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Hands On - The Minimoog (part 1)

Can you imagine a world without synthesisers? A world where every sound you hear is produced by vibrating wood, metal or air, or perhaps - in the most hi-tech instruments - by primitive electronic circuits limited to a very small range of thin, uninteresting tones...

Can you imagine a world without synthesisers? A world where every sound you hear is produced by vibrating wood, metal or air, or perhaps - in the most hi-tech instruments - by primitive electronic circuits limited to a very small range of thin, uninteresting tones. What a dull world this must have been, where if you wanted to use the sound of a Cor Anglais on your recording then you had to hire someone who could play the instrument, and if you wanted to produce a completely new sound, then you need to lash together various unwieldy pieces of equipment in ways in which they really didn’t want to be lashed. Then came Robert Moog who invented the synthesiser as we know it, or at least as we knew it before the modern digital age. Without the work of Mr. Moog we would all still be practising our guitar riffs, trying to emulate Jimmy Page, or be like the keyboard player humping his Hammond organ from gig to gig while developing a fan base and a hernia. How lucky we are now, with the assistance of synthesisers and sequencers to be able to conjure up a whole world of music at home. Technology has truly democratised music, bringing it to people as an activity in which to participate, rather than for the most part passively observe. Would you believe now that only a few years ago some people, who called themselves musicians, were frightened of synthesisers, imagining that they would take away the skill in music, and reduce employment opportunities for musicians. Now it is plain that technology can never replace skill and natural ability, but whatever little ability you have it can amplify a hundredfold. And no-one now need feel left out of music because it is the exclusive preserve of the few. Do a bit of work, earn a few pennies, and the technology is available to you to bring out your musical potential to the full. If Bob Moog hadn’t started this revolution, someone else would have, but we can certainly give him our vote of thanks and, next time we see him shake him warmly by the hand.

It occurs to may that there must be many Sound on Sound readers who aren’t old enough to have been able to cast a covetous eye on the original Minimoog synthesiser and its imitators back in the 1970s. I suspect even fewer still were fortunate enough to own one while it was still in its heyday. So perhaps a few words on the process of analogue synthesis will be useful, essential even, towards the understanding of the Minimoog. And take my word for it, even though it seems to be very simple on the surface, you have to know what’s going on to get the best out of it, or even any sound out of it at all, and although its knobs and switches are few - with no LCD display and up/down buttons - its range of musical possibilities is vast. If you want those Moog sounds, there is no practical alternative even in 1992.

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By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004
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