controlled mixer
M.110 Dual Voltage-controlled Gates
M.111 Dual Ring Modulator
M.112 12 touch-controlled voltage sources (capacitive keyboard)
M.114 10 touch-controlled voltage sources (capacitive keyboard)
M.115 power supply
M.123 Sequential Voltage Source (8-step sequencer)
M.124 patchboard
M.130 Dual Envelop Generator
M.132 wave-form synthesizer
M.140 timing pulse generators
M.144 Dual Square-wave Generator
M.146 Sequential Voltage Source (sequencer, 16 step X 3 layer)
M.148 Harmonic Generator
M.150 Frequency Counter
M.156 Dual Control Voltage Counter
M.158 Dual Sine / Sawtooth Oscillators (VCOs)
M.160 White Noise Generator
M.165 Dual Random Voltage Source or ‘Source Of Uncertainty’
M.170 Dual Microphone Amplifier
M.171 Dual Instrument Pre-amplifier
M.175 Dual Equalizer / Line Driver
M.180 Dual Attack Generator
M.185 Frequency Shifter
M.190 Dual Reverberator
M.191 sharp cut-off filter
M.192 dual low pass filter
M.194 bandpass filter
M.195 octave formant filter
M.196 phase shifter
Buchla Modules of the series 100

Buchla Modules of the series 100

The Series 100 was followed by the Buchla Series 200 Electronic Music Box in 1970. The ‘Buchla Box’ was much used during the Acid Test psychedelic happenings of the Haight-Ashbury era by rock groups such as the Grateful Dead (and later, provided the sounds for R2D2 in the film series Star Wars).

Around this time affordable mini-computers became available and Buchla created the first digitally controlled analogue synthesiser, the Buchla 500 series in 1971. This was followed by the ‘Buchla Music Easel’ in 1972  Touché (1978), the Buchla 400 (1982), the Buchla 700 (1987). More recent products have included MIDI controllers and re-vamped versions of the Series 200.

Buchla System 500 hybrid analogue-digital instrument 1971

Buchla System 500 hybrid analogue-digital instrument 1971

Buchla Music Easel 1972

Buchla Music Easel 1972

Buchla Series 700

Buchla Series 700



Buchla and Associates


‘Analog Days’. T. J PINCH, Frank Trocco. Harvard University Press, 2004

‘Vintage Synthesizers’: Pioneering Designers, Groundbreaking Instruments, Collecting Tips, Mutants of Technology. Mark Vail. March 15th 2000 by Backbeat Books