Meeting Moog

MEETING MOOG

 

All dressed up with no place to go.

It’s the mid-Seventies glitter-rock era, and I am drumming in a band with keyboardist Dominic and bassist Art.  We somehow got wind of a music store opening that very night, it being a unique enterprise at the time:  the store stocked nothing but electronic keyboard instruments.

So, it was off to hoity-toity Ardmore for the three of us, blending in as well as Joe Pesci’s character in My Cousin Vinny.  Which was especially ironic considering, other than us and the store employee, the place was filled with Main Line snobs who were there supporting their moneyed friend, the owner, and wouldn’t know a clavinet from a clarinet.  In short, we three were the only ones present that even remotely stood a chance of ever patronizing the business.

We were a flamboyant lot, used to disapproving sneers and not ones to let it annoy or intimidate us.  Also wise enough to recognize when we were on someone else’s turf and, consequently, to remain on our best behavior.  Dominic even played a bit on an electric piano, making it clear we were musicians, not some riff-raff there to rob the place, or whatever these bluebloods imagined “our kind” got up to.

Still, when the owner locked the doors (with us inside the store), there was a touch of trepidation on our part.  It was all for naught, as the real reason for doing so was the start of the private Grand Opening ceremony, with a special guest speaker and demonstrator.

When the owner introduced Dr. Robert Moog, three jaws hit the carpet simultaneously,

robert-moog at work
Dr. Moog at work

Although it was early days for synthesizers—so much so, developers had yet to figure out how more than one note at a time (e.g. chords) could be played on the instrument—we tuned-in Future Rock Stars knew we were in the presence of a certified genius and a pioneer in a whole new form of sonic expression.

In 1968, performer/composer Wendy Carlos sent shock waves through the recording industry with the release of the triple-Grammy-winning album “Switched-On Bach,” classical music with a MAJOR difference—every note was created by a Moog synthesizer.

Following her lead, more-experimental rockers such as Frank Zappa and Keith Emerson had begun exploring the possibilities of the original Moog synthesizer, a large panel loaded with an assortment of wires plugged into it, more resembling a telephone switchboard than a musical instrument.

The Minimoog synth, a compact, simplified version of the original rig had recently been released, and major musical acts were gobbling them up, both for the new sounds they produced and the portability that made the Minimoog ideal for a touring band.

The synthesizer had yet to revolutionize the music and movie industries (more on that later), but it had made enough inroads that Dr. Moog’s presence was A Very Big Deal to my trio, despite the remainder in attendance being oblivious.

original synth
The original Moog synthesizer was a monster!

“You won’t believe what happens next!”

Bob, as he preferred to be called, was a very affable host, going around the room explaining, in laymen’s terms, how some of the electronic keyboards worked, including the mellotron (which, to this day, those writing about music often get wrong.)

This, of course, built up to him showcasing his invention, demonstrating how the Minimoog could mimic the sound of a traditional string instrument, play unending rhythmic sequences with a touch of one key, make all the boops and beeps of a UFO landing, and so on.

Art, Dominic and I occasionally made jocular comments to each other; and, during one particular sequencer passage that closely resembled a drum beat, one of my bandmates ribbed “We don’t need you anymore.”  Little did we know what was to come.

After demonstrating the vast variety of sound the keyboard could trigger, the good doctor remarked “I know there’s a drummer in the room”—apparently overhearing the earlier wisecrack—and, with that, produced a small drum that plugged into the synth.

Then invited me to play it!!!

With someone holding the drum in place, I tapped away with my fingers (there were no drumsticks present) as Bob threw various switches and twiddled dials, creating all sorts of sounds beyond those expected to come out of a drum.

Your humble narrator was already a very advanced drummer by that point and thus I adapted my riffing to beats best suited for whichever tone Dr. M conjured up.  At one point, after we had really gotten in synch, I glanced up, only to catch Bob smiling and bobbing his head to the rhythm.

So, for just that brief moment, I stood there completely awestruck, thinking “Hot damn, I’m jamming with the inventor of this revolutionary drum, it’s Robert freakin’ Moog—and he’s digging what I’m doing!”

And all of this transpired simply because we got a tip-off about a store opening and casually decided to kill an hour one bored evening, before getting up to our usual shenanigans.  Crazy, huh?

Mini Moog Synth
The Minimoog

Prologue

It was no hyperbole when I mentioned how the now-deceased Dr. Moog and his invention changed the world of entertainment.

You know how a different musical style will come along and be considered “a new sound”?  Dr. Moog (and a few others on the same path) quite literally created new sounds, ones that had never been heard before in the entire history of mankind.

Eventually, polyphonic—meaning multiple keys could be played simultaneously, like an organ or piano—synthesizers were developed.  As were pre-sets.  In simple terms, rather than having to set dozens of knobs and switches in order to change over to a desired sound, the player could dial up an assigned number.

This combination was a tremendous boon to live performance.  No longer did a keyboardist have to fumble around in a mad dash under poor lighting between songs, hoping to replicate a desired tone.  Or worse yet, the band having to attempt to play along with a tape, often a disaster.

Instead, Kenny Keyboard can calmly flip to Preset 3, press both hands on a group of keys and fill the hall with the lush sounds of a string section, then swing over to Preset 9 for a “flute” solo.  If you have attended a rock, pop or hip-hop concert with a keyboard player onstage, you’ve likely experienced a synthesizer “in action.”

Though you may not realize it, synths are employed in many hit records, as well as familiar TV and movie theme songs.  But it goes well beyond theme songs.  Synthesizers often create background sounds and music, and simulate storms, battlestar shootouts, and so much more.  They are also incorporated in radio and television commercials, and may even be heard over the sound system at the local supermarket.  In other words, odds are quite high that synthesizers are a part of your daily life.

None of which may have ever come into being if not for some extremely bright individuals seeking to wed electricity to sound.

So, yeah, THAT “Robert  freakin’ Moog.”

 

Get Smart…on your next TV purchase

For the benefit of those not up on television technology, much like your cell phone, a Smart TV has scores of apps.  Random examples are Facebook, the NBA, video services such as Vimeo and Daily Motion, pay channels (Netflix, Showtime, et al), weather and world news channels, kids’ options, games and instructionals.  Not every app in Google Play Store is supported; however, there are plenty for every taste.

And owning a Smart set means no need for additional hardware, e.g. Chromecast or Hulu box, for beaming anything from phone/tablet/PC to television.

An added bonus is a simplistic—read:  low-tech—web browser.  Though awkward to navigate with a remote control, you too can be a TV star, pulling up your personal website or blog onto the big screen.  With the proper app and some patience, you can also “mirror” the photos on your phone so that they appear on your television screen with remarkable clarity.

But the “killer app”—at least on my Samsung Smart TV—is the pre-installed YouTube app (henceforth referred to as YTA.)  What’s so special about a video search engine we’ve all seen hundreds of times online?  The fact that that Smart YouTube app is NOT merely the same old same old one sees upon logging in at YouTube.com.

It is a vast improvement.  In fact, I consider this app alone to be worth the extra cost to upgrade from a traditional to a Smart set, when in the market for a new TV.  Especially when factoring in the $35-100 price tag on a Chromecast, Amazon Fire or similar video streaming device needed to beam content not provided by your cable company…which includes nearly everything online.

(And who needs yet another device?)

 

The YouTube app exemplifies what smart technology is all about and why it is so named.  Simply put, it learns and memorizes your viewing habits and customizes an extensive menu catering to them.

The most obvious and immediately noticeable improvement is in the layout.  Rather than the standard “Search bar at the top of a white page, followed by a single column of often-irrelevant thumbnail-links, the YTA screen provides 13 tabs arranged horizontally.  Viewers may choose from Recommended, Music, Entertainment, Technology, Trending, Comedy, News, Sports, Live, Gaming, Family, Food and Beauty.

White lettering on a red background for the selected tab and grey for the remaining is eye-appealing and easily legible while seated across the room.  Same goes for the white-on-black for the individual videos.

TV screen for blog
Though not visible in this shot, there are SEVERAL more rows to choose from via scrolling down with the remote control.

The other tab options are self-explanatory; but “Recommended” is the super-platinum jackpot.  Unlike, for instance, Netflix, wherein your viewing history is processed by an algorithm with—to put it nicely—“mixed results” when it comes to suggesting related entertainment that may strike your fancy, the TYA has an absolutely uncanny knack for finding anything from brief clips to full-length movies that very closely reflect your previous selections.

This isn’t simply a matter of matching keywords.  For example, if you watch The Creature From The Black Lagoon, your screen won’t be inundated with The Creature From The Haunted Sea, The Eye Creatures, Black Like Me and a music video of Roxy Music performing “Grey Lagoon.”

By the same token, it won’t necessarily just take the easy route and pull up The Creature’s Universal Studios 1930s high-profile brethren Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy.

For a better illustration of the scope of the typical YTA search, let’s use one of my own experiences.

I was curious if YouTube carried any episodes of the BBC comedy series Blackadder, starring Rowan Atkinson.  Question answered via the Search function, my future Recommendations included Atkinson in a Doctor Who spoof and as Mr. Bean in a segment not from the Bean series, Rowan performing in the London Olympics opening ceremony, and multiple skits from a live comedy concert starring the Englishman…all but one of which I didn’t even know existed, let alone were preserved online.

In essence, the YTA is the equivalent of a friend who is deeply into a genre/star/field/hobby and delights in exposing you to the obscure.

Take a moment to think about that.  There are, oh, a skillion offerings on YouTube.  Yet the Smart app somehow finds material so remarkably in tune with your taste, it could almost make you paranoid.  Then, it “remembers” your selections, analyzes the data and further fine-tunes the Recommendations the more you watch!

Incidentally, the intelligence carries over to the remaining dozen tabs.  Switch to, say, Sports or Music, and the first two rows will reflect your expressed interests, followed by rows dedicated to subgenres of the topic, not always related to your preferences.  Consider these General Recommendations, if you will.

 

remote control for blog
The Smart remote may appear intimidating at first, but it gets easy with practice.

The phrase “it pays for itself” gets thrown around far too frequently and is often dubious.  Not so with the price difference to upgrade to a Smart TV.

Since purchasing mine, utilizing the YTA and plunking down ten bucks a month for Netflix, I’ve noticed the cable box is rarely powered up.  And no more need to trudge through On Demand menus–more increasingly charging a fee for what was once free–when “there’s nothing good on.” In actuality, I rarely even use the YTA Search function, the recommended clips are so spot-on and plentiful.

It is becoming quite the temptation to join the legion who have “cut the cord” by abandoning cable TV all together.  Doing so, the pocketed cable fee soon covers the entire cost of the Smart TV and adds up to thousands of dollars over the course of the television’s lifespan.

Don’t want to give up local news, weather and sports?  You can change your cable subscription to the most basic package, slashing the monthly bill by roughly 60 percent.  The amount saved in just one year will cover the cost of two Smart sets!

Yes, you may lose certain desired channels on the second tier (some of which you can watch from their website, via the browser.)  But on the other hand, you will discover loads of previously unknown channels not on cable TV.  Everything from Wall Street Journal, Shout Factory TV, Hasbro Studios, Fashionation and All Fitness to Havoc Television, Sotheby’s Auction, Napster, Karaoke TV, The Museum Channel and Pluto TV.

 

To get an idea of the YTA screen’s appearance, here’s a trick I learned from watching a YouTube video…recommended by the YTA(!)  Log on to Youtube.com/TV)