Insights from the Bob Moog Foundation Archives: Historical 1965 R.A. Moog Co. Electronic Music Workshop

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Today, August 9th, 2010 marks the 45th Anniversary of an interesting event in Moog history: On August 9, 1965, a small summer conference was held to teach electronic music and expose the new Moog synthesizer to the world of composers. We thought it would be ideal to use the Bob Moog Foundation Archive to shed some light on this relatively unknown event, and to bring a little clearer understanding of the way things were in these very early days of the Moog synthesizer. Using documents, photos and tapes from the Archive – plus recollections from a few who were there – we present a look at the “Electronic Music Workshop” of August 1965….

A Brief Background:

In 1965, Bob Moog had already been selling theremins and theremin kits for 10 years, but this market was falling fast. As theremin sales decreased, most of the current R.A.Moog Co. sales were from small guitar and bass amplifiers, built at the Moog factory and sold through catalog outlets. Why amplifiers? Young people had become fascinated by The Beatles and the new era of pop/rock music was in full fever. Yet with many competitors in the field, the sales of these amplifiers was not enough to keep the company stable. But R.A.Moog also had a new product to offer, with virtually no competition….

Only a year before, in summer of 1964, Bob Moog had designed a new musical instrument at the request of composer/musician Herb Deutsch. This first Moog synthesizer was quite primitive – having only two oscillators, two volume controls, and keyboard. But this small instrument allowed wild  modulation effects, something far beyond the offerings of most organs and test-oscillator labs. Herb and Bob’s instrument was shown in New York City at the AES convention in the fall of ’64: There, a few customers began to order instruments for themselves, thereby launching a new “product” for the R.A.Moog company. Compared to the hundreds of amplifiers made, a few Moog modules sold was nothing huge, yet… but it had potential. In the next year, Herb’s instrument received other useful additions (like envelope generators, noise source and the famous Moog low-pass filter), modules which completed the basic elements of a Moog synthesizer as we know it today.

Moog’s new system was considered an instrument for sculpting new and unusual sounds, as Herb Deutsch had requested, rather than a “band” instrument one might play onstage. Therefore the potential market seemed to be experimental “Electronic Music” composers, who sought to break new ground  sonically. Most of these musician/composers had found tape manipulation and existing instruments too limited tonally. While the Moog system was not inexpensive, it was still far more reasonable than the large laboratories of gear usually needed for Electronic Music. So together, Herb and  Bob decided to present a seminar on “the new music,” Electronic Music, which would feature their new synthesizer design.

A Summer Seminar is Offered:

The seminar would help establish the growing style of music, but could also expose artists to the new “tool” that practically only Moog offered (Don Buchla had designed a similar system for Mills College in Oakland on the West Coast, but it was not widely known yet). Bob had understood that these composers were his market, and most of them taught or studied at universities, where this new music was most strongly embraced. Through the seminar, the attendees would discover the power and range of the new Moog synth and, hopefully, it would become obvious that they needed one. Not only was this Electronic Music embraced at many schools, but schools had large budgets for new equipment, which individuals usually lacked.

Bob and Herb decided to hold a 3-week workshop at the Moog factory in Trumansburg, a small town in upstate New York just outside of Ithaca. The seminar could show Electronic Music in depth: its history, hardware, techniques and theories. The seminar was announced nationally, mainly through colleges. Deutsch and Moog were relatively unknown in the national field, and the selected group was relatively small – 12 participants –  but appropriate, considering the restricted space and the minimal equipment Moog could offer. The attendees were:

Al Tepper, music professor, Hofstra University

Robert Ceely, composer, instructor

Susan Dorner, student at Mundelein College

Margaret Fairlie, composer, (now Fairlie-Kennedy)

Art Hunkins,  professional composer, cellist, instructor at UNC Greensboro

Franklin Morris, music professor, Syracuse University

Kathryn Perry, Oberlin College

J. Donald Robb, Dean Emeritus, University  of New Mexico

Dick Robinson, composer, Atlanta Symphony violinist

Dr. John Myhill, University of Illinois, Math Department

David Schroer, Asst. Prof. of Math, University of Illinois

Reynold Weidenaar, student, composer/musician

The list includes 3 independent composers, 5 university music professors, 2 music students, and 2 Math professors! Most of these names will not be familiar to a general audience, but several have become significant American composers and musicians in their field. Of note are Al Tepper – the man who introduced Herb Deutsch to Electronic Music (he lent Herb an album of the famous RCA Mark II synthesizer at Columbia University, a moment which changed Herb’s life forever). Also, J Donald Robb is a fascinating character; leaving a successful career as a New York lawyer at age 49, he became the Dean of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico. Robb was the worlds’ foremost expert in Hispanic folk music (!) and he recorded over 3,000 folk songs and dances to preserve this important heritage. Around this time, Robb had become interested in Electronic Music as well.

Margaret Fairlie recalls discovering the seminar as she moved up from the South: “I came up for a teaching job at Cornell, and that’s where I heard about it. It seemed like a fun thing to do. I hadn’t done it and was interested. I was already interested a little in synthesizers and electronic music – well, I knew existed, but I wasn’t really into it yet. I composed for dance; I was very interested in music for dance.” Robert Ceely saw a notice hung  in the University of Michigan music library. He was already quite experienced in the field, having spent part of 1963 working at the Studio di Fonologia (in Milan), which was a classic tape/oscillator/filter-based electronic studio. Art Hunkins had corresponded with Bob about the equipment he was building, and thinks that  may be how he learned of the seminar.

July 28, 1965 Letter to Workshop Participants (Bob Moog Foundation Archives)

The Seminar:

 

Herb Deutsch lectures at R.A. Moog Co. Factory – August 1965 (Seated from Left: David Schroer, Kathryn Perry, Franklin Morris, Robert Ceeley, Reynold Weidenaar) (Bob Moog Foundation Archives)

 

The seminar was held at the R.A.Moog factory, where different lectures were given daily (see below), and everyone discussed (and argued) the topics of the moment. The history of Electronic Music was discussed. Principles of sound and electronics were introduced. Specific audio processors, tape techniques, and the classifications of sound were also explored. Certainly, the seminar was far from a “sales pitch” for synthesizers, as one might assume: Herb and Bob were truly evangelical about the “New Music” world and interested in promoting all aspects of it.

Notes on the history of electronic music from 1965 seminar – (Bob Moog Foundation Archives)

 

To allow some personal freedom, the artists worked by themselves and other participants were advised to stay away while others worked. In some ways, this was sensible for the creative aspect, but many of the participants had never worked in a studio before, so tape machines, mixing, and (of course) modular analog synthesis were challenging new obstacles for the user left alone. Art Hunkins, practically a virgin synthesist then, recalls an unexpected lesson when he booked his lab time: “I chose early morning, when more time was available. I was the first to arrive; it was a bright, sunny day. I went directly to the second floor and started to work. I quickly became quite frustrated because I couldn’t get anything to work; all the equipment seemed to be down. It was the low point of my stay; I was a failure and couldn’t even get a sound. ‘Back to square one’ I thought… I learned later that morning that there was a light switch at the bottom of the stairs that you had to turn on: Yes, electronic music is entirely dependent on electricity!”

 

Syllabus for Second Week of Workshop (courtesy Herb Deutsch)


In researching this piece, the youngest of the attendees, Reynold Weidenaar, wrote a wonderful recollection of his stay. It summarizes the workshop nicely, fairly offering both the positives and negatives. We’ve decided to run his letter in its entirety so you can have a better sense of what it was like:

In Spring 1965 I was 19 years old and completing my second undergraduate year at Michigan State University. I was dissatisfied with the program there, ready to leave, and interested in continuing my composition studies in New York. That semester I was pursuing an eye-opening independent study project in elektronische Musik and musique concrète. The appearance on a bulletin board of a small blue poster advertising Bob Moog and Herb Deutsch’s 3-week seminar in “electronic music composition” electrified me. It was to be held at the R. A. Moog Co. in Trumansburg, N.Y.

Seminar attendees were put up in homes around Trumansburg, where I hopped off a Greyhound bus in August. I drew the house of Esther Northrup, a widow who lived with her 13-year-old daughter at a corner bungalow near the old tannery and who worked at the D.M.V. in Ithaca. The daughter was no more difficult and alienated than any other 13-year-old…. The deal was $20 per week for a room, clean sheets once a week, and breakfast. She also did laundry for a dollar or two more. I could keep a few items in the refrigerator for sandwiches and snacks. However, I was not encouraged to use the kitchen, so most meals were at Kostrub’s Luncheonette on Main St. Esther was hospitable; once I was invited to dinner and she served a pheasant shot by her brother, which retained a scattering of buckshot.

The 12 seminar participants were about as varied a mix as ever sat in any one classroom. You would think that the new field of electronic music would mainly attract radical avant-gardists. You would be wrong. Orientations included scientist, conservative music faculty, fringe music faculty, academic composer, anti-academic composer, professional performer, dilettante, student, and retiree. There was a complete hodgepodge of outlooks, making for unpredictable discussions that were predictably interesting. And making for an across-the-board antipathy to being taught electronic-music “composition,” because “I know full well what is and is not composition, so let’s not go there.” There was considerable debate about John Cage. Where would music go after him? Was he doing what he should be doing? There was more tolerance expressed than I think some harbored in their hearts.

The classes were held in the basement of Bob Moog’s factory building, an old commercial structure with second-story storage rooms with creaky uneven floors. It was pleasant and cool downstairs during the summer heat (there was no air conditioning). Fans in the upstairs rooms made them nice to work in during the evening. We all focused on learning the technical principles and operating techniques of the synthesizer modules. Many of us were wrestling with very unfamiliar concepts (frequency modulation, amplitude modulation, voltage control) and the mathematical formulas for these.

We worked in teams of two or three at the individual workstations Moog had set up throughout the building. The place was short on tape recorders; each station had only one or two. There were breakdowns and misunderstandings about how to operate and maintain the tape decks. The presence of an experienced recording engineer would have been helpful. Mixing was limited. It was not easy to make a piece by layering tracks, so most of the focus was to put sounds on tape and, if desired, splice tapes together. Tape editing was not a forte.

Bob and Herb put a lot of heart and effort into their work, patiently answering questions and explaining things for the 4th or 5th time. They would stop by evenings to help us at the workstations, where we worked sometimes long into the night.

We were frustrated by the tuning problems of the early equipment. The oscillators drifted, less so when left on for long periods of time, and 12-tone equal temperament was not always stable. Naturally we took the hint and began working with resources like 10-tone equal temperament (who would know if it was “off”?) and clangorous sounds (Think you’ve got perfect pitch? Guess again!).

At least one of the workstations was battery-powered. I’m pretty sure this was an attempt to solve the tuning drift. People complained that there was no power lamp on the unit, so they weren’t sure if it was off or on. Bob replied that even the smallest power lamp would run down the battery (this was in pre-LED days). (Targeting the power supply as the source of the problem was well-placed. It was still a weakness 10 years later, when at the Cleveland Institute of Music we jettisoned the Moog power supply into Lake Erie and bought three Heathkit regulated power supplies. End of issue.)

Camel’s Bar down the street offered 15-ounce steins of draft beer for 15 cents. They could also make a most restorative hot toddy if you had a cold. New York State at that time allowed 18-year-olds to drink. Having arrived from a state where the minimum age was 21, I became a newly-legal drinker who took a full minute or two to adapt to this novel situation. Many of us had extended “discussions” and “seminars” at Camel’s, and if I ever remember the wise insights and profound conclusions of any of these, I’ll post an addendum to this report. Fortunately I owned no car so I did not have to risk driving home to Esther’s from Camel’s. I remember once being stopped by a local constable upon walking home a tad irresolutely. We had a nice chat and years later I ended up following his advice: “You should finish college.”

My view was that the technical limitations and imperfections of the equipment were a very serious problem, and one that I did not expect to encounter. Nevertheless, progress would march on and eventually these could be expected to be fixed. The modular synthesizer seemed so much the immediate future of music that I shelved plans to study in New York. I told Bob I would like to stay in Trumansburg and persuaded him that we needed to start a magazine on electronic music. He offered office space and technical advice. Coming from a family of publishers, I felt I could handle the editorial and production work (or get answers from qualified people when I couldn’t). We set up the Independent Electronic Music Center as a non-profit entity and 2 years later Electronic Music Review appeared.

The seminar was a bonding experience. We spent more time in that group than we normally would with our families. We helped each other fight the equipment and struggled to put sounds down on tape. We were all in it together on the bleeding edge. And as the youngest I was the butt of much valuable career advice from people who had been around the track, whose hash had been settled, and who relished explaining to a youngster – “This Is How Things Work”. Friendships ensued and I’ve enjoyed ongoing contacts with various participants ever since.

Reynold Weidenaar

July 2010

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Herb Deutsch also published a detailed paper on the seminar for the Audio Engineering Society in NY in Oct. 1965, just shortly after the seminar. It remains the most authoritative document of the event to date,  and we recommend it for those interested in more detail. It is AES Preprint #431 and is available (for a $33 fee) from the AES Library website: (There are also several good papers on Moog subjects at their site.) You can find the paper here:  http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=1009

Each “studio” featured a Moog synthesizer with very few modules (by later standards). As seen in the photo below, J.D.Robb works on this early Moog system in the front of the “classroom”. It has only 2 oscillators, 2 VCAs, ADSR, and two controllers: a keyboard and a “slide wire” controller (like a ribbon but using a wire contact to slide across a resistive material, seen just above the keyboard.) The modules shown in the photo are early versions, and one is even a handmade panel to connect and choose between the two controllers. Each of the synthesizers had a unique module or two: One had a voltage-controlled low-pass filter, one had a band-pass filter, two had white-noise generators, and one studio had spring reverb available. It seems odd that the very factory that made the synthesizer modules would not have more to “go around” but recall that most of their work went into making amplifiers, and making quantities of spare synthesizer modules was difficult for the minimally-profitable small company. It is noteworthy that the one main studio was kept assembled after the seminar, and became the first “Moog factory studio”; the legendary test bed for many subsequent products and artists. An in-house studio provided a “demo room” for visiting musicians and a professional workspace to compose and record music.

JD Robb at R.A. Moog Co. Electronic Music Workshop – August 1965 (Bob Moog Foundation Archives)

The Concert:

On August 28th, the final day, a local concert was given as a recital to play/perform the pieces completed during the stay. The concert was mainly attended by the participants and a few Moog factory employees and friends. Much of the music used the new synthesizer, but (given the prevalence of musique concrète at the time) much of the sonics were derived from tape manipulation techniques as well. Almost all of the music was non-tonal, experimental music, so this was not the concert one would typically find in upstate New York in that era.

Concert Handbill – August 28, 1965 (courtesy Herb Deutsch)

 

Bob and Herb both kept reel-to-reel copies of all the finished pieces from the concert, and the 1965 Seminar tape in the Bob Moog Foundation Archive will be restored and backed-up when time and funds permit. The original master tapes were taken by the composers, and some of the pieces from the seminar were later released.

 

 

 

After the Seminar:

Dick Robinson was heavily inspired by the seminar, going back to Atlanta to found the Atlanta Electronic Music Center that same year. He later built his own synthesizer and also performed on various records as a synthesist.

Margaret Fairlie went to Mills College in Berkeley after the seminar, to work on first Buchla synth in their music studio. For this article, she offered an interesting comment after three decades mixing electronic and acoustic music: “I went back to acoustic instruments, I don’t use the synthesizer much anymore. I have an Ensoniq which I use, and modify sounds, but it’s not like creating them. The thing I found about electronics is… it’s something when you listen – in headphones, in my ears. It sets up a funny sensation…”

Robert Ceely had already been exposed to the world of Electronic Music, so much of the seminar was not new or impressive to him. It was, however, an opportunity for him to learn voltage-control and keyboard-controlled synthesizers. When asked how the 1965 seminar affected his subsequent life, he replied “Not at all.” He continues to compose and perform to this day.

Art Hunkins, however, felt quite differently, and with significant results: “I was affected greatly. Shortly after the workshop I wrote an article chronicling my experiences: “First Creative Encounter with Electronic Music,” which was published in the American Music Teacher Magazine. At the time, I was in the process of moving to UNCG (Greensboro, NC) where I promptly began to set up the UNCG Electronic Music Studio with an on-going series of small grants that purchased Moog modules.” This was the first such studio in North Carolina, and one of the first University synthesizer-based studios in the country. Art was studio director, teaching there at UNCG for 32 years, and composing and performing to this day.

Dean Robb started an Electronic Music studio at UNM and equipped it with Moog, ARP and EMS synthesizers, creating several incredible synth pieces in addition to a virtual mountain of other compositions in his life.

Reynold Weidenaar, as said above, stayed in Trumansburg and began publishing Electronic Music Review. Although not obvious, the magazine was basically supported by the R.A.Moog company. It provided reviews and listings of most known Electronic Music of the era, plus record reviews and analysis of synthesizers just beginning to be offered commercially.

(We encourage you to look up any and all of the attendees listed above; many of them went on to long, significant careers.)

A Final Note:

Well into the 1970s, Moog kept trying to crack the large “school market”, designing and offering synthesizer packages as being “educational”. Moog was not the only company to think this way – almost every manufacturer knew the large number of schools – and their associated budgets – and salivated at the thought of “a synthesizer in every classroom”. The ARP company succeeded a little by selling classroom-oriented instructional books with their own synths as the focus. Buchla made a small impact at colleges (even less than Moog) and EML started by offering modular instruments to schools. Although sensible in theory, the financial windfall of “a synthesizer in every school” marketing ploy never happened. As we know, it was the rock and pop stars who eventually made the synthesizer a common musical instrument…

Brian Kehew

Consultant, Bob Moog Foundation Archive

Los Angeles

August 9, 2010

3 Responses to “Insights from the Bob Moog Foundation Archives: Historical 1965 R.A. Moog Co. Electronic Music Workshop”

  1. Wheat Williams

    As I have discussed with Brian Kehew in a separate email, I have located composer Dick Robinson, who is alive and well and living in Atlanta. After the new year I’m going to interview him and report my findings to Brian.

  2. Tim Farrell

    A little disappointed you didn’t mention more about Franklin Morris. He installed a multitude of Moog modules into what was one of the most extensive instruments in the country in the 1970’s at Syracuse. An important adjunct to the synthesizer itself was the addition of patch bays which kept it all neat and tidy, much like Frank himself. An odd man, I suspect that his motivations were quite selfish in that it seemed his every conscious moment was devoted to his passion of electronic music. I now believe that he was probably under pressure from the university to allow non-music students like myself access to the studio in order to justify its cost. His dislike for us was palpable. His devotion to his art and his reluctant guidance were a lifelong inspiration to me.
    (In all fairness, despite his generally disagreeable attitude, once engaged he could become very approachable, and when one demonstrated that they were actually rather bright and equally passionate about their own artistic endeavors outside of music, he could be quite friendly.)

  3. jon robb

    in the early nineteen-eighties i took a survey course of electronic music

    history. i was vaguely aware of some of it. we had an assignment to produce a short composition so a local band member named Larry allowed me to use his bands synth. i had a ball. made a looong piece and just had to keep it all. i wish every thinking person could have a chance to
    just play and play and play around with one of these things. sad that every school didnt get one.

    my thanks to all you pioneers.

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