Electro-acoustic History – Theremins and moogs.


So in my posts I am going to jump around a bit and as a result chronologically these posts probably wont make make sense. However what I am looking to cover is the broad strokes of how various developments came to be.

In that sense what II am going to delve into today is Synthesis.

The Theremin

1928 – The Theremin, patented by the Russian engineer Léon Theremin… funnily enough, was a device that while no great synthetic masterpiece was one of the first to really start breaking the box on interactive methods. Up until then people where plugging in weird instruments to weird electrical amps and getting weird results but Léon broke the mold by devising a way that a performer could interact via the two major properties of sound. Frequency and Amplitude.
Interestingly Leon was an engineer and not a performer so he sucked at playing it. I have embedded a link below to show someone who could play it. A lady by the name of Clara Rockmore. Pretty virtuoso huh… 🙂

Anyways, It is a pretty cool instrument and these days you can pick up one (or a kit) for very little. It is a fun instrument I can assure you.


The Moog

ah… the Moog. Arguably the most famous synth brand in the world, named after Robert Moog (pronounced “Mohg”) – although I often slip up and say it phonetically. oops
Anyway Mr Robert Moog started out making Theremins… funnily enough and then decided to get a bit more into the synthesis game.
Around the 50’s he started making the moog modular. A (possibly) gigantic room filling thing that was awesome for many reasons. The first reason (that is especially important to those who use Propellorhead’s Reason) is the idea of patching cables.


The Moogs were giant things that sometimes filled rooms. 

The second reason – These modular synths (and others like them) Introduced discrete sections such as Generators, Filters, and Envelopes. In fact any time you look at your Soft Synth plugins within a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), you will see a layout that was standardized back in the 50’s. Pretty cool huh. 🙂

It was pretty cool and all the experimentalists loved it. Up until these modular systems you really needed an engineering degree to make electronic music and this system put the music in the hand of musicians. However there was a problem. Because of its size there was an inability to perform with it. Musicians could not take it on stage. At the same time, Electronica was a pretty new genre and people thought it was all very weird! So as a result the most common use for Electronica was Sci-Fi movies.

Now. Next time I will talk about portable synthesis and how that drove electronic music into the mainstream.

Stay Tuned…


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