Documenting the Cultural History of Electronic Sound
By Cate Yu
The 43rd Triennial Council will be held this August in Palm Beach, Florida. Phi Beta Kappa delegates will convene to discuss the creation of new ΦBK chapters and the future of the society. Members will also have the opportunity engage with fellow scholars and attend a series of lectures on various academic subjects. Among the five keynote speakers at the Council is Trevor Pinch, professor of science and technology studies and sociology at Cornell University. His research focuses on the relationship between culture and technology, in particular musical technologies. At the Council, Pinch will discuss the cultural history of analog synthesizers and his book Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer.
Pinch’s affinity for electronic sounds began early, having built a homemade radio during childhood. As a physics student at London’s Imperial College in the early 70s, Pinch started to build his own synthesizer. After receiving a Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of Bath, Pinch relocated to Ithaca, New York, in 1990 to teach at Cornell University. There he began his research on the Moog synthesizer and its eponymous creator Robert Moog. Moog started out by manufacturing the spooky-sounding Theremins in the early 1950s. Less than a decade later, the pioneer developed and marketed analog music synthesizers. Throughout the 1960s the sound of the Moog synthesizer could be heard in the works of The Beatles, The Doors, and in the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). Following the release of the more portable “MiniMoog” in 1970, artists such as Stevie Wonder and Keith Emerson incorporated the new sound into their compositions. Descendents of the Moog synthesizer can be heard in various genres of music today. While digital synthesizers may have superseded its analog cousin, the distinct sound of the Moog is treasured by nostalgic fans around the world, including Trevor Pinch.
Pinch’s book Analog Days was published in 2004 by Havard University Press. With co-author Frank Trocco, Pinch is the first to document the invention of the synthesizer and its impact. He conveys the novelty of introducing this revolutionary instrument, and he chronicles the developments from its initial conception to its unexpected legacy. That the ubiquitous electronic sounds of 2012 can trace their roots back to Robert Moog’s basement is nearly arcane knowledge to music fans today. Pinch’s work demystifies and entertains, with interviews with pioneer artists like Pete Townsend woven into the Moog narrative. New Scientist magazine states that Analog Days “illuminates a defining technology of our culture.” At the Council, ΦBK members will have the opportunity to discover the story firsthand.
Cate Yu is a senior at Carnegie Mellon University majoring in international relations & politics, and French. Carnegie Mellon University is home to the Upsilon of Pennsylvania chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.
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