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The New YorkerRobert Moog's moment of revelation came in 1964 when he and a colleague realized the acoustic possibilities of a pair of voltage-controlled oscillators. "It was my turn for my head to blow," he recalls in Analog Days by Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco (Harvard), a history of the Moog synthesizer. Electronic sound had, until then, been the province of the classical avant-garde, but the Moog came to dominate the counterculture—so much so that Mick Jagger hired one of Moog's staffers in 1968 to teach him how to play it.
Most musical instruments have less definite birth dates. The clavichord probably developed from precursors like the monochord and the psaltery sometime in the fifteenth century, but no one knows exactly how. Bernard Brauchli's The Clavichord (Cambridge) exhaustively charts the instrument's four-century career until its decline, in the mid-nineteenth century, when its extreme quietness put it at a disadvantage against the early piano. While music historians tend to dismiss the clavichord as a curio, Brauchli shows that it was crucial to music-making in intimate domestic settings and capable of expressive effects, like vibrato, impossible on other keyboard instruments.
A domestic ethos of a rather different kind influenced the rise of the Victorian reed organs celebrated in Manufacturing the Muse, by Dennis G. Waring (Wesleyan). Cheaper than a piano, these parlor organs appealed to the aspirations of the growing American middle class. Waring focusses on the Estey company of Vermont, whose instruments graced hundreds of thousands of drawing rooms, parlors, and churches. An accompanying CD showcases a dozen surviving instruments warbling such Victorian favorites as "Oh! Susanna" and "The Last Rose of Summer."(Leo Carey)