Bob Moog, inventor of the legendary Moog synthesizers, is a friendly, down-to-earth man with a sharp wit and a sense of humor. He's practical, too — while interviewing him I moved his plate to make room for my mic stand on our table and he looked alarmed and said, "Wait! I'm going back for some cake!" Bob runs a beautiful little workshop in Asheville, North Carolina with a smallish crew of dedicated employees. What immediately impressed me was how they collectively ran their operation — I believe it is a model for others in the indigenous electronics business. They do finished assembly right there in a professional but friendly shop, and they can easily make sure everything that goes out the door is top quality. You can tell creativity thrives there — some employees made a theremin out of a pretzel barrel and it works! Bob drives a Toyota wagon that has been completely hand-painted with a mural by his young stepdaughter — very Moogy-Funky. A documentary about Bob and his machines, called simply Moog, is premiering in NY in September with a DVD out in the fall. Several MoogFests are taking place celebrating the Moog synthesizer, some even featuring The Album Leaf (see this issue). Visit www.moogmovie.com for more info!
How do you make things here at "Moog World Headquarters"?
We do final assembly and testing. We have the circuit boards made by those who specialize in that kind of work.
And somebody sends you wood panels and someone sends you metal chassis?
How did you end up in Asheville, NC?
The very first music teachers' convention I went to was the MTNA [Music Teachers National Association] conference in Dallas in 1965. By that time we had received quite a few orders for modular equipment, and I was beginning to find out the problem with not having special talents to get people to work for you. There I was exhibiting these funny modules to teachers who, by and large, didn't know what they were. Across the aisle from me was a fellow named George Kelischek. He had something called the Kelischek Workshop. George was a master violin maker who was making all sorts of authentic medieval and renaissance instruments. He was doing very well, playing his instruments, singing, and having a great time, and I looked at him and thought, 'There's a lucky guy.' So we started talking, and we became friends very quickly. He gave me some advice and hope. We kept up our friendship through the years, and in 1972 he invited my whole family and I to come down and visit him in western North Carolina. To live in his house, use his shop facilities and teach the children in his community a little about electronics — which I was always happy to do. So we came down all the way from Buffalo, we saw what a beautiful area it was, how nice the people were, and we decided when we could we would leave Buffalo and come to North Carolina and live here. I left Norlin Music (at that time the owner of Moog Music) and in June of 1978 we moved down here.
What about these crazy guitar pedals that you make? How many milliamps does that Mooger Fooger suck down? I bet you can't put a nine-volt battery in that.
No, you have to plug those in. What they are is little synthesizer modules.
Who came up with that name? Do you ever get in trouble for it?
I had a very good customer — one of the New York advertising music producers. His name is Edd Kalehoff. He had a production company somewhere in midtown Manhattan, and I went up to visit him once and he had just got[ten] a brand new mixing console in. Now, in that realm back then you had to look impressive in order to impress your clients. So he had this HUGE console — it must have been fifteen feet — and right in the middle he had a little sign made that read "MOOGER FOOGER". And I looked at that, and I laughed, and I said, "Someday I'm going to use that."
Tell me about the Piano Bar.
The Piano Bar is a development of Don Buchla. For the last 20 years at least Don has specialized in really novel musician-oriented control devices. One is called Thunder, one is called Lightning — it senses the position of your hands in two-dimensional space. Another one is The Marimba Lumina — it looks superficially like a marimba. They all have really deep, carefully crafted relationships built into the interface. He's really good at it — he may be the best in the world. So just a year ago, at the last NAMM, 2003, Don came walking through the show with this gun case. He opened it up and had the Piano Bar. It just blew my mind. What a great idea. I told Mike [Adams] about it. Mike knew if I liked it, it had some technical and musical merit. And Mike liked it because it made some business sense. There were a lot of people who had pianos and this would be a very nice thing for them to expand their capabilities. It sits on the cheek blocks on either side of the keyboard. It doesn't affect the keys. For anybody who has a piano and uses it for recording — this thing is absolutely open-ended. There...