Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Robert Moog

As anyone who has gone to the Google home page today has noticed, today would have been the 78th birthday of Robert Moog, pioneer in electronic music and inventor of the Moog synthesizer. Here is an informative article from the Daily Mail. The very, very, very cool thing about this "Google doodle" is that it is a working synthesizer. If you want to play with the various settings, you can, and try the results by playing the keyboard. You can even use the tape recorder to record your efforts, though I haven't tried it.

This reminds me of a fascinating lecture I went to on recording software a number of years ago. A composer/technician was demonstrating what you could do on a Mac. Previously in order to do professional recording you needed a roomful of racks of arcane electronic devices. He told us that all this had basically been replaced with software. He showed us how you recorded on a Mac with one 'track' or channel. Then he showed us if you wanted two tracks, you just copied and pasted. Four tracks? The same. Sixteen tracks? The same. It was mind-blowing because what he was copying and pasting wasn't just the image of a track on a tape recorder, IT WAS ALSO THE FUNCTION ITSELF! Software had completely replaced hardware. The truth is that now you can download free software that will do everything that $100,000 worth of equipment used to be needed for!

Way back in 1969 or 70 one of the first classical albums I purchased (as opposed to borrowing from a friend's dad) was Switched-On Bach by Walter/Wendy Carlos in which a selection of Bach's music was performed on a Moog synthesizer. Here is a sample:

At the time, putting something like this together was a long, laborious process. It is interesting how well Bach's music survives and even thrives in this sort of treatment. I doubt it would work with Chopin because you would miss the subtleties of rubato. But some Bach, not all, works very well.


RG said...

Your post gives some direction to Google's reminder. Thanks.

You raise another issue though: What, really, can/not be done with electronics in packaging music?

Cherry-picking from your words, you say there is "free software that will do everything" although "you would miss the subtleties of rubato".

I noticed a brief struggle over this in the recent movie "The Vow". The skeptical side against the villainous and philistine in-laws is taken passionately by the main male character (and, by implication, by the movie writers or producers, who probably know a bit about publishing music).

How sayeth TheMusicSalon?

QPT said...

Creative animation doodle by google for BobMoog

Bryan Townsend said...

Hi RG,

I'm an expert in most things regarding music EXCEPT the technology. I've spent quite a bit of time in a digital recording studio but it was years ago and quite primitive compared to what they have now.

Basically, where you used to have to have a room full of racks of stuff, a huge mixing board and a big tape machine, now all you need is a mike, a digital converter box and a laptop with the software. No, really, that's it. You still need a good acoustic space, but for classical music a church or chapel works just fine.

That remark about the "subtleties of rubato" might have been incorrect as I don't know exactly how they put together either the original Switched-On Bach album or its sequels. They may or may not have been using something called a "click track" that enables each separate track to be coordinated with the others. That pretty much prevents any real rubato. But you wouldn't much notice in a piece that just bounces along like that Sinfonia.

I haven't see The Vow, alas. The only film I have seen in the last three years was The Avengers a couple of weeks ago!

I'll bet you have an interesting question, but don't have the vocabulary to ask it?