Review: Herbert Deutsch - From Moog To Mac

“It doesn’t sound like much when I play it. Maybe someone with more musicianship and imagination can get some good things out of it”.

This is Robert Moog during his introduction the Abominatron: the first prototype modular synthesiser. Naturally Robert is cited as the inventor of the Moog Synthesiser, but where would it be now had its capabilities not been thoroughly demonstrated by someone who could bring it into a musical context? Where Robert Moog birthed the device itself, Herbert Deutsch is regarded as a key force in propelling it into the domain of musicality – opening many creative avenues for exploration and taking those early steps into the unknown, throwing the instrument’s sonic possibilities into the air without a clue as to what may result.

From Moog To Mac tracks Deutsch’s changing relationship with the Moog across 30 years, from simple combinations of jazzy vibrato lines and low sustained piano though to luscious evocations of imaginary atmospheres, many of which – rather appropriately – feeling akin to drifting into the unexplored void of space. “A Christmas Carol” dates way back to 1963, creating a sense of meandering aimlessly through some sort of unperceivable limbo of electricity and radio waves; snatches of information broadcast echo between crooked guttural movements, Gregorian chant and the teensy scuttles of cyber spiders, creating a strange sort of electronic junkyard for lost scraps of communication and melodic foray.

The applications of the instrument are vast, often bleeding into the realms of musique concrete in the forms of eclectic sound collages (like the mash of speech, atonal synthesiser movements and Beethoven of “A Little Night Music”). One can imagine that a device capable of making such fresh and mysterious noises would be regarded with much intrigue by those wishing to push the concept of music out into the uncharted; a sound that has yet to be captured and placed in a snug bed of connotations by the general public, thus making for a perfect component of a music desiring the evasion of easy definition.

Some of the inclusions here are decidedly more bizarre. “Sleight Of Hand (Mister Magic Man)” is a rather cumbersome, plodding slab of pop from 1989, which I can only imagine gains a spot on From Moog To Mac for its demonstration of the synthetic imitation of organic instruments (most of which is lost behind the brash vibrato of the lead vocal). “Fantasy On ‘Sometimes I Feel Like A Child’” transits with a cinematic momentum, tipping between virtuosic shopping channel saxophone solos and soft woodwind utterances in amongst sparse surges of fake crickets. But even when Deutsch’s compositions grate against my own musical tastes, they are nonetheless integral to his endless expedition of trial and error; From Moog To Mac shows him to be constantly re-evaluating his approach as the surrounding musical landscape – and the instrument itself – mutates under the constant refinements of modernisation.