Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesiser is a
nonfiction book that gives the reader a glimpse into the invention
of the synthesiser, its metamorphosis from huge monstrosity to
portable keyboard instrument, and the rise and fall of the company
that introduced this invention to the world, Moog Music, Inc.
On the down side, I found the authors' romanticising prose a bit
much at times. While the instrument was unlike any heard before,
and offered countless new musical possibilities, I'm not convinced
that it expanded anyone's consciousness, was comparable to space
travel, or encouraged a Videodrome style symbiosis between human and
machine. The popularity of this new instrument was intertwined with
sixties counterculture and LSD use, which probably goes some way to
explaining why its novel sounds were so hyped up at the time, but
the authors perpetuate such exaggerated comparisons despite having
the clarity of hindsight.
Having said that, I appreciate the fact that it's hard to use the
current vocabulary to describe sounds no one had ever heard before.
As the authors point out, that was even the reason that the patches
which slightly resembled familiar sounds and were easier to describe
became more popular than the esoteric ones, simply because musicians
could easily request such a sound from the engineers who knew how
to rig up a patch.
On the plus side, the authors go into great detail about not only
the technology itself but also the people who shaped it into what
it is today. They include various quotes from interviews they conducted with composers, musicians,
engineers and even salesmen, and talk about both the people who
understood its potential and used it to make radically original
music, and the popular rock stars of the time who wanted a new sound
but didn't want to learn how to patch it together.
Most importantly, the authors show why the synthesiser evolved the
way it did. Don Buchla and Bob Moog created similar modular
synthesisers at roughly the same time, but Buchla surrounded himself
with avant guard composers and faded into obscurity, whereas Moog
listened to the musicians buying his synthesiser, refined its design
to suit their needs, and helped the new instrument gain popularity.
While Buchla kept his complex modular synthesiser as it was, Moog
built a keyboard for his to make it easier to play modern (twelve
tone equal temperament) music on it. This made it less versatile
but much more practical. One of his employees took the idea of a
practical synthesiser a step further, hardwiring everything together
to make it less intimidating, and the resulting product - the Minimoog
- became the template for almost every synthesiser made since then,
with its built-in keyboard and no complex wiring in sight.
In amongst this information, Analog Days contains various black and
white photos of musicians, album covers and synthesisers, including
several prototypes of the Minimoog. While not as important as the
text, it's certainly interesting to see how the instrument evolved.
The book also has a discography to help you hunt down influential
albums from Autobahn to Zero Time. Sadly, many of these are hard
to find, but it's nice to have a guide listing albums worth tracking
down. After all, the point of a musical instrument is to play it
and listen to it, not to talk about it.
Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone who's ever daydreamed of
owning a modular synthesiser or wondered why an instrument with so
much potential has turned into a little box with a keyboard and an
array of preset sounds. Be warned, however, that it will probably
make you crave an old modular system with infinite possibilities and