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Switched On Rock - The Moog Machine

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    Switched-On Rock is an album of instrumental cover songs, popular songs from the mid-to-late-1960s, performed on the Moog modular synthesizer in an exaggerated electronic style. It was one of a spate of albums which capitalized on the success of 1968's Switched-On Bach by Wendy Carlos. Switched-On Rock was produced by Norman Dolph who also wrote the liner notes. Dolph worked in the studio with colleagues Kenny Ascher and Alan Foust; they billed themselves as the Moog Machine for this and one more project. The album reached number 170 on the Billboard Top 200.

    Norman Dolph joined Columbia Records in 1964. As a marketing executive, he focused on recording projects aimed at the youth market. In 1967 he paid for the recording session of the album The Velvet Underground & Nico, and he helped engineer it.

    After the 1968 album Switched-On Bach was seen to sell 500,000 copies, a number of albums were made to satisfy this new demand for synthesizer music. Wendy Carlos followed up Switched-On Bach with The Well-Tempered Synthesizer in the classical music category. Popular albums such as Switch-On Bacharach, Switched-On Country, Switched-On Santa, Switched-On Gershwin, Moog Power and Music to Moog By were produced by others.

    The idea for Switched-On Rock was conceived by Columbia Records marketing executive Russell "Russ" Barnard. Barnard assigned the project to three men: Dolph supervised the album and he tuned the Moog modular synthesizer, and his associates jazz pianist Kenneth "Kenny" Ascher and arranger Alan Foust played the keyboards and wrote the song arrangements, respectively. An attempt was made to synthesize drum sounds for the songs, but Dolph felt that the results sounded "kind of mechanical and ricky-tick." Instead, a rock drum kit was played by session drummer Leon Rix.

    The Moog synthesizer was difficult to work with, as it is a very complex device with many knobs, and a slight movement of any knob could radically change the sound. It also tended to drift in musical pitch such that Dolph determined to tune it every 15 minutes. Finally, the Moog was monophonic, meaning that only one note could be played at a time. If a chord was fingered on the Moog's keyboard, only the lowest note would sound; chords heard on the album were built up over several takes, or they were synthesized on a chordal device called the "protorooter"

    The songs were arranged by Foust as if any conceivable texture was available; following his charts, the Moog was tuned to synthesize each imagined texture. Some of the sounds heard on the album were discovered by "auspicious" accident while working toward something else. Using a 16-channel tape recorder, all ten songs were built up track-by-track in parallel; once a certain basic Moog sound was achieved, it could be used as appropriate for each song, with slight adjustments. Approximately 150 different textures were synthesized on the Moog for the album. In addition to the drum kit there was one other non-Moog instrument; in the liner notes Dolph challenged the listener to identify this instrument.

    Dolph said that the production team coined new words for some of the Moog textures, for instance they decided the word "gwiping" would describe "the act of sweeping a filter with a high regeneration setting... from top to bottom." Accordingly, a basic Moog organ sound which was "gwiped" became a "gworgan". They also coined "pagwipe" (a leaky bagpipe), "jivehive" (many bees swarming on the same pitch) and the "sweetswoop" (the roaring of a jet with harmonics).
    Track Listings:
    1. Spinning Wheel 3:17
    2. Jumpin' Jack Flash 3:17
    3. The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) 2:39
    4. Get Back 2:38
    5. Yummy Yummy Yummy 2:27
    6. The Weight 2:23
    7. Time of the Season 3:44
    8. Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In 3:10
    9. You Keep Me Hangin' On 2:27
    10. Hey Jude 3:45
    Total Time: 29:47
    Artist Name(s):
    Kenny Ascher – keyboards
    Leon Rix – drums
    Norman Dolph
    Release Year: 1969
    Album Type:
    LP 33 1/3
    Cover & Packge Design:
    Russ Barnard, Alan Kaplan
    Engineer(s): Stew Romain
    Label / Publishing
    Label Name:
    Columbia Records
    Catalog Number(s):
    CS 9921
    New York City, NY USA
    Synthesizers Used
    Album Locator
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