The BBC's Tomorrow's World program took a fascinating look at the Moog synthesizer in 1969, showcasing how this new electronic musical instrument was revolutionizing music. Featuring musician Mike Vickers (from the band Manfred Mann), this video demonstrates the capabilities of the Moog and how it enabled new sounds to be created.
"It produces sounds in a matter of minutes," says the narrator in the posh accent characteristic of announcers in that era, "which would normally take radiophonic experts with their complicated equipment, days of work, and multiple re-recordings to achieve."
To make music on a Moog, "All you need is a good musical ear because you create your sound simply by plugging into the right holes."
From the video
The instrument is made up of independent electronic units packed together into a compact console. There are oscillators which produce the sound, filters, amplifiers, and envelope generators to shape it. The sound can even be automatically triggered. You don't have to be an electronics expert to play the Moog. When you've done this, they can be played on the keyboard. Sound is a series of vibrations which traveled through the air to be interpreted by the ear.
Here the vibrations are generated electronically by an oscillator, and a simple continuous tone looks like this on an oscilloscope. Each oscillator can produce a limitless number of tones.
But sounds from a conventional musical instrument are not simple tones. There are a multitude of harmonics. On the Moog, the sound is made simply by connecting a second oscillator to the first and then repeating the process until the new sound has more depth to it. By connecting several oscillators, the sound takes on a special quality and any musical sound can be built up from basic components. Now the continuous sound has to be shaped so that it has a musical form when it's played. And a unit called the envelope generator does this by controlling the way a sound starts and finishes. Some musical sounds are made up of fundamentally the same kinds of vibrations, but it is the shaping of the note when it's played, which makes the difference between the sound of a piano and a flute. Once shaped, the sound can be played on the keyboard, which now controls electronically all the other units which have been used to create it.
The keyboard range can be altered so that notes never heard before on a piano can now be produced, as well as short notes. Long continuous sounds can be played on the second keyboard by running a finger up and down a stretched metal band. This produces continuously changing voltages, which in turn produce changing sound.
The instrument is called a synthesizer because the sound of any musical instrument can be built up electronically. A composer need no longer bother with a roomful of tape recorders and electronic equipment. His time can be devoted entirely to producing the music he wants to play.
The difference is that when he's finished, his original score looks more like an electrician's wiring diagram.
But once you finish plugging up the oscillators, you can play from an ordinary score.
The days of a one-man band are back again.