Not only did the combination of these modules work well, but the rows
of flashing lights made the Moog look cooler than any other
instrument of the day. After the filter, the 960 created one of the
most recognisable aspects of the Moog sound. The most creative use
for the sequencer was to provide a modulation source that varied each
time a note was pressed. Isao Tomita used this to simulate vocal
sounds to great effect on many of his recordings. A more obvious use
was as a riff machine — Berlin-school electronic rock pioneers like
Tangerine Dream relied almost entirely on banks of 960 sequencers for
their rhythmic drive, both live and in the studio. Former drummer
Chris Franke was able to jam with the 960 live, changing the sequence
length and other settings on the fly to create surprisingly fluid and
1968 & Onwards
By 1968, there was enough of a buzz around Moog systems to begin
making Moog a household word. First Abbey Road and the Rolling Stones
bought systems, and then, in short order, UK studios, universities
and solo artists took their turns too. Jon Weiss of Moog Music
travelled to London to deliver the Rolling Stones' 3P modular in
person, and was held up at Heathrow for more than three hours while
HM Customs and Excise officers pulled the machine apart so they could
search it for drugs. It survived unscathed — you can watch Mick
Jagger noodling on it in Nic Roeg's classic film Performance.
Mindful of the miserable quality of the 901 VCOs, Moog made an effort
towards the end of 1969 to improve on them, with a new design called
the 921. Available as a self-contained VCO (the 921) or using the
same bank and driver system as before (as the 921A and B), the 921s
were the first oscillators to play in tune and stay in tune. They
also included oscillator-sync features, which the Moog catalogue
suggested were best used to latch oscillators at fixed intervals. The
useful working range was also greatly extended — in fact, it reaches
up to beyond 100kHz — no mean feat using the technology of the day.
Another addition was the 928, the first Moog sample-and-hold module.
By the end of the 1960s, the entire Moog range was in place; almost
all of the earlier modules remained unchanged right up to the point
when Moog Music stopped trading in the 1980s. To take advantage of
the 921s, Moog produced a new series of modular systems called the
15, 35 and 55. The 55 is perhaps the most desirable modular of all.
It has the classic partly-sloped two-box Moog casework, and includes
all the modules you need to create both basic basses and leads and
more adventurous and experimental Moog sounds. This was the system
that went on to be used by almost everyone who ever used a modular.
The most dedicated Moog users often combined it with an older 3C
system to create a 15-oscillator monster. Less profligate users would
sometimes merely add an extra tier of modules on top of the two tiers
of the 55.
With the System 55, interest in modulars peaked and then faded. The
market was limited, the initial post-Switched On Bach fashion faded
almost as soon as it arrived, and by the mid-1970s, the modulars had
become something of a Moog sideline. Moog responded first with the
very successful Minimoog, and then by effectively going bankrupt. Bob
Moog first lost the commercial rights to his own name (although he
eventually regained these in 2002), then the company, and then his
job. Following his exit from Moog, he took on various design
consultancy roles for manufacturers like Kurzweil instead. Finally,
the patent and other rights to the modular circuitry expired in
the '90s. You can now build your own Moog using the authentic
circuits without paying a licence fee, or being sued.