For almost 40 years, the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World show was where many British viewers went to learn about the latest developments in science and technology, and back in September 1969, it turned its futuristic focus to a then little-known instrument called the Moog synthesizer.
The BBC Archive has now uploaded a clip of the relevant show to its YouTube channel, and it’s actually dated surprisingly well.
Leaving aside the fact that the video opens with Moog programmer Michael Vickers playing Greensleeves - a cutting-edge slice of late 16th-century electronica - there’s lots of information in here that remains relevant today, most notably a pretty good description of how analogue synthesis actually works.
“It’s called the Moog synthesizer,” says narrator Derek Cooper as introduces the instrument, even managing to pronounce Moog to rhyme with ‘vogue’ (“This is the last time a Brit pronounced Moog correctly,” says the waggish Eugene Port in the comments). “It produces sounds in a matter of minutes that would normally take radiophonic experts, with their complicated equipment, days of work and multiple re-recordings to achieve,” he continues.
Draper goes on to describe the various elements of the synth - the oscillators, filters, amplifiers and envelope generators - while reassuring viewers that “you don’t have to be an electronics expert to play the Moog… you create your sounds simply by plugging into the right holes.”
Once a sound has been created, we get to hear it being played using the keyboard and ribbon controller. “The instrument is called a synthesizer because the sound of any musical instrument can be built up electronically,” intones Draper. “A composer need no longer bother with a roomful of tape recorders and electronic equipment. The time can be devoted entirely to producing the music he [sic] wants to play.”
All of which makes a good deal of sense, though given the endless choice afforded by our stuffed studios and bulging virtual instrument plugin folders, we’re not sure how much of a time-saver the synth ultimately turned out to be…