Herbert Deutsch, co-creator of Moog synthesizer, dies at 90
Herbert Deutsch, who helped develop the Moog synthesizer, a revolutionary instrument that opened up new frontiers in electronic music and brought a futuristic sheen to the landmark recordings of countless artists, died December 9 at his home in Massapequa Park, New York, Long Island. He was 90 years old.
The cause was heart failure, said his wife, Nancy Deutsch.
Mr. Deutsch, a music professor at Hofstra University and an experimental composer, teamed up with Robert Moog, an engineer and inventor, to introduce a modular voltage-controlled synthesizer in 1964.
With its otherworldly sounds, which could evoke both the organ of a Gothic cathedral and an alien mothership, the Moog (the name rhymes with “vogue”) was the first synthesizer to make a significant impact. on popular music. His debut marked the dawn of the synthesizer era.
“There were instruments plugged in before the Moog synthesizer, but none arrived on the scene with such awesome potential,” wrote Ted Gioia, the music writer and author of the 2019 book “Music: A Subversive History.” , wrote in an email. . “The first recordings of Moog music from the 1960s sounded like messages from the future, telling us that all the rules were about to change.”
Many of these recordings turned out to define their eras. George Harrison purchased an oversized antique Moog, which the Beatles used to color several tracks from their 1969 album, “Abbey Road”, including “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and Harrison’s composition “Here Comes the Sun”.
The Moog reached a wider market in 1971 with the introduction of the compact Minimoog Model D, the first widely used portable synthesizer.
“Within months of the first commercial Moog synthesizers appearing in retail stores, commercial recordings began to sound different,” Gioia said. The futuristic synthesizer beeped and blasted its way onto the pop charts in 1972 with Hot Butter’s “Popcorn,” and became a driving force behind such hit songs as Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn,” the disco classic “I Feel Love ” by Donna Summer (1977), the epic funk freak-out “Flashlight” (1977) of Parliament and the jazz-funk crossover hit by Herbie Hancock “Rockit” (1983).
Even when not the featured instrument, the Moog provided moody textures to timeless songs like Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up” (1973) and Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” (1975). He also provided heart-pounding bass tracks for Michael Jackson’s 1982 album, “Thriller.”
While Mr. Moog dealt with the technical aspect of his namesake invention, when creating it, Mr. Deutsch provided the perspective of a practicing musician, which was crucial in transforming it from a gimmick electronics into a viable instrument.
“Herb Deutsch was the catalyst for the invention of the synthesizer,” said Michelle Moog-Koussa, Mr. Moog’s daughter and executive director of the Bob Moog Foundation, in a telephone interview. “It’s no exaggeration.”
“Herb was like, ‘This is what I need,’” she added, “and dad was building the circuits. It was a real partnership between a designer and a musician.
Despite his impact on music of all genres, Mr. Deutsch was the latest person to trumpet his accomplishments.
“I don’t want to walk around screaming, ‘Look at me, I’m part of music history,’” he said in a video interview with Moog Music Company in February. “But I understand that Bob and I are an important part of music history, because that idea has been used in every direction music can go.”
Herbert Arnold Deutsch was born on February 9, 1932 in Hempstead, NY, the youngest of three children of Barnet and Miriam (Myersburg) Deutsch. Her father was a clerk for the Veterans Health Administration, her mother an accountant. With little money, his parents also operated a small chicken farm on their property.
In a detached garage next to the largest chicken coop on the farm, Mr. Deutsch, at the age of 3, had his first musical epiphany.
“For some reason I had picked up a long straight stick and, holding it in my right hand, I was tapping it on the dirt floor,” he recalled in a 2018 interview with Parma Recordings, a music company. musical production. “At some point during this insignificant action, I heard a note every time I tapped the floor.”
“It was a C,” he continued. “Then I tapped the ground about an inch to the right and heard a D.”
Soon he began “tapping melodies of music that I recognized as well as music that was new to me,” he said. “Suddenly I stopped in terror. Of course, I couldn’t hear those actual locations, or was the dirt floor really magical?”
He started piano lessons a year later, and at age 11, inspired by Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie, turned to the trumpet. He played in bands throughout high school and during his years at the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
One of his best-known compositions was the haunting multimedia track “A Christmas Carol, 1963”, a sound collage interspersed with recorded news clips and medieval carols composed to honor the four black girls murdered in the infamous bombing. the Ku Klux Klan bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama that year.
His rendition of another modernist composition at sculptor Jason Seley’s New York studio in January 1964 earned him a positive review in The New Yorker. More important, however, was the fact that Mr. Moog was in the audience.
Mr. Moog, whom Mr. Deutsch had met at a music fair, was working on his doctorate. in Engineering Physics from Cornell University while running the small company RA Moog, based in Trumansburg NY, which made its versions of the theremin, the electronic instrument whose eerie space-age sound was a staple of movie soundtracks 1950s science fiction.
After the show, the men and their wives went to dinner, where Mr. Deutsch and Mr. Moog discussed new possibilities for electronic music. Mr. Deutsch ended up ordering a new electronic instrument, which will be designed by Mr. Moog in collaboration with Mr. Deutsch.
With guidance from Mr. Deutsch, Mr. Moog designed an instrument comprised of modules connected by patch cords that allowed musicians to create their own vast array of unreleased sounds from scratch, whether simulating acoustic instruments or to create their own distinct electronic sound palette.
That same year, Mr. Deutsch wrote “Jazz Images, a Worksong and Blues”, the first composition for the Moog. Soon he was giving pioneering performances at Town Hall and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In 1968, Wendy Carlos released “Switched-On Bach,” a watershed moment for the Moog, launching the baroque musical into the Apollo era and the Moog into baby boomer bedrooms and dorms. Ms Carlos also used the Moog to conjure up the eerie sound of a dystopian future on the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film ‘A Clockwork Orange’.
After his work with Mr. Moog, Mr. Deutsch turned to teaching at Hofstra. In 1976 he published his first of three books, “Synthesis: An Introduction to the History, Theory & Practice of Electronic Music”.
But at the end of the 1970s, he joined the Moog company as marketing director and consulted on new models of synthesizers.
By then, sales of American-made Moogs had begun to decline as cheaper Japanese synthesizers from companies like Roland and Yamaha came to dominate the market.
Besides his wife, Mr. Deutsch is survived by two children, Lisbeth Mitchell and Edmund Deutsch, from his marriage to Margaret Deutsch, who died in 1996; three stepchildren, Cheryl Sterling, Adam Blau and Daniel Rogge; nine grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
The Moog synthesizer enjoyed a renaissance starting in the 1990s, thanks to bands like the Beastie Boys, Wilco and Portishead. But by then, Mr. Deutsch had moved on from his days helping design synthesizers. He was, after all, a musician at heart, not an inventor.
“A year ago, I texted him to discuss something, and he said, ‘I can’t talk tonight because I have group practice,’” Ms Moog-Koussa said. . “He was 89 years old.”
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