Saturday, January 9, 2010

My hero / Bob Moog by Don Paterson

My hero Bob Moog

Don Paterson
Saturday 9 January 2010

ob Moog had a great name, which seemed to fit his machines almost as well as Mr Hoover's did his. (He never convinced anyone to pronounce it correctly: it rhymes with rogue.) He was also as far from the public image of "Dr Moog", the lab-coated evil genius and destroyer of human music, as it was possible to get: a sweet, patient, articulate man who saw himself purely as a toolmaker, determined to narrow, not widen, the gap between the player and the instrument.

As important as recordings such as Wendy Carlos's Switched-on Bach were in bringing Moog's synthesizer to the wider public, these early excursions now sound pretty dated. What remain as fresh as ever are the timelessly gorgeous sounds themselves, which have been so thoroughly assimilated into the soundscape of contemporary music that Moog's influence is much too deep to be quantified. Hans Fjellestad's documentary, Moog, saw the good doctor dragged all over the planet, mainly so musicians from every generation could tell him how much they owed him. His bemused humility was genuine, touching and an object lesson in how to take a fat compliment.
More than any 20th-century inventor you could name, Moog warmed up the wires and humanised the machine. He was a spiritual man who believed in nothing but material, though he treated matter as a form of energy (which of course it is), one we barely understand. As for his idea that all matter has a residual consciousness . . . well – beyond the hard-won lesson that if you don't love machines, they won't love you back – I'm sceptical. But not only did Moog elaborate this idea with great intellectual sophistication (his wife was a professor in the philosophy of religion), he set about proving it, up to his elbows in Bessel functions and Fourier transforms and circuitboards. His respect for material allowed him to draw the most beautiful sounds out of the ether; in doing so, Bob Moog simply increased the human expressive range. Some toolmaker.

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