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Hans Fjellestad's 'Moog'

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Sunday January 23, 2005

The Observer

The name actually rhymes with 'vogue', but the incorrect phonetic pronunciation somehow seems more appropriate to the noises made by the eponymous instrument created in the 1960s by Dr Robert A. Moog, visionary inventor of the modern synthesiser. It's hard to argue with Rick Wakeman's testimony: '[Moog] came up with an instrument which made sounds nothing else could - an instrument with the X-factor.'

Director Hans Fjellestad's documentary, Moog, is a fascinating history of both man and instrument, featuring contributions from a spectrum of famous user/admirers, ranging from contemporary hip hoppers to grizzled prog rockers. Unfortunately, two of the most crucial Moog pioneers are missing: Wendy Carlos, whose Switched-On Bach convinced many that the Moog was actually a musical instrument rather than a toy for making funny noises, non-appears due to reclusive intransigence, and free-jazz intergalactic explorer Sun Ra does likewise on account of being dead.

The sight of Keith Emerson battering his telephone switchboard from hell is the highlight of a documentary on the Moog synth, writes Charles Shaar Murray

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very cool...ah, those were the days.....rick wakeman, keith emerson..broken musical instruments....... :lol:

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CKY used moogs throughout their album "Infiltrate.Destroy.Rebuild." i love the sounds that this particular moog gives...:)

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i used to love Sun Ra and his Arkestra.

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The Theremin...moogs older cousin

Meet the Theremin

The theremin was invented in 1919 by a Russian physicist named Lev Termen (his name was later changed to Leon Theremin). Today, this marvelous instrument is once again in the musical spotlight.

Besides looking like no other instrument, the theremin is unique in that it is played without being touched. Two antennas protrude from the theremin - one controlling pitch, and the other controlling volume. As a hand approaches the vertical antenna, the pitch gets higher. Approaching the horizontal antenna makes the volume softer. Because there is no physical contact with the instrument, playing the theremin requires precise skill and perfect pitch.

In the early 1920's, Leon Theremin came to the United States to promote his invention. He was given a studio to work in, and he trained several musicians to help bring the theremin into the public eye. Then, in 1938, Leon Theremin was taken back to the Soviet Union by force, leaving behind his studio, friends, business, and his wife. After a stay in a prison camp, Leon Theremin reportedly worked for the KGB designing among other things, the "bug" and methods for cleaning up noisy audio recordings.

The Theremin in Music & Film

Originally, the theremin was intended to replace entire orchestras with its "music from the ether." While that never quite happened, it has been used in many recordings over the years. During the 60's and 70's, bands such as Lothar and the Hand People, the Blues Magoos, the Bonzo Doo Dah Dog Band, and Led Zeppelin brought the theremin into the public eye for a short time. Then, the theremin slipped back into obscurity until the recent revival of the 1990s. Today, lots of bands use theremins, though few in a musical context.

The spooky sound of the theremin was used in several movie soundtracks during the 1950's and 1960's. It provided background mood music for such sci-fi classics as The Day the Earth Stood Still and It Came From Outer Space, as well as thrillers such as Spellbound and The Lost Weekend.

In 1993, Steven M. Martin produced a documentary entitled Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey. This incredible film provides an in-depth look into the history of the instrument and its inventor. The film features rare footage and interviews with music industry legends such as Robert Moog, Todd Rundgren, and Brian Wilson as well as Prof. Leon Theremin himself!

A Star Is Born

One of Prof. Theremin's original students was a Russian-born musical prodigy named Clara Rockmore. By age 5, Clara was already an accomplished violinist. But then a problem with her hands forced her to give up the violin in favor of the theremin. Clara went on to become the world's best thereminist, developing a unique method of "aereal fingering" to play the theremin with unparalleled precision. You can hear Clara perform on the album, The Art of the Theremin, accompanied on piano by her sister, Nadia Reisenberg.

A Family Tree of Theremins

In the late 1920's, RCA produced approximately 500 theremins, manufactured by General Electric and Westinghouse. Today, it is estimated that only half of these still exist. An effort is underway to track down the remaining models. You can read more about these theremins in the RCA Theremin Registry.

Electronic music pioneer Robert Moog built theremins long before he built synthesizers. In the 1960's, he produced such models as the wedge-shaped Vanguard theremin and the shoebox shaped Moog Melodia theremin. Today, his company Big Briar, Inc. produces the popular Etherwave and Ethervox MIDI theremins. Other popular models today include PAiA's Theremax and Wavefront's Cabinet and Travel-Case theremins.


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