Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I received an interesting email from David Borden, Director, Retired, of the Digital Music Program, Department of Music, at Cornell University, containing information that adds yet another piece of knowledge to our understanding of the Moog synthesizer in the context of the late 1960s and early 1970s rock culture. Mr. Borden wrote in response to an entry I posted back in early May about the particular modular Moog that was featured in Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg’s Performance (1970). I encourage readers to refer to, or to re-read, the complete text here, but for purposes of convenience I reproduce below the relevant excerpt from my earlier blog:

The special virtue of the Moog was its durability; there was no “right” or “wrong” way to use it—no particular grouping of patches, or combination of knob settings, could damage it. On the other hand, some patch combinations and knob settings would not yield any sound, so while there may have been no right or wrong way to play around with it, if you didn’t know what you were doing, nothing would happen. At the time, therefore, someone who knew how to use it—such as Jon Weiss, "the man from Moog”—was quite valuable.

However, based on his considerable experience with early versions of the Moog synthesizer, David Borden offered a correction to this passage, saying that I was not quite right about the durability of early Moog synthesizers. He writes:

Actually, there was a way to mess up the Moog modules by patching. I did it many times—in 1967. By the time Jon [Weiss] got there (to the Moog Co.) Bob had redesigned the modules so that (mostly) nothing could ruin a module due to strange patching.

I would encourage those interested to visit David Borden’s website, where one can find lots of information on his very interesting career. For instance, in 1969 he formed one of the first live performance synthesizer ensembles, called Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company, with Steve Drews and Linda Fisher. His work Easter was performed live on Easter Sunday, 1970 featuring the first live performance of a MiniMoog (pictured above; the official debut of which was still months away). At the time, no one else was performing with Moog synthesizers except for Wendy Carlos and Richard Teitelbaum, but Wendy Carlos performed live infrequently (in part due to the patching difficulties of early modular synthesizers--the MiniMoog would change that) and Richard Teitelbaum was still in Europe. Later, director William Friedkin commissioned Borden to write the score for The Exorcist, but as is well known Friedkin opted for Mike Oldfield’s minimalist derivation on his work Tubular Bells, and only about 45 seconds of Borden's material was used in the completed film.

I wish to thank Mr. Borden for writing in and sharing his knowledge about the early period of the Moog synthesizer. We can now better approximate the adoption of the Moog (that is, the MiniMoog) by rock musicians beginning in the early 1970s.

A Few LPs On Which the MiniMoog Appears:

Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)
Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Pictures at an Exhibition (1971)
Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company – S/T (1973) [Reissued as 1970-1973 with previously unissued recordings (1999)]
Gary Numan/Tubeway Army – Replicas (1979)
Rush – A Farewell to Kings (1977)
Synergy [Larry Fast] – Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra (1975)
Rick Wakeman – Six Wives of Henry VIII (1973)
Yes - Close To The Edge (1972)

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