Posts tagged ‘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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August 30, 2012

LOUNGE ACT BLUES

When asked about the low points of my music career, I can’t forget the stint I did as keyboard player/singer with a boring lounge act called Jim, Bonnie and Duane. We had a steady gig at a restaurant/lounge called The Hungry Hunter in a Southern California beach town. The best thing I remember about the gig was that we got free food — and it was good food, too. The pay was also decent. But playing middle-of-the-road cover tunes by acts like The Captain and Tennille and Fleetwood Mac was painful, considering my preference for artists such as The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

It was also a very strange thing for me to be on a tiny stage playing background music for the dinner crowd, using a full-blown modular Moog and RMI Keyboard Computer. My equipment alone took up most of the stage and Bonnie would sing in front of this 6-inch-high stage. I could have (and probably should have) played this gig with one small electric piano.

At some point, Bonnie left the group due to medical problems. And so the act became the even-less-riveting duo of Jim and Duane. We shifted over to a regular gig in National City, California … and the boredom continued, but it was a source of income. When Bonnie recovered from her illness, she rejoined the act. One night, she set a beer on top of my amp and it spilled, ruining the amp. That was it. I couldn’t take it anymore. “See ya later, Jim and Bonnie.”

Fortunately, I was then invited to join a successful Denver-based band named Reign. The musicians were very talented but a bit lazy. They didn’t practice much — and they focused on cover material. Their repertoire was much more challenging than the song list from the Jim, Bonnie and Duane days. Singing/playing hits by Journey, Kansas and Earth, Wind and Fire was tolerable, but whenever I’d suggest adding some original songs, I was shot down. As Reign’s line-up began to disintegrate, I was forced to look for another touring band and really hoping for a chance to “upgrade” to one that was more ambitious.

Timing was on my side. A band named Canary, which played the same Western U.S. circuit as Reign, had recently lost its drummer, Bill Gent, to a new band called Lois Lane. In turn, Lois Lane was looking for a keyboard player/backup singer. Bill, who had seen me with Reign, recommended me for the gig. I spent several years with Lois Lane, playing original material and developing new skills and increased confidence, which later paid off in a number of other great music jobs.

The take-away lesson is that anyone striving to be a musician or composer, or maybe anyone in any line of creative work, must be patient, flexible and confident that sometimes the least glamorous jobs will sustain you while you follow your true calling.