“I’m a toolmaker; I’m not a musician.” With trademark modesty, so said Bob Moog, the man who–for all intents and purposes–invented the modern synthesizer.
I sat down recently at an Asheville NC coffee shop with his daughter Michelle Moog-Koussa to discuss the work of the Bob Moog Foundation. As Louis Armstrong‘s “Wonderful World” played softly in the background, the Foundation’s Executive Director told me how the organization got its start not long before Bob Moog (rhymes with “vogue”) succumbed to brain cancer in 2005.
“The Foundation came about right before Dad passed away. My brother Matt had set up a [private] web page for him as a way to keep in touch with forty of his friends, to let them know how he was doing.” Someone leaked word of the site on a synthesizer chat group. She winces at the recollection. “My brother got very upset, and put up a password on the site. [But then] my dad said, ‘y’know what? Take the password down and let them come.’ I’m not sure I would have expected that, because he did really value his privacy.
“The day he died, there were 20,000 hits” on the site. “There were all these tributes to Dad, about how his instruments had affected their lives, how [Moog synthesizers] had given them a voice for their creativity.”
Michelle regaled me with stories of her dad: people “were bowled over that they would ask him a question–they’d muster up their guts to approach him–and he’d whip out a pen and a napkin and draw them a schematic!”
“I mean, [as kids] we knew what Dad had done, [but] in a very simplistic sense. People would approach me: ‘Oh my god–Bob Moog’s your dad!’ But he always held his career at arms’ length; when we would ask him about it, there was a sense of his being uncomfortable about it.” In fact, “when he won the Grammy® in 2002, he wasn’t going to tell us!”
I have my own Bob Moog story. Summer 2000, not long after moving to Asheville, I was at a small neighborhood picnic. Across the lawn, I saw this man in his mid-sixties; I immediately recognized him as the synthesizer pioneer. I stood there, slack-jawed. A neighbor approached me with a wide grin: “I guess you know that’s Bob. Let me introduce you.” The approachable Moog and I then talked about Theremins for awhile.
I recall a 2003 lecture in which Moog went to great pains to downplay his contributions to music, preferring instead to highlight the contributions of others. “At home,” Michelle said, “he just wanted to be Dad. There were friends of his here in Asheville who didn’t know anything [about his work]. Humility was the family religion at the Moog household.”
Bob believed–I’m paraphrasing here–that creativity exists in the ether, and that we are mere conduits, instruments if you will, to spread the fruits of that creativity. Michelle said that Bob “left a legacy, and Moog Music carries it on through their instruments. But there’s also this legacy of his creative warmth that has inspired people all over the world. And that deserves to be carried forth as a tribute to him. We want to continue the inspiration that was achieved through innovation and scientific curiosity.”
The Foundation’s stated goal is to “document, celebrate and teach innovative thinking and to support and honor” Moog’s legacy. The first–and right now, most critical–step is the documenting. Bob stored all manner of personal odds and ends in a non-climate controlled storage building. These included the last production Minimoog synthesizer, various schematics for as-yet-undeveloped devices, reel-to-reel audio masters, and (as Michelle showed me) a stack of daily notepads, listing who Bob spoke to, and what they spoke about.
The Foundation hopes eventually to build an interactive Bob Moog Museum in Asheville, but right now the focus is on preserving these archive items. Thankfully, some high-profile artists like Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan have offered their support, but it’s no substitute for greatly-needed donations from the general public.
Moog-Koussa told me that long-term goals for the Foundation include plans to offer three scholarships in ‘mechatronics’ at UNC Asheville, Cornell and Berklee; the museum; outreach programs to bring electronic music into schools; and live performances and competitions.
I asked Michelle how she would like Bob to be remembered. “First and foremost, that he was a humanist. Second, that he was a scientist.”
For more information on the work of the Bob Moog Foundation–including details on how you can help–visit moogfoundation.org.
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