Walter Sear (1930-2010)

Bob Moog and Walter Sear at Sear Sound During Taping of “Moog” Documentary

With sadness we reflect on the legacy of Walter Sear, who passed away April 30, 2010 from complications from a fall back in March.

Sear may be best known for his commitment to quality recording equipment, techniques and for his pioneering work with synthesizer promotion and composition. He began is career as a tuba player, performing in the pit at Radio City Music Hall during the 1950s and sold tubas of his own design. In the late 1950s, Sear purchased some theremin parts from R.A. Moog, Co, the first iteration of Bob Moog’s company, and subsequently became the first sales agent for the R.A. Moog, Co., selling theremins and theremin parts. He took on the role of Bob’s business partner, as you can read about in our Archive Advisor Brian Kehew‘s reflections below, and played a key role in Bob’s ever-important meeting with Herb Deutsch.

Sear pioneered  the use and promotion of the instrument the Moog synthesizer. He devoted time and energy to educating New York City studio owners on the applications of the revolutionary instrument. He composed and performed on a custom Moog modular which he helped design and used it in numerous soundtracks from Oscar-winning best picture Midnight Cowboy to Jim Henson’s The Cube to National Lampoon’s Disco Beaver from Outer Space.

In 1970 Sear created New York’s Sear Sound recording studio, a facility renowned for its collection of vintage analog recording gear, including over 275 microphones as well as a Studer 1-inch, 2-track mastering deck that Sear converted from a 1-inch 4-track recorder used to create The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at Abbey Studio. Sear Sound became the recording home for numerous stellar musicians including Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Wynton Marsalis, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Suzanne Vega, Sonic Youth, Steely Dan and Nora Jones, Phish, Moe and more.

Sear was committed to the integrity of sound, always with an ear to the highest quality. For him, this meant using the best vintage analog gear that could be found. He talks about his commitment to sonic integrity in the video below.

Brian Kehew, BMF Archive Advisor, Reflects on Walter Sear’s Work with Bob Moog:

In the early 1960’s, Bob Moog was making only theremins. He’d left behind the big tube/valve versions of the 1950s and was having more success selling small transistorized theremins. His only commercial salesman was Walter Sear, already an established studio owner and engineer/producer. It was at their booth at the New York School State Music Educator’s Association conference (selling brass instruments and theremins to schools) that Herb Deutsch first came across Bob Moog. At the booth, Herb connected with Bob and invited him to see some “new” music – experimental styles that introduced Bob to the world of electronic music. Later, Herb requested a custom instrument built, which Bob designed for him – the first Moog synthesizer.

All the while, Walter and Bob are trying to survive in the music business. Making mostly cheap guitar and bass amps for kids who had just discovered the Beatles. I have hundreds of pages of correspondence here between the two, as they wrote daily (no email or faxes yet!) to juggle the needs of their fledgling outfit. Thankfully, Walter kept the paperwork, as it is the only clear record of those early days – when the synthesizer was merely an odd sideline to their daily work.

Notable is Walter’s arrangement to get the custom-made “Melsinar” to the Beach Boys – Moog’s first foray into linear (ribbon) controllers – in 1966.

Through 1967 the little amplifiers sold in the hundreds but were so minimally profitable that the R.A.Moog Company was in clear danger of extinction. Luckily, within a year, that odd instrument, Bob’s synthesizer, would take off, selling to schools and commercial composers, and a few talented pop stars and artists. Walter remained Bob’s salesman and demonstrator for the East Coast, as he was situated in Manhattan and could show the synthesizer in his modern recording studio. In the early 1970s, Walter was officially terminated as an official representative when the company changed ownership. Walter and Bob remained lifelong friends.

There is a wonderful scene in Moog, the documentary film by Hans Fjestallad, where Bob visits Walter to reminisce in his NY studio, Sear Sound – still equipped with his giant Moog modular. This particular modular synthesizer is recognizable on many 1960s/70s “Moog records” as it has a notable Maestro Rhythm King rhythm box on top at the time. The synth is featured on Walter’s own Copper-Plated Integrated Circuit LP, Dick Hyman’s incredible Moog records, Marty Gold’s Moog Plays the Beatles, Richard Hayman’s Genuine Electric Latin Love Machine, Sean Lennon’s first album, and many more!