Sound Worlds: Legendary Instruments of Electronic Music

From the Minimoog to the Workstation: unforgettable exhibits for the ages.

Emulator II (1984)Deutsches Museum

Setting the Tone

The music section of the Deutsches Museum is known for its magnificent exhibition pieces. Musical instruments from several centuries ago have found their home here, but modern music also takes up a large space. Legendary synthesizers that have decisively shaped and changed the world of pop and rock music since the 1970s can be seen and listened to in this section. An expedition through the phenomenal collection of objects on the Museum Island.

Der Minimoog (1) (1970)Deutsches Museum

Here It Is was the phrase used by Moog to announce their affordable mini synthesizer on January 24, 1970 which revolutionized the music market: the Minimoog.

While synthesizers in the 1960s were made up of huge, bulky components that were both difficult to use and difficult to understand, connected with cables in different inlets and outlets, the Minimoog sparked a new era in electronic music. For a lot of musicians, the Minimoog aimed to be as accessible as possible as a great-value, portable, and simple instrument which had all the components of the current cumbersome synthesizer together in one device.

Der Moog IIIp (1968)Deutsches Museum

The downside of a lot of previous synthesizers, besides their size (such as the Moog IIIp here which is also part of the Deutsches Museum), was their sensitivity to temperature and naturally also their price. Most equipment cost tens of thousands of dollars, and most synthesizers at the time were owned by record companies.

It was Bill Hemsath, one of the engineers at Moog, who constructed a prototype of a handheld miniature synthesizer, the MinA. However, it was never suitable for series production. An increasing number of Moog employees crafted and tinkered with smaller devices that were compatible with a mass audience, and for one simple reason.

Der Minimoog (2) (1970)Deutsches Museum

Around the turn of the 1970s, interest in synthesizers waned. The boom subsided, and it was because the equipment was too large.

Business also declined for Moog Music, and many were worried about their job in case there was a further downturn. Then they finally finished their ultimate product: the Minimoog. Before, it was still difficult to connect cables from one module to another and also to find the right socket. Now, the Minimoog had everything a synthesizer needed, like…

oscillators for producing sound as well as selecting the tone waveform, and even…

…VCF units, the electronic filter, to single out specific desired frequencies.

LIFE Photo Collection

The price of the first Minimoog in 1970 was a somewhat affordable 1,195 dollars.
By 1981, nearly 13,000 Minimoogs had been produced. It influenced the music of countless musicians—a small device for great performers. It was Keith Emerson who made it a standard instrument in rock music, but the Minimoog can also be heard in Kraftwerk's famous album Autobahn and b>Michael Jackson's album Thriller, as well as Donna Summer's disco classic I Feel Love.

Synthesizer Mini-Moog by Moog Music Inc.Deutsches Museum

On the 78th birthday of Robert Moog, Google even dedicated a doodle to the Minimoog…

Die Yamaha CS-80 (1977)Deutsches Museum

In 1976, the Yamaha CS-80—one of the earliest multi-voice synthesizers that could even be used to play eight polyphonic voices simultaneously—was released in Japan. The key feature of the CS-80…

Die Yamaha CS-80 in einer Detailaufnahme (1976)Deutsches Museum

…is its miniature control panel which could even be used to precisely program sounds with controls and save them to four different memory buttons.

Die Yamaha CS-80 (1977)Deutsches Museum

The memory buttons were located above the keyboard alongside a row of 22 buttons with preset tones. However, due to its huge 100 kilogram weight, the CS-80 was used less as a touring instrument and more in the studio. Two of the most famous songs recorded on it were Michael Jackson's Billie Jean and Born in the USA by the legendary Bruce Springsteen. By 1980, only 800 units had been made in total. Neither did the CS-80 sell well with hobby musicians, due to its high price tag of 6,900 dollars.

Korg MS-20 (1) (1978)Deutsches Museum

The Korg MS-20 released in 1978 was a semi-modular synthesizer, meaning that on one side…

…knobs produced and determined the sound, similar to the Minimoog. Here for example there were also two VCO oscillators for sound production and two with different effects: delay-attack-release with envelope generator (EG) 1 and the classic ADSR sequence with attack, decay, sustain, and release with EG 2. However, on the other side…

…cables could be connected to the patch panel to create different combinations, similar to the synthesizers of the 1960s. The big advantage of the MS-20 was its price, which was significantly less expensive than the Minimoog at 750 dollars.

Bands that used the MS-20 included Depeche Mode, OMD, Einstürzenden Neubauten, and even…

Korg MS-20 (1978)Deutsches Museum

...Alphaville in their first big hit Big in Japan, a semi-homage to the birth country of the Korg.

Yamaha DX7 (2) (1983)Deutsches Museum

Another legendary synthesizer model belonging to the Deutsches Museum is the Yamaha DX7, which was commercially released for the first time in 1983 and ultimately defined a whole era. Without the DX7, the synth pop of the eighties would have been unimaginable, or maybe had a different sound altogether.

The age of the digital synthesizer began with the release of the DX7. In contrast to the CS-80, the DX7 was a best seller. This was also because of its affordable price of 2,000 dollars. Around 160,000 units were sold in total worldwide.

Whitney Houston 1980-1994 (1986)LIFE Photo Collection

The e-piano, bells, bass guitar, and percussion sounds were especially unique. The sounds were produced through FM synthesis: a modulation process based on the principle of frequency modulation. Essentially, using two oscillators, the frequency of the first oscillator—now called the operator—is modulated by the amplitude of the second operator.

From Brian Eno to Level 42, Whitney Houston to Genesis, there was hardly any musician in the eighties who still didn't have a DX7. Naturally, Depeche Mode had one as well.

Verpackung Casio VL1 (1981)Deutsches Museum

The Casio VL1 was more a toy than a serious musical instrument.

Calculator and watch manufacturer Casio developed the VL1 as a mini synthesizer, touted as the new musical prodigy and a musical instrument for everybody. In fact, the VL1 was easy to use in its simplicity…

Anleitung Casio VL1 (1981)Deutsches Museum

While hours if not days had to be spent slogging through a heavy manual for synthesizers like the CS-80 or DX-7…

…the inside of the box was enough to be able to understand all the important functions of the VL1. For example, it explained how to play When the Saints Go Marching In…

…how to program an envelope curve with up to…

…80 million variations…

…and even how to use the VL1 as a calculator. The instrument primarily became popular through New German Wave hit Da Da Da by Trio. This track also turned the VL1 into a cult instrument.

Emulator II (1984)Deutsches Museum

One of the most popular 1980s samplers—a device that could record and save sounds and reproduce them in combination with other sounds—was the Emulator II. Even if it cost more than a VW Golf and was too expensive for most musicians, the Emulator II soon became the standard in recording and movie studios.

The total recording time was only 17 seconds, and the quality of the digitization was rather poor. However, thanks to the MIDI interface, the Emu II could also be connected to a computer and controlled via software.

Emulator II (1) (1984)Deutsches Museum

In early 1983, Phil Oakey of The Human League gave a small introduction to the world of electronic music on English television on the ITV channel and also demonstrated the Emu II.

Emulator II (2) (1984)Deutsches Museum

Audiences worldwide later saw the Emu II in 1985 during a performance by Ultravox at Live Aid in Wembley.

Korg M1 (1988)Deutsches Museum

The Korg M1, together with the Yamaha DX7, was the synthesizer manufactured in the largest numbers and the first of a new kind of synthesizer: the workstation. This concept included all elements required for easy music production in one single device. This example has a synthesizer, effects device, drum computer, and eight-channel sequencer. So-called AI synthesis is used to produce the sound. This provides a selection of 144 synthetic and sampled waveforms (4 MB).

Synclavier 9600 mit Computer und Turm (1988)Deutsches Museum

Not intended for the wider public but only for professional musicians, recording studios, and theaters, the Synclavier 9600 cost over 100,000 German marks. It was a universal high-end production system that offered multiple methods of producing sounds as a highly complex sampler and synthesizer. At the same time it was also a 16-channel, tapeless recording studio. The enormous System 9600…

…consisted of a high-quality velocity/pressure keyboard

…a computer

…and an equipment cabinet. This contained discs, converter cards, and analog and digital jacks.

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