Revolutionary Minimoog Model D Makes A Comeback The revolutionary Minimoog Model D is being revived after decades out of production. To demonstrate what's made it so influential, Mothersbaugh brought one of his own Moogs into NPR's studios.
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Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh On The Synths That Changed Pop Forever

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Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh On The Synths That Changed Pop Forever

Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh On The Synths That Changed Pop Forever

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(SOUNDBITE OF MOOG MUSIC)

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Long ago, electronic music was created on massive consoles the size of refrigerators. But in 1970, the Minimoog Model D was unleashed, and its impact was nothing short of revolutionary.

(SOUNDBITE OF INSTRUMENTAL SONG MONTAGE)

MARTIN: Jazz-rock from Herbie Hancock, electrifying pop from Michael Jackson, futuristic sounds from Devo - all of these were driven by sounds from the Minimoog. And this year, Moog Music is reissuing the Minimoog, hand-building them almost exactly as they were over four decades ago.

To talk about this, we have brought in a huge fan of the Minimoog. He is Devo's own Mark Mothersbaugh. He's in our studios at NPR West.

Hey, Mark. Thanks for doing this. Thanks for coming in.

MARK MOTHERSBAUGH: Hey, hello.

MARTIN: I understand you have brought one of your own Minimoogs with you. Describe what it looks like and why it was so important to the music that you made with Devo.

MOTHERSBAUGH: This is from mid-'70s, this particular one that I brought along. It's got a keyboard that's, you know, like, four octaves. But the important thing was it was an instrument that you could fold up, you could take it outside of the lab. So in the old days, synths were, like, people standing around in lab coats touching knobs and dials. And this allowed you to move out of that environment into nightclubs.

MARTIN: Can you give us a sample of some of the sounds that you were particularly fond of using?

MOTHERSBAUGH: Yeah, I can play you some things, and...

MARTIN: You could probably play a lot of things.

MOTHERSBAUGH: Well, even if I haven't done them for a long time, they're kind of like - probably if you dissected my brain, there's probably a whole section that's Minimoog.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MINIMOOG PLAYING)

MOTHERSBAUGH: What I like about it - and it makes this - I could make this screaming banshee sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF MINIMOOG PLAYING)

MOTHERSBAUGH: I got to be honest, I love all the kind of more ugly, aggressive sounds just 'cause that's where I came from. It's like, I came from a time that was really ugly and aggressive. I was at Kent State when the shootings happened, and what we were observing was not evolution but de-evolution. And so we were looking for things that were startling and that were confrontational at the time. So those kind of sounds were important to us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SMART PATROL/MR. DNA")

DEVO: (Singing) He's been with world. I'm tired of the soup du jour. He's been with the world.

MOTHERSBAUGH: You know, I was old enough that I was listening to people like Jimi Hendrix who were - who was making the guitar - he was taking the guitar further than anybody had ever taken a guitar sound. And I wanted to know, how can keyboard players do that? And it's so hard 'cause we have these - you can't bend a, you know, like, a piano note the same way.

MARTIN: Yeah.

MOTHERSBAUGH: But on this keyboard, it became super plastic, and I could bend it even more. And so then you were in competition for, like, who could do the most expressive, crazy, synth solos.

(SOUNDBITE OF MINIMOOG PLAYING)

MARTIN: Yeah, that's weird.

MOTHERSBAUGH: Well, back in the '70s, it was hard to do stuff like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MINIMOOG PLAYING)

MARTIN: Is it fun to play? Compared to other traditional instruments, what is the physical sensation of making music with a Moog like?

MOTHERSBAUGH: Well, you know, it's - 'cause everything's so ergonomic, it's, like, right there at your fingertips. One of the things that left me cold when synths started becoming more compact or started going into computers and things, is you lost the physical reality of the sound. It's like you have little, you know, like, numbers and you can, like, change it in physical space.

MARTIN: That feels different than clicking a mouse.

MOTHERSBAUGH: There's something about it that's different than, you know, like, either punching in numbers on a computer keyboard or using a mouse to slide a fake fader or something, you know. It's - there's something that still, to me, is, like, really satisfying about playing things on the Moog.

MARTIN: Mark Mothersbaugh - composer, producer, synthesizer guru. He joined us from the studios of NPR West to talk about his love of the Minimoog. Hey, Mark, thanks so much.

MOTHERSBAUGH: Thanks for - oh, that's what everybody says. They all go, thanks for having me. Toodle-oo.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEVO SONG, "WHIP IT")

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