Musical spelunking #2: The Moog Modular

This is a blog post by Nicolas Marquis, the composer working on We Happy Few. Nic also composed the score for Contrast, and we’re delighted to be able to share some of his behind the scenes work. This is Nic’s second post about his musical research for the We Happy Few score, you can read the first one here.

Hey all,

As a second post on this music blog about the 60's, I wanted to talk about one crazy beast… The Moog Modular (an emblematic synthesizer of the 60's) and also about some electronic pioneers of the era!

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As you can see on the pic, there's a lot of controls! In fact, these are modules mounted in a cabinet. And to actually have a sound coming out of it, well you need to connect some of those various modules with patch cords (see on the table on the same pic). What was outstanding at the time, is that there was a lot of flexibility and controls to modify the sound, from experimental noise to something really punchy. The sound was mono meaning that you couldn't have more than one note playing at a time.  As of now, you're lucky if you can put your hands on one, there are few available around the globe that are still working! For example, there's one at the Toronto University if you want to take a look ;-)

The name comes from his inventor, Robert Moog and the first to order a prototype was choreographer Alwin Nikolais (who was also composing his own electronic soundtracks). But the very first commercial Moog Modular was available in 1964. Eric Siday, considered to be one of the the pioneers of psychoacoustics, was also an important figure in the development of the Moog Synthesizer. Check this very informative video from the BBC archive:

The first band to use a Moog was Lothar and The Hand People, but their first recording actually using one was released later on (in 1968). Have a listen to this extract (somehow it makes me think about Pink Floyd, in their Syd Barrett era):


In fact, the very first recording by a music band was in 1967 by... The Monkees!


But it was Wendy Carlos in 1968 that first brought the Modular to world-wide attention with her interpretation of some famous J.S. Bach works on his album "Switched-On Bach". It was one of the first classical recordings to sell over 500 000 copies. By the way, she's the same composer famous for her soundtrack on Stanley Kubrick’s "ClockWork Orange".

On the other side of things, Perrey and Kingsley for example made use of it in a more ludic - almost schizophrenic - way (this track was released in 1967):


By the way, you may have heard them before: one of their tracks was sampled by the band Smash Mouth for their opening of their 1997 hit "Walking On The Sun"…without their permission!


Also, Perrey worked with Andy Badale aka Angelo Badalamenti (yes, the composer for David Lynch's movies) on the track "E.V.A." which will end up later on being, well, simply one of the most sampled track in hip hop and rap history!

Finally, The Beastie Boys released an instrumental album called "The In Sound From Way Out" as a tribute to Perrey and Kingsley.

Then later on there will be Emerson, Lake and Palmer with "Lucky Man" in the 70s (where you hear the famous Moog portamento sound at the end) and Tangerine Dream, but ok, ok, I digress!

As to finish this post, I wanted to add that Mr Moog was also distributing the Theremin (created by Leon Theremin), another worthy instrument used by many movie composers in the 50s like Bernard Herrmann on The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951).

Next post is going to be about some more electronic music, musique concrete and… Delia Derbyshire!


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