Was the legendary machine behind prog and disco’s craziest sounds killed off before it’s time?
The legendary Emerson Moog
In news that will have synthesizer nerds selling their first-born children for quick cash, Moog Music has announced a limited run of instruments that faithfully reproduce their great modular designs of the ‘60s and ‘70s. These modular systems, first created by engineering genius Robert Moog, who died in 2005, have long been the holy grails of the synth world—everyone seems to know a guy who knows a guy who has one, but as far as I can tell, no one’s actually seen one in person. Famous for their intimidating panels of patch bays, knobs, and tangle of swinging wires, the analog machines remain, to this day, unsurpassed in many ways, partially due to the fact that Robert Moog’s circuit designs and filters sounded so colorful, but also because they just look so goddamn cool.
Last year, after duplicating the legendary synth system used by prog rock superhero Keith Emerson (basically, the electronic instrument equivalent of cloning a wooly mamoth), Moog Music was moved to start recreating some of their other original designs, which will now be available on a limited basis. Wired’s Michael Calore reports:
“If you’ve never seen the System 35, System 55, or Model 15—you really can’t miss them, they’re beasts—you’ve almost certainly heard them. These are the same machines rock keyboardists used to paint the hazy, space-prog otherscapes of the 1970s. Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Rush, Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream all used them. But they also made Stevie saucier and Herbie hotter. And, being open-minded adults viewing the history of music through the long lens of time, we can freely admit that Moog’s modular synths made for some pretty kick-ass, adventurous disco records.”
While to some, the sound of the classic Moog tones might come off as decidedly “retro,” and the instrument is often associated with the ‘60s and ‘70s, Moog Music believes the large format synth was cut off in its prime, and hasn’t ever come near reaching its potential. According to the company’s website:
“Artists had only begun to grasp the vast possibilities of these large format modular synthesizers when they went out of production over thirty years ago. Decades of electronic experimentation have enabled musicians to move on from viewing the Moog Modular as a replacement for traditional instrumentation. Now, a new generation of artists, with a greater understanding and more complex tools, will have the opportunity to explore the power of these singular sonic machines. Today, the modular synthesizer is viewed in the manner Bob Moog originally intended: to ‘discover endless offbeat, unconventional, and even irrational ways of working.’”
Don’t get too excited—the new synths run between $10,000 and $35,000 apiece, but at only five figures, they’re still vastly more attainable than the $150,000 price tag placed on last year’s Emerson reproduction. (Which is still available custom order.) And if you’re an audio geek, just knowing that there are more of these monsters out there can give you a glimmer of hope, an inkling that one day, maybe, if you write that hit or score that film, or fuck it, while we’re dreaming, just win the lottery, you might find yourself twiddling the knobs on a real, live modular Moog.
The System 35