Robert A. Moog, who developed the synthesizer given his name, died August 21 in Asheville, N.C. of an inoperable brain tumor. He was 71.
As a Ph.D. student in engineering physics at Cornell University, in 1964 developed his first voltage-controlled synthesizer modules with composer Herbert Deutsch. By the end of that year, R.A. Moog Co. marketed the first commercial modular synthesizer.
The instrument allowed musicians, first in a studio and later on stage, to generate a range of sounds that could mimic nature or seem otherworldly by flipping a switch, twisting a dial, or sliding a knob. Other synthesizers were already on the market in 1964, but Moog’s stood out for being small, light and versatile.
The Beatles used a Moog synthesizer on their 1969 album, “Abbey Road”; a Moog was used to create an eerie sound on the soundtrack to the 1971 film “A Clockwork Orange.”
Keyboardist Walter (later Wendy) Carlos demonstrated the range of Moog’s synthesizer by recording the hit album “Switched-On Bach” in 1968 using only the new instrument instead of an orchestra.
The popularity of the synthesizer and the success of the company named for Moog took off in rock as extended keyboard solos in songs by Manfred Mann, Yes and Pink Floyd became part of the progressive sound of the 1970s.
Charles Carlini, a New York City concert promoter, staged Moogfest in May 2004 to mark a half-century since Moog founded his first company while still in college. Keith Emerson, Rick Wakefield of Yes, and Bernie Worrell of Parliament/Funkadelic were among those who played, and a second Moogfest was held a year later.
Born in New York City, Moog paid for his studies at Queens College and Columbia University by building and marketing theremins, which are played by passing the hand through and around vibrating radio tubes. He went on to attach his name to a long list of synthesizers developed over the years — among them Micromoog, Minitmoog, Multimoog and Memorymoog.
Moog, who had set up shop in suburban Buffalo, N.Y., sold R.A. Moog in 1973 and moved five years later to a remote plot outside Asheville.
He spent the early 1990s as a research professor of music at the University of North Carolina at Asheville before turning full-time to running his new instrument business, which was renamed Moog Music in 2002. The roster of customers includes Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, Beck, Phish, Sonic Youth and Widespread Panic.
Moog is survived by his wife, Ileana; four children and a stepdaughter.