Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Patrick Moraz Double Minimoog

It might take me a little while to get there, but give me a minute or two and I’ll make it. I promise.

It all started many years ago when I got Chris Squire’s solo album Fish out of Water. I’m a huge Squire fan, and I’ve always loved that album. The problem is, I only had it on vinyl so I couldn’t really play it anymore. I don’t really like re-buying the same albums again and again, except for a very few. (Some notable exceptions are Close to the Edge, of which I have far too many copies, mostly because I kept wearing them out from playing the LPs so often when I was a lad, and also 2001, which sorta counts and sorta doesn’t because it’s both a book and a movie and I have several copies of each. But I digress. Although I -did- warn you of that at the beginning.)

Anyway, I’ve never really loved buying music from iTunes because of the DRM, although I’ve bought a good amount of music there over the years, so I’ve recently started to buy mp3s from Amazon’s music store. No DRM, which is actually rather refreshing (but I digress again). The beauty of this is that it’s actually pretty inexpensive for many older albums. I got Fish Out Of Water and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway for US$14 for both of them together. That’s not a bad deal.

I’m getting there. Trust me.

The point of this is that I just about a week ago got Fish Out of Water, and while I certainly remembered the album, I had more or less forgotten that Patrick Moraz plays most of the synthesizers on it. It was almost a revelation. After the first time I listened to it, I almost immediately played the Relayer album. And that brings me to Moraz’s incredible synth sound. I’ve had Relayer since the early ’70s when it came out, but despite having played many synths in my time I was never sure how Moraz got that “liquidy” in-motion kind of joyful sound out of his synths. 

If you want to hear what I’m talking about, it’s in the middle of The Gates of Delirium, after the “war” section but before Soon, right after the drum bashing and right before Steve Howe’s slide guitar solo. The Moraz solo synth part comes in at 12:48 in the studio recording. It’s like he’s got a slow sweeping LFO on the cutoff frequency at the same time that he’s got a much faster frequency modulation going on for vibrato (which maybe he did with the pitch bend wheel). Incredible technique.

I was just a little too young to have seen him with Yes, being only around 13 or so when he was with them. I’ve seen him play with Bill Bruford several times on their piano and drums tours, though, so I don’t feel deprived too much. But ever since I got Relayer I’ve always wondered what he used to get those sounds.

So naturally, in order to find out I turned to the Analog Heaven mailing list, where I enjoyed a good discussion with several people who were there at some of those early ’70s Yes shows, and where I was also directed to various YouTube videos. It turns out that Moraz played a pile of Minimoogs! I was completely surprised when I found this out. I actually own four Moogs—two Minis, one a Model D and one a Voyager, a Little Phatty and a Multimoog. I would never have guessed in a million years that Moraz was playing a Minimoog. I’m going to have to try a few things now, such as a Harmonizer or my Moogerfooger phase shifter, to see if I can get something approaching that incredible sound. It just doesn’t sound like a Minimoog to me.

I’m almost there. I promise.

So, in my research I was directed to the Yes show at Queens Park, where I saw him playing some kind of odd keyboard thing that could do two notes at once. Not the one he played for the solo mentioned above, but a different one on the side facing the drums. Unfortunately, the only decent shot of it was from below him. You could only see that he was using both hands, but not what the instrument was. I couldn’t for the life of me think of a black duophonic synthesizer that existed at around that time. And now that brings me to the Cantos Music Foundation. Unbelievable! They actually have the very instrument Moraz was playing in the video. And guess what? It’s a Minimoog also! Apparently Moraz had the some custom work done on two Minis, one black and one natural wood. They took the electronics section out of one and the keyboard out of the other and swapped them, putting the electronics into the space the keyboard one occupied and vice versa. He ended up with a dual keyboard in one case and a dual Minimoog in the other, and those two-note synth lines I was hearing was Moraz playing both keyboards at once. In fact, you can see him doing that but using only one hand at times, leaving his other hand free to play something else. Another incredibly innovative technique and a sound that’s very hard to duplicate.

I feel like I’ve learned a lot this week. I’ve talked to a lot of people on the AH list, seen a lot of videos, and been to more than a few web sites. I was hoping to find a good photo taken from the audience so I could see exactly what Moraz was playing, but finding the Cantos Foundation photos was a huge stroke of luck. I’ve been to their web site before, and I’ve actually seen that photo before as well, but I never really made the connection between those early Minimoog photos and Patrick Moraz. True serendipity. I don’t often find myself in Calgary, but the next time I do I’ll be sure to drop by so I can see some of their amazing instruments in person.

Photo, number 79, used with the kind permission of the Cantos Music Foundation

1 comment:

the Nail said...

Wow, I can't believe I just found this! I actually got to see this machine close up - my tech in Peirmont NY was given the job of restoring it. Really exciting. That was a few years back...I too had forgotten about it, but looking through some info on the Vintage Synth Website (I'm selling my Pro One) I was suddenly possesed with a desire to see a picture of it again. Great article! Thanks Seth. FYI If you're around NYC on Nov 17th I'll be at the Iridium with the Mahavishnu Project. Come by and say hi - it's been too long. :)