You should check out the recent documentary about the late Bob Moog, humble visionary and inventor of the synthesizer. This was a milestone invention, which had a massive influence on music over the past 40 years. Edd Kalehoff – my father and one of the most prolific television music composers of the last 30+ years – was friends with Moog and one of his earliest beta customers. In the documentary, there’s a discussion between Bob and Walter Sear, describing the Moog synthesizer as a massive handmade, analog contraption. It cost as much as a home or nice car in its days, Sear explains. It was such a radical and complicated machine that selling it was really all about selling the concept of creating sounds that never existed before.
Sear mentioned that advertising music houses were among the first to embrace the Moog, partly driven by their interest in its potential to replace expensive, live musicians. That may be true, but that was not Edd Kalehoff, who started in commercials before moving to program themes. Edd is one of the greatest innovators of all time in marrying new technologies (like the synthesizer) with live musicians and big orchestras, while keeping true to classical musical foundation. This notion, led by Edd’s creativity and talent, is what created some of the most memorable (television) music of all time, such as themes for The Price Is Right, Monday Night Football and Nightline among hundreds of others.
Sear also noted that “Edd was the one of the more proficient performers on the Moog” synthesizer. Sear is right. Put aside the fact that Edd’s ability to jam on the Moog was sought by many (including Quincy Jones for his theme from “The Anderson Tapes” ). And DO consider the 1973 Schaefer beer commercial featuring Edd playing the Moog. He really jams out! I’m proud to say that’s my dad in the most obnoxious polyester shirt ever made; it’s better than the spandex bicycle shorts he fell in love with in the 1980s! If Schaefer had any sense, they’d put this commercial back on the air in its original form. It defines cool. It could help them become the number-one selling beer again.
Decades after the invention of the Moog, the democratization of technology and publishing has also extended to music. With the exception of a few cult fans/owners, the Moog has been supplanted by newer, cheaper, mass-produced digital synthesizers. The synthesizer is no longer a mysterious, rebellious gadget, but a mainstay. And in most cases, especially the most serious ones, synthesizers haven’t replaced live musicians. Rather, the synthesizer has become another member of the band. (But I do worry about one trend: democratized publishing technologies are contributing to media fragmentation, which overall is positive – it’s about catering to the niches. But one negative is that some of the best musical compositions over the past 50 years were funded as a result of mass-media programming and the advertiser dollars that followed. Great music and art has to be funded somehow. I’ll expand on this idea later, perhaps with an Edd interview.)
So what’s happened to that old Moog synthesizer in the Schaefer beer commercial? My father’s 5,000 square-foot recording studio in Manhattan (where the Moog lived) closed last year, to be replaced by a home studio in my old childhood bedroom in New Rochelle, New York. (Jeff Jarvis really is on to something with his Small Is the New Big. But alongside the new miniature digital sound-mixing board and synthesizers lies that relic, the Moog, still in working condition. And the live musicians who travel out to Westchester County to play for Edd’s recording sessions are awed by it more than ever before.