February 9, 2023

Herbert Deutsch, who helped develop the Moog synthesizer, a groundbreaking instrument that opened up new frontiers in electronic music and set milestones for countless artists, died December 9 at his home in Massapequa Park, Long Island, New York style recordings brought a futuristic sheen. . He is 90 years old.

The cause was heart failure, his wife, Nancy Deutsch, said.

In 1964, Hofstra University music professor and experimental composer Mr. Deutsch teamed up with engineer and inventor Robert Moog to introduce the modular voltage-controlled synthesizer.

With its otherworldly sound, reminiscent of Gothic cathedral organs and alien motherships, the Moog (the name rhymes with “vogue”) was the first synthesizer to have a major impact on popular music. Its debut marked the dawn of the synthesizer era.

“There were plug-in instruments before the Moog synthesizer, but none had such amazing potential,” says music writer and author of the 2019 book Ted Gioia “Music: Upending History,” wrote in an email. “The first Moog music records from the 1960s felt like a message from the future that all the rules were about to change.”

Many of these recordings ended up defining their eras. George Harrison bought an oversized early Moog, which the Beatles used to color several tracks on their 1969 album Abbey Road, including “Maxwell Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and Harrison’s composition “Here Comes the Sun.”

In 1971, Moog entered the wider market with the introduction of the compact Minimoog Model D, the first widely available portable synthesizer.

“Within a few months of the first commercial Moog synthesizers showing up in retail stores, commercial recordings started to sound different,” says Mr. Gioia. In 1972, this futuristic synth hit the pop charts with a beep “Popcorn” Hot Butter, and went on to be the driving force behind such landmark songs as Kraftwerk’s Arty “highway”, Donna Summer’s Disco Classics “I feel love” (1977), Parliament’s Epic Funk Bash “flashlight” (1977) and Herbie Hancock’s jazz-funk crossover hit “rock” (1983).

Even if it’s not a featured instrument, Moog provides a moody texture to timeless songs like Bob Marley “stir it up” (1973) and Pink Floyd’s “hope you are here” (1975). It also provided the powerful bass soundtrack to Michael Jackson’s 1982 smash hit album “Thriller.”

While Mr. Moog deals with the technical aspects of his eponymous invention, in its creation, Mr. Deutsch provides the perspective of a practicing musician that was crucial in transforming it from an electronic product into a viable instrument.

“Herb Deutsch was the catalyst for the invention of the synthesizer,” Michelle Moog-Koussa, Mr. Moog’s daughter and executive director of the Bob Moog Foundation, said in a phone interview. “That’s not too much.”

“Herb would say, ‘This is what I need,'” she added, “and Dad would build the circuit. It was a real collaboration between the designer and the musician.”

Despite his influence on all genres of music, Mr. Deutsch was the last to brag about his accomplishments.

“I hate to go around shouting, ‘Look at me, I’m music history,’” he said in a February video interview with Moog Music. “But I do understand that Bob and I are a big part of the history of music, because that idea has been used in every direction music can go. “

Herbert Arnold Deutsch was born on February 9, 1932 in Hempstead, New York, the youngest of three children of Barnet and Miriam (Myersburg) Deutsch. His father was a clerk for the Veterans Health Administration and his mother was a bookkeeper. With money tight, his parents also ran a small chicken farm on their land.

In a detached garage next to the farm’s largest co-op, 3-year-old Mr. Deutsch had his first musical epiphany.

“For some reason, I picked up a long stick I held it in my right hand and tapped it on the dirt,” he recalled in a 2018 interview with music production company Parma Recordings. “At some point in this senseless movement, every time I tapped Every time I hit the floor, I hear a note. “

“It’s a C,” he continued. “Then I tapped the floor an inch or so to the right and I heard a D.”

Soon, he started “tapping out some melodies that were familiar to me and music that was new to me,” he says. “Suddenly, I stopped in horror. Surely I couldn’t hear those real tones, or is the dirt floor really magical?”

A year later, he took piano lessons, and at age 11, inspired by the likes of Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie, turned his attention to the trumpet. He played in band throughout high school and while studying at the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

One of his most famous works is the haunting multimedia track “A Christmas Carol, 1963,” An auditory collage interspersed with recorded news footage and medieval chants in memory of the four black girls killed in the infamous Ku Klux Klan bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama.

In January 1964, he performed another modernist work in the New York studio of the sculptor Jason Seley, which received a positive review in The New Yorker. More importantly, however, Mr. Moog was in the audience.

Mr. Moog was a Ph.D. student Mr. Deutsch met at a music trade Engineering Physics at Cornell University while running the small Trumansburg, N.Y.-based company RA Moog, which built his version of the theremin, an electronic instrument whose eerie space-age sound is 1950 Key takeaways from the 1950s sci-fi soundtrack.

After the show, the couple had dinner, and Mr. Deutsch and Mr. Moog discussed the new possibilities of electronic music. Mr. Deutsch eventually commissioned a new electronic musical instrument, designed by Mr. Moog in collaboration with Mr. Deutsch.

At the suggestion of Mr. Deutsch, Mr. Moog designed an instrument consisting of modules connected by jumpers, allowing musicians to create their own vast array of previously unheard sounds from scratch, whether simulating an acoustic instrument or creating their own unique Electronic sound board.

That same year, Mr. Deutsch wrote “Jazz Images, a Worksong and Blues,” Moog’s first work. Soon, he was giving groundbreaking performances at New York City Hall and the Museum of Modern Art.

in 1968, Wendy Carlos posted “Switched-On Bach,’ was a watershed moment for Moog, bringing baroque musical theater into the Apollo era and Moog into the bedrooms and dorms of baby boomers. Ms. Carlos also used Moog in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 The foreboding sound of a dystopian future is conjured up in the soundtrack to the movie A Clockwork Orange.

After working with Mr. Moog, Mr. Deutsch turned his attention back to teaching at Hofstra. In 1976, he published the first of his three books, Synthesis: A History, Theory, and Practice of Electronic Music.

But in the late 1970s, he joined Moog Corporation as marketing director and consulted on new synthesizer designs.

By then, sales of American-made Moogs had begun to decline, as cheaper Japanese synths from companies like Roland and Yamaha began to dominate the market.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Deutsch has two children, Lisbeth Mitchell and Edmund Deutsch, from his marriage to Margaret Deutsch, who died in 1996; three stepson, Cheryl Sterling, Adam Blau and Daniel Rogge; nine grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren .

The Moog synthesizer enjoyed a renaissance in the 1990s, thanks to bands like the Beastie Boys, Wilco, and Portishead. But by then, Mr. Deutsch was out of his days helping to design synthesizers. After all, he was a musician at heart, not an inventor.

“A year ago, I texted him to discuss something and he said, ‘I can’t talk tonight because I have band practice,'” Ms. Moog-Kousa said. “He’s 89 years old.”

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