Sunday, February 6, 2011
MAGNIFIERS: ANALOG DAYS by Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco
Subtitled "The Invention and Impact Of The Moog Synthesizer", this 2002 publication goes well beyond any type of hero-worship and presents a thoroughly realistic picture of not only the initial conception of Bob Moog's groundbreaking instrument, but the cultural history that shaped its welcome. Its cast of characters is well known to anyone who has worked with electronic sound: Vladimir Ussachevsky, Morton Subotnick, Wendy Carlos, Beaver & Krause, Don Buchla, Suzanne Ciani, Keith Emerson, and many, many others. This book thankfully avoids esoteric electronic theory and sticks with the essential language of waveforms, amplifiers, filters, and modulation, making it an interesting read for even the least informed of synthesists. I found myself especially intrigued with much of the anecdotal information contained here, especially those moments when we get a glimpse of that other design visionary, Don Buchla. There seems to be very little of substance written about Buchla and his beginnings, and he seems to be a very affable, yet private man (I've spoken to him a few times on the phone), so those chapters are a treasure. He's written that "fame, fortune, and financial success are of secondary importance", and that making quality instruments is his primary concern. Strangely enough, Bob Moog may have started out on similar footing, only to find himself swept away by market pressures and celebrity. An ironic twist is only hinted at in this book, but comes to me from a very reliable source, that later in life Moog regretted bowing to the limits of the pop marketplace with his keyboard controlled synths, and wanted to design a much more experimental instrument like his early, wildly unpredictable modular instruments. That's a chapter for the next edition of this informative and enjoyable book.