Vol. 29 Issue 4 Reviews

Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco: Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer

Softcover, Harvard University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-674-01617-3, 368 pages, illustrated, foreword (by Robert Moog), discography, sources, notes, glossary, index, US$ 16.95; Harvard University Press, 79 Garden Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA; telephone (+1) 800-405-1619 or (+1) 401-531-2800; fax (+1) 800-406-9145 or (+1) 401-531-2801; electronic HUP@harvard.edu; Web www.analogdays.com/. In Europe, contact Harvard University Press, Fitzroy House, 11 Chenies Street, London WC1E 7EY, UK; telephone (+44) 20-7306-0603; fax (+44) 20-7306-0604; electronic mail info@HUP-MITpress.co.uk.

Reviewed by James Harley
Guelph, Ontario, Canada

Book CoverHaving gained back the right to commercial use of his own name, 2002 seems to have launched something of a rejuvenation in the professional life of Robert Moog. In addition to this book, Analog Days, by academics Trevor Pinch (Cornell University) and Frank Trocco (Lesley University), Hans Fjellestad’s film, Moog, has recently been released (reviewed elsewhere in this issue). While the book doesn’t take note (the film does), there is perhaps more interest now in the Moog synthesizer, the Theremin, and related technology, than there has been for decades. There is, additionally, increased attention being paid to the history of electronic music, and this book, which goes way beyond the scope of its subtitle, “The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer,” contributes substantially to the elucidation of this field. With the Moog synthesizer as the focus, the book is more a history of the analog synthesizer more generally.

The writing is informal, for the most part, aimed at non-academic readers. Much information is based on extensive interviews, so there is much anecdotal discussion, but this does not detract from the presentation. The authors have taken good care to ensure that the chapters retain their particular focus, and that the overall trajectory remains clear. In trying to tell the story of the Moog synthesizer, they have found it necessary to explore related technology, other inventors, cultural phenomena. To me, this makes good sense.

To justify their approach, the authors’ explain:

The paradox of history is that significant events are often recognized long after they occur, when it may be too late to recapture what went on and why… We try to avoid hindsight. By tracking down and interviewing the early pioneers—engineers, musicians, and other users—we have tried to recreate the enthusiasm and uncertainties of what is was like back then… We see our own task in writing this history as being akin to the practice of analog synthesis. Our sources of sound are the stories we recorded and discovered in texts. We have filtered the stories to bring out certain themes and have muted others. We have shaped our account, giving it narrative structure, in the way that synthesists shaped sound. We have, on occasions, fed the stories back to the participants and hence produced yet new version of the events. Sometimes when stories do not match up, rather than get rid of the inconsistencies, we have allowed the discordances to remain. If we had chosen another configuration of quotes, we are quite sure we could have produced a rather different history. (p. 11)

In addition to an introduction (“Sculpting Sound”) and conclusion (“Performance”), there are 14 chapters, each divided into sections often given picturesque titles; colorful quotations from songs or texts head up each chapter. The introduction, for example, is led off by two quotes: “An examination of more recent phenomena shows a strong trend toward spray cheese, stretch denim and Moog synthesizers” (Fran Lebowitz, Metropolitan Life); “Holidays & Salad Days, and Days of Moldy Mayonnaise” (Frank Zappa, “Electric Aunt Jemina” from Uncle Meat).

Chapter one, “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” outlines the early days of Mr. Moog’s life and the early days of developing the synthesizer and beginning to promote it. The section headings include: “Bob’s First Love: The Theremin;” “R. A. Moog Co. Moves to Trumansburg;” “Enter the Tuba;” “Working the Aisles;” “A Loft with Electronic Music Sculptures;” “Voltage Control;” “’Weird Shit!’;” “’Buy Me a Doorbell Button’;” “Endorsement from Myron Schaeffer;” “First Sales.”

Chapter two, “Buchla’s Box,” looks sideways to the parallel development of modular synthesizers by Don Buchla taking place in San Francisco. Section headings include: “On the Edge;” “The Berkeley Drop Out;” “Experiments with Sound;” “The San Francisco Tape Music Center;” “’An Exciting Day’;” “Strange Arrays;” “Buchla Goes Bananas;” “The Source of Uncertainty;” “Art for Art’s Sake;” “Buchla and CBS.”

Chapter three, “Shaping the Synthesizer,” returns to the Moog story and looks in more detail at the synthesizer design and how it evolved. Section headings include: “The Listening Strategy;” “Eric Siday;” “To Key or Not to Key?;” “Keyboard Culture;” “The Ribbon Controller;” “The Moog Ladder Filter;” “But Is It a Synthesizer?;” “What’s in the Moog Name;” “The 900 Series.”

Chapter four, “The Funky Factory in Trumansburg,” looks at the original Moog enterprise, located in a village outside of Ithaca, in upstate New York, and how the marketing to major centers such as New York City and to practicing musicians developed. Section headings include: “Guitar Days;” “Walking on Patch Cords;” “Why You Don’t Want to Ride the Elevator with Bob Moog;” “The Summer Electronic Music Seminar;” “Electronic Music Review;” “The Studio;” “Electronic Music Review Folds;” “Reaching the Metropolis;” “Good, Good Vibrations;” “High on the Hills.”

Chapter five, “Haight-Ashbury’s Psychedelic Sound,” returns to the West Coast to explore the musical and cultural revolution occurring out there, and the synthesizer’s part in that (returning to Don Buchla). Section headings include: “The Acid Tests;” “The Lag;” “The Trips Festival;” “Acid Test Graduation;” “Whatever It Is;” “The End of an Era;” “The Grateful Dead;” “The Acid-Rock, Progressive-Rock, Art-Rock, Space-Rock Underground.”

Chapter six, “An Odd Couple in the Summer of Love,” traces Mr. Moog’s trip to the Audio Engineering Society convention in Los Angeles in 1967, his contact with electronic musicians Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause (who became sales associates), and their connection with the pop-music scene on the West Coast. Section headings include: “Bernie Krause;” “Paul Beaver;” “The Odd Couple;” “The Zodiac Cosmic Sounds;” “Looking for Work;” “Monterey Pop;” “The Byrds;” “The Doors;” “The Stamp of the Synthesizer;” “How the Beatles Bought Their Synthesizer;” “The Nonesuch Guide and Other Albums;” “The Magic of Paul Beaver.”

Chapter seven, “Switched-On Bach,” looks at the Wendy Carlos story (told with no participation from Ms. Carlos), the making of that seminal recording, and related stories and issues. The authors did speak to Rachel Elkind, Ms. Carlos’s associate at that time, and do not avoid discussing the sex-change operation and how that impacted professional (marketing) issues. Section headings include: “Ugly Atonal Styles;” “Electronic Music as Sanctuary;” “A Vocabulary that Spoke Telegraphically;” “Personal Empowerment;” “Transcending the Limitations;” “Bach-to-Rock;” “Silver Apples;” “Something Wasn’t Right;” “Carlos’s Achievement;” “Union Troubles;” “It Became like a Factory for Awhile.”

Chapter eight, “In Love with a Machine,” is a portrait of musician Suzanne Ciani and her Buchla synthesizer. It also provides the authors’ an opportunity to address gender issues in the testosterone-driven world of music technology. Linda Fisher (of Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company) and Pauline Oliveros also make appearances here. Section headings include: “’I Could Run the World If I Wanted’;” “’Nobody Was Interested in What I Was Doing’;” “A Poetry of Sound.”

Chapter nine, “Music of My Mind,” spotlights Malcom Cecil and Bob Margouleff who, in 1969-70, put together TONTO (The Original Neo-Timbral Orchestra), a custom, multi-unit synthesizer contraption that eventually captured the interest of Stevie Wonder. Section headings include: “’Oh, Good, He’s Not Going to be a Musician!’;” “Moogists in Residence;” “Conceived on a Tablecloth;” “Fulfillingness’ First Finale.”

Chapter ten, “Live!,” surveys some of the seminal live performances and performers of the Moog synthesizer. These include: Herb Deutsch and his jazz quartet; Chris Swansen and his jazz quartet (including John McLaughlin); David Borden and Mother Mallard; Don Preston (Mothers of Invention); Gershon Kingsley and the Moog Quartet; and especially Keith Emerson. Section headings include: “The Moog MOMA Concert;” “Mother Mallard;” “On a Wing and a Prayer;” “The First Moog Quartet;” “Keith Emerson;” “Organ Abuse;” “An Encounter with a Baroque Gentleman;” “How Not to Be Unfair to the Beatles and the Stones;” “Hoedown;” “Lucky Man;” “Bob and Keith.”

Chapter eleven, “Hard-Wired—the Minimoog,” looks at the significant transition from the modular Moog to the all-in-one performance models. At the same time, one is presented with a picture of the company that was moving from a one-engineer operation to a larger entity, marking the point when Mr. Moog had to begin relinquishing control. Section headings include: “Bill Hemsath;” “Jim Scott;” “From the Graveyard to the Min;” “The Min B;” “The Model C;” “The Pitch Wheel;” “Production;” “The Sound of the Minimoog.”

Chapter twelve, “Inventing the Market,” explains how the Minimoog was brought to market (primarily through the efforts of David Van Koevering), to become the first synthesizer to be widely sold in music stores as an instrument rather than a novel piece of audio hardware. This is also where we learn that Mr. Moog sold the company to a venture capitalist. Section headings include: “Little David;” “From Swiss Bells to Taco Bell;” “The Island of Electronicus;” “On the Road Selling Minimoogs;” “Lucky Man;” “Moog Moves and Van Koevering Goes to the World;” “The Vision and the Mission.”

Chapter thirteen, “Close Encounters with the ARP,” explores the onset of the competitors’ synthesizers that were brought to market in the 1970s, mainly the ARP line (developed by Alan Robert Pearlman). The ARP was aggressively marketed, and gained great notoriety through its appearance in the Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). We are also introduced to Tom Oberheim, who was instrumental in developing polyphonic synthesizers. Section headings include: “A Useful Instrument;” “The ARP 2500;” “The ARP 2600;” “The Odyssey and Pro-Soloist;” “Dealing in ARPs;” “Tom Oberheim, the Accessories Industry, and Polyphony;” “ARP’s Fall;” “Space Soundscapes: Close Encounters and Star Wars.”

Chapter fourteen, “From Daleks to the Dark Side of the Moon,” gives a brief overview of what was going on in the UK, primarily through the EMS operation led by Peter Zinovieff. (The “Daleks” reference comes from “Dr. Who,” a popular sci-fi television series that incorporated electronic sounds into its soundtracks.) Chapter headings include: “David and the Daleks;” “Peter Gets an Education;” “Peter Gets Passionate;” “David and Peter;” “Unit Delta Plus;” “Putney;” “From Junk to the VCS3;” “Going Backward;” “The Synthi 100;” “A Family of Synthis;” “Electronic Music in Britain;” “The Special Putney Ambience;” “EMS and Musicians;” “No Musical Upbringing and Not Enough Money;” “The Bosy from Putney;” “The Fall of EMS;” “EMS versus Moog and ARP;” “End of a Dream.”

The lengthy Conclusion touches on a number of issues in its attempt to summarize.
Our story of the synthesizer draws attention to the role played by users. Designers ‘script’ or ‘configure’ ideal uses into their machines… Scripts try to constrain the agency of users, but users can exert agency, too, and can come up with their own alternative scripts… Users do not come to technology unprepared. They are part of a wider culture of use, and they learn within that culture… Analog Days shows that the world of synthesizer production and consumption were not separate worlds. What our story reveals is that consumers have played a crucial role throughout the history of the synthesizer and in all aspects of its development, including design, testing, sales, and marketing. (pp. 311-312)

The book is completed with a representative discography, a list of sources (including the who and when of the authors’ extensive interviews), and a modest glossary of terms.