AUGUST 21, 2017
In the summer of 2017, the UNM Robb Musical Trust’s Archives and Grants and Performance Education Committees realized a longtime dream of helping students follow in Dean Robb’s
footsteps by purchasing an electronic synthesizer with modules by Arrick Robotics, that replicate the Dean’s original Moog Synthesizer. Peter Gilbert, current Trust Chair and Co-Artistic Director of the Composers’ Symposium, and Micah Hood, manager of the UNM Music Department Computer Lab, worked on configuring and assembling all necessary modules.
Moog’s synthesizers were comprised of modular units sometimes custom made to order.
The new synthesizer, now available for students to work with in the UNM Music Department Lab, is a very close replica of Dean Robb’s original, matching whenever possible module for module with Robb’s. With this technology now available to UNM students and faculty, it will be possible to integrate understanding of historical practice on instruments like Dean Robb’s Moog into the UNM electronic music curriculum. Using a replica will also allow Robb’s historical Moog to be preserved for performance purposes and save it from the “wear and tear” of classroom use.
Brian Kehew, archives historian at the Bob Moog Foundation and musician and music producer, was invited by the Trust to evaluate the historic Moog and Robb’s electronic music four years ago. It became clear that Robb’s work needed to highlighted and that a more viable solution should be found to make the instrument accessible to students than just having the Moog renovated. Kehew’s evaluation of Robb’s electronic music reinforced the desire to make this technology available for experimentation by students and faculty alike.
Robb's electronic music is strong, worth hearing and promoting. This has never been a field where millions of records are sold, but there is a huge movement to return to analog synthesis; several dozen companies are now making these original-style synthesizers, as so many composers find them to be the best way to create new and exciting sounds. This type of sound and synthesis was dated for a few decades (80s and 90s) and is now considered modern and timeless again. JD Robb deserves his place among those early composers that most know, and no reason why some public attention would not bring that to light.
Secondly, his place in Moog Synthesizer and Electronic Music history of the 20th Century is quite undervalued. It's significant to note (not to mention all his other accomplishments!) that he was among the first people in the country to learn and use this new synthesizer instrument. Musically, it's like being one of the Mayflower passengers - each is significant for their placement in history, regardless of how they are known elsewhere.
Bob Moog first created his synthesizer as custom order for his client, composer Herb Deutsch. This was in late 1964, and in summer of 1965, they invited composers and musicians from around the country to come see "this new thing". Mr. Robb was among the 12 people who came to upstate NY for the seminar. None of these people became world-names themselves, but nearly each one went on to a career, either starting or working in a University music program, which did influence and change hundreds (if not thousands) of students. These few interested souls became like Johnny Appleseed, spreading the news about this new instrument, which would not catch public attention until 1969.
Robb began experimenting with electronic music in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until he set up an electronic music studio inside his Albuquerque home, anchored by a Moog Synthesizer, that his passion for the new medium took off. He was attracted to the ability of a synthesizer to produce new sounds never before imagined.
In all, he composed more than 65 electronic compositions. At a 1969 concert, he collaborated with the Albuquerque Symphony Orchestra to present “Transmutation for Orchestra and Electronic Instrument”, one of his compositions that involved both the Moog Synthesizer and an orchestra. A selection of his electronic works was presented at a 1969 international music festival in Trieste, Italy. As a pioneer in this new medium, he spoke at conferences around the world.
The UNM Robb Trust and the Music Department look forward to student interaction and composition using this newly acquired technology. Students are already showing great interest in the new acquisition. Stay tuned...