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Bob Moog, geek, electronic music pioneer, gets Google Doodle

May 23, 2012|By Rene Lynch

Bob Moog was a geek. And proud of it. His music-meets-electronics inventions made him a legend in the music world but not exactly a household name. Today, a Google Doodle seeks to change that, honoring him with an ultra-cool interactive doodle -- call it a Goog -- that shows the world just how "instrumental" the late Moog was.

Moog pioneered the Moog synthesizer and, in doing so, revolutionized the music world in the midst of the psychedelic 1960s -- bringing musical performance into the electronic age. It's impossible to overstate his importance to the industry, experts say. What Les Paul and Leo Fender did for the electric guitar, Moog did for the synthesizer, according to Trevor Pinch, coauthor of a book on the Moog synthesizer.

Moog's touch is everywhere you look -- or listen. Even the electronic ditty on a cellphone and the thumping base on the iPod are "part of his legacy -- synthesizers today are chip-size and ubiquitous," Pinch told the L.A. Times when Moog, 71, died in 2005 of brain cancer.

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All of that might sound mighty theoretical to the non-music person. Perhaps that's why Wednesday's Google Doodle is interactive. In honor of what would have been Moog's 78th birthday, Google hands over its Web browser homepage to a playable synthesizer-based logo inspired by Moog.

Don't just look at it, though. The point is to play with it. (Consider it the latest in a long list of beloved time-wasters from Google.)

"You can use your mouse or keyboard on the Moog doodle’s keys and dials to make nearly limitless sounds. Keeping with the theme of 1960s music technology, there is also a 4-track tape recorder so you can record, play back and share songs via short links or Google+," according to the Bob Moog Foundation.

The foundation's synth expert, Marc Doty, has created a “how-to” video for those who need a little help getting a handle on the Goog.

Moog didn't actually invent the synthesizer. RCA did, in 1955, but its primitive version was room-size, and the sounds were controlled by punching holes in tape, Pinch told The Times in 2005.

Moog improved upon that basic synthesizer and added a state-of-the-art keyboard just a few years later. Its portability enabled musicians to bring it into the concert hall, and the sound was far easier to manipulate, Pinch said. Soon, the term "Moog" joined the music vernacular.

"Many people would say, 'We need a Moog on this record,' when they meant a synthesizer," Brian Kehew, who worked for Moog as a producer and designer, told The Times.

Moog was born in New York in 1934 and inherited a passion for electronics from his father, an electrical engineer. Each day after school, Moog would hole up in his father's basement workshop and get to work building small radios, amps and the like. At age 14, he built his own version of the theremin -- an electronic instrument invented by Leon Theremin that can be played remotely.

By 19, he had published an article in Radio and Television News about "The Theremin" and was flooded with requests from readers who wanted their own theremin kit. And thus was R.A. Moog Co. born, according to the Moog Foundation.

Moog, the subject of a 2004 documentary titled "Moog," was not without his critics. Some thought the synthesizer dehumanized music-making.

"When it first appeared, it was viewed as the enemy of real music and musicians, and there are still holdouts," said Robert Hilburn, then pop music critic for The Times, at the time of Moog's death.

"For the most part, synthesizers have been embraced as a welcome, even essential, instrument that has helped broaden rather than shrink our musical horizons and ambitions," he added.

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rene.lynch@latimes.com

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