Moog Music Recreates a 1970s Synthesis Colossus

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Keith Emerson (right) looks on as Moog veteran Herb Deutsch (left) and the lead engineer unveil the new Emerson Moog Modular System.

What does the most revered name in analog synthesizers do to commemorate half a century of innovation? If the name is Moog Music, it sets out to recreate one of the most iconic instruments of the 1970s progressive rock era: Keith Emerson’s Moog Modular System, the keyboardist’s groundbreaking collaboration with synth-design legend Bob Moog.

Unveiled at Moogfest 2014, a five-day festival celebrating the fusion of technology, art and music, the Emerson system is truly a one-of-kind synthesis colossus. Comprising 81 modules and panels—including several custom-built to the musician’s own specifications—the formidable, wall-sized beastie was built up, module by module, from reprinted versions of the original circuit boards and meticulously sourced vintage components. The painstaking attention to detail extends to the photo-etched aluminum front panels and wood cabinetry, an homage to the superb craftsmanship of the original Moog systems.

A massive three-year research and engineering undertaking on the part of Moog Music, the project would be impressive had a single authentic Emerson system been built. However, beyond just about everyone’s expectations, the synth builder has announced that a limited run of these remarkable custom systems will be made available for purchase. Price and just how limited the edition is are at this time unknown—but it’s safe to assume this knob-festooned monster will be well out of reach for all but the most ostentatious prog rocker and deep-pocketed synth enthusiast.

So while this announcement may simply serve as the stuff of fantasies for gear heads and vintage analog freaks, it drives home a broader trend in music technology: the demand for authentic, purely analog recreations of original instruments (witness Korg’s popular reissue of their MS-20 and newly announced plans to reintroduce another classic '70s synth, the dual-oscillator ARP Odyssey) to play alongside physically modeled digital instruments meant to emulate analog synthesis (Roland’s new AIRA range comes to mind).

The current mix of old and new technologies makes this a fertile time to delve into sound synthesis. With musicians finding new ways to mix the cutting edge of digital audio with time-tested voltage-controlled methods, even a humble setup based around a laptop and a few well-chosen modules can yield sound-generating power that can easily match even Keith Emerson’s massive rig. But listen to the keyboardist’s Modular solos on Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Lucky Man” and the ambitious full-length effort Brain Salad Surgery, hear for yourself the impressive might of these super-sized marvels, and see if you don’t agree that Bob Moog’s mission to design synthesizers meant for musicians to play (versus program) has not been in vain.