Industry Profile - Moog Music
The latest in our Industry Profile series looks at pioneer manufacturers and designers, Moog Music Inc.
David Luce, President of Moog Music Inc, Buffalo discusses the latest developments.
"We first introduced the MemoryMoog last year and it's been a very successful instrument for us, and as we have been promising everybody for the last year, there will be a sequencer in it and indeed we now have the sequencer with the MIDI interface now available. We have completed the development work on it now and the only delay is getting it into production. I think it is perhaps what you would expect from a sequencer - but it does have some unique features. The sequencer drives both the polyphonic internal sound generating elements in the instrument and also an external control signal so that you can, for example, link a monophonic synthesizer to it directly and run that at the same time.
At the present time this is Moog's only MIDI interfaceable machine, but as you might guess, from now on it's going to be on all the instruments that will benefit by its inclusion. The sequencer with the MIDI in the MemoryMoog can also be synchronised directly with a number of rhythm machines and other kinds of instruments which now have a fairly standardised clocking system in them. You can indeed synchronise this both ways either out or in to other clocked systems.
The nice thing about the sequencer is that it is built-in and what we did was to go for double function controls so that the existing instrument push buttons could be used. It is retrofitable to all the instruments in the field and those will be made available to be installed by authorised service centres. It's a straightforward job, just a matter of putting a printed circuit board inside and making a few connections.
The gap at the back of the MemoryMoog was intended precisely for this purpose. The new sequencer basically, although you have to be careful in putting numbers to it, is a 4800-note polyphonic sequencer, and then roughly has a 300-note monophonic sequencer section. It's a good bit of storage, there are larger storage in some of the peripheral types of sequencers but this is quite a bargain, believe me, in terms of cost and certainly adequate for most purposes. If you want to go larger you can use the MIDI.
Our Central Sales person, Jeff Burger, in the US here, has prepared a video demonstration which explains basically what you can do with MIDI, because even though everybody seems to have a general feeling of what you can do, it's nice to know exactly what it can be used for. What the MIDI does is to give you access to every control that's on the instrument. That includes the keyboard too, if you look at the keyboard as a control. So you can do everything via the computer that the player normally does in either playing the notes or turning knobs and switches. You can use it in just a playing fashion or tutorial fashion and develop programs to teach about synthesis, about music or both.
In my view there's no question, that teachers will want to use the MIDI, it's now going to happen. A lot of people have been unwilling to approach synthesizers because there has not been good tutorial kinds of information, but now somebody can virtually work with a system on a totally start-up basis: the computer is the teacher where it can work interactively or be a freestanding system.
We already have interface cards for the Apple II and IIe but the price has not been pinned down exactly. The sequencer basically adds $300 retail cost to the product and I think that will probably include the cost of the Apple interface. There may be a small amount above that because we are still finishing some of our own costing on it.
We're planning to link up to a Commodore 64 computer next - it's doing well here and in Europe. After that we're I'm sure going to do a bunch of them. Frankly, I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see a company or two spring up that does nothing more than make interfaces, because at some point it's going to be almost a whole business in itself.
There is another product which we've been showing to various people at the Chicago music show. This is the SL-8 (standing for 'Split Layered 8-Voice Polyphonic'). At the present time this instrument is just a working prototype using digitally-controlled oscillators but still with analogue synthesis. We also have some programmes going in the direction of sampling machines. This is a big step, but one of the reasons that I feel now is the appropriate time is that if we resolve what I think are some of the fundamental problems associated with digital synthesis perse - it's not really the digital synthesis that's the problem, for a lot of it relates generically to the methods and the techniques that you use to put the sound together whether it's analogue or digital. Synthesizers are things that have a lot of versatility and that's their great benefit. On the other hand, if they're impossible to get to where you want to go from where you are in a fairly straightforward way, then it makes things very difficult. You defeat the real benefit of the synthesizer - it's versatility, and one of our aims is to produce systems that let you deal with sound in a straightforward way."
"We're based in Buffalo New York and that's where we build all our synthesizers. We think of it as a small operation rather than a huge corporation, with approximately 200 people at the factory. Recently we have gone through some changes that will set us in the direction we want to go for the future. We've invested very heavily in some very sophisticated computer-controlled equipment that helps us build our products.
We use them in two areas - for component insertion and for testing. The first area, component selection, lets us set the tolerances we want for all components. These are then assembled onto a reel which is put onto an 'inserter' so that the components get stuffed onto the board completely by the computer-controlled machine. It runs on its own programme and it can stuff up to four boards at one time, running at a horrendous rate! Once the boards are assembled, they get tested by a computer which prints out checks on all the components - the tolerances and state of the transistors, the resistors and the capacitors.
It can also set and calibrate the boards where necessary. We feel that this is much more cost efficient, so we are getting to the point now where most of the instruments are completely assembled by machines and then tested by the computer, with maybe just the final audit, from an audio and a visual point of view, still done by people.
When it makes sense, we have particular parts manufactured outside the factory. On the MemoryMoog we designed our board layout, of course, but we don't actually produce the PCBs. We use as many common parts as possible so it's easy to service them.
"Possibly the single key to Moog's success has been its ability to listen"
After the general components, even the ICs are inserted by machine, but through an operator. Then all the components get soldered onto their boards, and here we use a flow soldering machine process. After that they are given their first electronic test, plus a visual check to see if all components are sitting on each board properly. If anything fails, it gets sent back for re-work. If it gets through that process, then it starts to get assembled into what we call 'sub-frame assemblies'. The boards are put onto the sub-frame - it's usually the bottom plate, (in the case of the MemoryMoog, the chassis plate), and then the board gets tested one more time. That's when we start making the jack connections, so that the important step of calibrating the instrument can be done by our highly skilled technicians.
When you have an instrument as sophisticated as the MemoryMoog with 18 oscillators, you have to calibrate each one, so by definition that makes it a complex piece of engineering. Recently, we updated our auto tuner, for instance, to make the actual calibration of the instrument much easier and it will pull in the oscillators plus or minus a semitone very quickly.
When the instrument has been calibrated by a technician, it goes for its final audio and technical test by a technician who is also a musician. He goes in a separate sound room and tests the system over with speakers and headphones. A reference file is made to complete the final testing and then the instrument is packed for despatch.
The 3 EPROMS providing control data for the MemoryMoog also hold the new polyphonic sequencer software. The sequencer for the new SL-8 instrument will not be quite as sophisticated as the MemoryMoog's. The SL-8 will still use the Moog filters because our surveys (including a lot of input from Europe) through our Interface magazine show that's still the sound people want. The MemoryMoog has a continuing programme of development and we are now coming out with a sequencer which is retrofittable as well as some other things in the pipeline for this and the SL-8. Our philosophy is to make a product that has a good lifespan. The consumer really appreciates that when he's buying an instrument, it's going to be supportive and we really do intend doing that.
It's very important to have a standard and I'm very happy to see that most of the manufacturers that we're speaking to are adopting that attitude. I see this as the starting point if you like and I know that it's going to mushroom out just like computer music - a lot of software companies are going to come out of the latter. They'll become a specialist supportive industry on their own and that's very, very exciting: just think of all the possibilities that can be achieved from computer control. What MIDI on Moog instruments, and of course others, will achieve is to bring in the home computer to serious music making. There are many people in the US, and in Europe too, with their micros at home and they want to integrate those systems - they don't just want to play video games the whole time, they want to do a lot more in the way of music and Moog Music plans to make a significant contribution in the years to come."
"Where we stand actually is very close to the musicians, the musicians' needs, as we always have been. We have consistently prided ourselves on the involvement we have with our artists and the closeness that we maintain to where the industry is and what people really want to have. We have established a very strong reputation as the makers of instruments that sound very good and because of that we spent a lot of effort in developing the very finest of instruments that use the Moog sound design in with analogue electronics. Of course, in the last few years we have added digital control and have developed digital/analogue hybrid instruments which sound great - the MemoryMoog is obviously a very clear example of that. We've continued that kind of development in our new SL-8 instrument.
What we're doing is putting together the finest of analogue technology with the latest of microprocessor-based skills and our engineers are very strongly adept in both of these areas. One of the main reasons for maintaining our work in analogue technology is because we hold the patent on the filter that creates the sound that so many people love and therefore we are obviously going to use that as long as it is an available thing for us. Moog is developing some very exciting digital instruments but at this time I can't say anything about them. What we have done is taken the most sophisticated technology in terms of digital control as seen by the very fine MemoryMoog sequencer that we have and combined that with the very finest in analogue systems. That is where we stand now, and we have hinted at where we're going to go in the future.
As a corporation, Moog is even stronger than we were a few years ago because we have divisionalised our corporation to the point where we now manufacture our musical instruments in one division. There's another division which is manufacturing in the telecommunications field, where we're making telephones, telephone dialling and other specialised equipment, and there's a third division which does limited sub-contractural work in the plant. Overall, it makes the plant more efficient, it reduces a great deal of the overheads and it allows each of those divisions to operate more economically and efficiently. The music synthesist division continues to grow, because that is the one that requires the greatest amount of research and development.
My own work with Moog instruments began when I met Bob Moog in 1963 - we dreamt about synthesizers and made the first prototype in 1964! Possibly the single key to Moog's success has been its ability to listen. From the earliest days in Trumansburg, New York with Bob and his little shopfront operation to today's sophisticated manufacturing facility in Buffalo, this company has listened to major artists as well as the average consumer. At that time I was a composer of the Avante Garde style, rather than a purely experimental composer if you want to use that term. I was interested then in Serial music and Pointillistic music and various multi-media things, and I did a lot of things for dance, film and projected images.
Nowadays, it's quite difficult to define my role with the company fully. I have been Director of Marketing for about three years and now I am going to move to a position of what is basically an Assistant to the President, involved with special project developments.
We can see too that the home music-making thing with fairly sophisticated recording equipment has probably had its beginnings in the UK - the States are a little bit behind in that area.
Already we've arrived at a new stage of development with the computer musician and micro music but we haven't arrived at the boom part, we've arrived at the *b' of it - the 'oom' is going to come in the future, I think."