On Sunday, the music world lost more than an inventor, more than an engineer: Bob Moog, who died of a brain tumor at home in Asheville after an extended stay at Duke University Hospital, was a daring revolutionary, a man who understood that what he was doing was against tradition and out of line.
He did it anyway, hand designing and building a modular Moog synthesizer that was able both to replicate and exploit the sounds of full bands, orchestras and symphonies with an array of wires, circuits, keys and dials. Moog took the paradigm--wood, strings, tension, and vibration--disassembled it, rearranged the parts and rebuilt it all in a way that did nothing less than change the way music sounded.
His completely analog circuitry exploited electrical vibration, creating ways for pop and classical musicians alike to permutated sound and arrive at refreshing new conclusions. Those conclusions would become staples of progressive rock thanks to people like Keith Emerson; pop music, thanks to The Beatles and classical music thanks to a daring lot of composers and performers--largely European--that, like Moog himself, wanted to do something new.
Just as importantly, though, was Moog's grace and humility. He was a man who not only invented instruments but also--in many respects--gave electronic music what it needed to grow. Moog was careful, though, to point out that he was no performer, that he merely benefited from a series of lucky circumstances and from his intimate, almost spiritual knowledge of how sound reacts to circuits.
"Bob had a love of humanity in how he dealt with people everyday," says Pamelia Kurstin, who plays Moog's Theremins in her band Barbez (Wetlands, Sept. 12) and recently worked with Moog on an instructional Theremin video. "You could see it in all the people that worked with him. There was a different mood than other places. It was unique."
Standing in his organic garden in Asheville, Moog--bespectacled, beatific and gentle--once explained to filmmaker Hans Fjellestad, "One leaf dies here and another one grows in its place."
There may be other braches, other leaves, but it's doubtful anyone can replace Bob Moog.