Moog Modular Co-Inventor Herbert Deutsch Has Died At The Age Of 90

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Composer and educator Herb Deutsch, the co-inventor of the Moog synthesizer with Bob Moog, died yesterday at the age of 90.

Herb Deutsch (1932-2022) met Bob Moog in 1963. At the time, Deutsch had built a DIY theremin from one of Bob Moog’s kits, and was interested in exploring the possibilities of electronic instruments.

Deutsch with the Moog modular prototype

In the following year, Moog and Deutsch collaborated on the design of the original Moog modular. An example of Deutsch’s influence was the creation of the envelope generator.

Deutsch expressed the musical need for a way to articulate notes, rather than have them be gated by key presses. Moog had Deutsch run to the hardware store and get a doorbell switch, which Moog then wired to trigger an envelope generator.

The design decisions they made with the early Moog modular have been hugely influential, with core modules like VCO, VCA, VCF & EG and the emphasis on subtractive synthesis helping to define many synth designs to this day. While these synth design elements may seem inevitable now, they were not at the time, when the idea of a ‘synthesizer’ was still being created.

“It would be impossible to overstate Herb’s contribution to the Moog legacy,” notes Michelle Moog-Koussa, Executive Director of the Bob Moog Foundation. “It was Herb who approached Bob about developing a device to make new sounds for his experimental jazz compositions. Bob was intrigued, and the two men then collaborated on what would become the Moog synthesizer prototype, with Herb explaining the musician’s needs and Bob designing the circuitry in response.”

Deutsch also created the first composition for the Moog synthesizer, Jazz Images: A Work Song in Blues:

Deutsch also was one of the first musicians to perform live with the Moog synthesizer, starting in 1965 with the New York Improvisation Quartet, and, infamously, at the 1969 Jazz in the Garden concert at the New York Museum Of Modern Art.

Deutsch was the subject of a recent documentary by Moog Music, embedded below, which is a great introduction to the man, and an opportunity to hear stories of the early days of synthesis in his voice:

Deutsch taught at Hofstra University for over 50 years, and Hofstra helped fund the original Moog synthesizer, with a $200 research grant. Deutsch was a Hofstra University Professor Emeritus of Music in 2010, when the University honored him with a ceremony unveiling a display commemorating his role, and the role of Hofstra, in the creation of the first Moog modular synthesizer.

Here’s Deutsch, in a video by Michael Sterling, discussing the Minimoog and it’s influence on music:

Here are Moog and Deutsch, at the Museum Of Modern Art in New York in 1969, on the day of their Jazz In The Garden performance – looking like the young pioneers that they were:

You can find out more about Deutsch and his work at his site.

Images: Moog Music, Herb Deutsch, The Henry Ford Museum

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