Posts tagged ‘Dr. Robert Moog’

February 28, 2013

THE “MOOG” DOCUMENTARY

While combing through Netflix selections last week, I found a 2004 documentary called “Moog,” which was directed by Hans Fjellestad. This interesting film presented Dr. Bob Moog, the father of music synthesizers, just as I remembered him from the days that I worked with him at Kurzweil Music Systems.

Bob was a brilliant guy, but also down-to-earth and funny. He was kind of like your favorite nerdy science teacher — a little wacky, but friendly and approachable.

For instance, in the film “Moog,” Bob said that he sometimes got inspiration for his inventions while doing the most mundane things, such as cutting the grass or eating a hamburger. I think that most musicians and composers can relate to that, too. When a riff or a melody pops into my head, I try to write it down as fast as I can, because the distractions of everyday life can quickly derail the creative process.

Bob also mentioned in the film, that before “Switched-On Bach,” people knew very little about electronic music and doubted that it would ever have widespread appeal. And he admitted that the first synthesizer sounds heard by the general public “were freaky, like primitive sounds that would steal your soul.”

But when keyboard players like Keith Emerson (Emerson Lake and Palmer) and Rick Wakeman (YES) embraced Moog synthesizers, the public now realized that this new medium could be used to create beautiful music —not just spooky sound effects. As a guest in the “Moog” documentary, Rick Wakeman pointed out that this was “the first time keyboard players could give guitar players a run for their money.”

I definitely believe that I was hired for certain gigs because I owned a Moog synthesizer. It was exciting to be treated as a counterpart to a lead guitarist, rather than just some guy playing keyboards in the background.

Also in the “Moog” film, Bob talked about having tea with Keith Emerson in 1970 and getting a test pressing of ELP’s hit “Lucky Man.” Soon after that, Bob laughed, “Kids started demanding synthesizers for Hanukkah and Christmas gifts.”

I think my favorite part of the “Moog” documentary was when Bob remarked,
“The instruments we make are designed to be played live … (in) interaction with others.”

This is such an important point because there’s still a widespread notion that synthesizers have the ability to do some sort of tricks on their own. I’ve said this before and I will say it again: Synthesizers — or any musical instruments — don’t play themselves. They are merely tools that we use to perform or compose music. And while synthesizers are like machines, human emotion and human talent come along and turn the sounds into something that is pleasing to the ear.

I enjoyed the “Moog” documentary and recommend it to anyone who is curious about electronic music. I also think it accurately conveyed Bob’s love of music in general.

As a side note, Bob Moog passed away in 2005. In 2006, his family launched The Bob Moog Foundation to honor his contributions to both science and music and to keep his pioneering spirit alive.

The foundation’s Web site explains, “Music is at the very core of the Bob Moog Foundation. Bob’s motivation for his innovative work was not solely synthesis or electronic music, but music as a transcendental language that brings people together in community. Bob stated many times how he much he enjoyed working with musicians and the open, creative spirit that they bring to their work.”

For more information about the Bob Moog Foundation, visit http://moogfoundation.org/

Me (Duane Decker) playing live with my modular Moog synthesizer.

Me (Duane Decker) playing live with my modular Moog synthesizer.

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October 14, 2012

PATENT PENDING

In my wildest dreams, I would have never imagined that I would have an idea worthy of a patent, but I have. I have worked with some very intelligent and creative people. Maybe my time spent with folks like Dr. Robert Moog and Raymond Kurzweil rubbed off in some way that I may never understand. But with the help of a couple of very talented co-workers at IGT, Nick Mayne and Lee Huber, my idea of a new way to deliver music on gaming machines is now Patent Pending. While I can’t reveal details, I can tell you about the thought process involved in coming up with a patentable idea.

When presented with a problem, you have choices that can be made to mitigate or even solve it. First you need to define what the problem is and study all of the factors that contribute to it. Defining the problem is like a mission statement. It is intentionally vague to allow flexibility, but defines what you are trying to accomplish. Your mission statement now allows you to find out the differences in what is happening now, and what you would like to see happen.

Once you understand exactly what is currently happening and why, you move on to the creative phase. I always start this phase with finding out what I can’t do. There will always be factors that you won’t be able to change. These could include hardware issues –like this machine doesn’t talk to that machine. It might cost too much to implement your new idea. Or in some cases, your manager, team or company simply won’t think that your idea is important enough to pay attention to. I’ve been in circumstances where big companies are only interested in you as a cog in the wheel, don’t respect your input and are poisoned by corporate politics. Fortunately for me, IGT fosters and rewards this kind of innovation and is always open to, and encourages new ideas.

Now that you know what you can’t do, you can become creative with a solution. This part is sort of like a maze. Mental gymnastics takes you down many paths only to find that your idea won’t work. But every time you go down a path, you narrow down possible solutions and possibly find new ones. While you ultimately may not find a solution, sometimes the light bulb in your brain goes off and you finally find a way to make your idea happen. The solution could even be something simple, but something no one ever thought of before.

I explained my solution to my partners, Nick and Lee. The common goal we had regarding the audio system could now be worked on with a road map of how it should work. While I worked on the music and documentation portion, they proceeded to create the software structure needed to make it work. Our studio gave us the time and support needed to make this new method work in the game.

Once people were able to hear what we had accomplished, it became evident that we were on to something bigger than just an idea to make one game sound better. That’s when our studio director urged me to apply for a patent.

The patent application process is very long and must go through many committees, lawyers and paperwork before it is actually sent to the U.S. Patent office. That only makes sense because it is very costly to apply for and defend a patent and it takes 3-6 years before a patent is actually granted. But this time, IGT ultimately decided that the idea was well worth it. So now my little idea is Patent Pending.

So the next time you see something that you think could be made better, maybe you are the one who can do that. You just never know without trying.