MOOG’D OUT! MoogFest, and the Legacy of Bob Moog

With the electronic
music/alt-rock festival set for this weekend in N.C., we pay tribute to the man
who inspired it all.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

“He planted the
seed.”

 

The “he” would be the late Dr. Robert Moog, and the seed he
planted was his signature invention, the Moog synth, which as most everyone
knows was instrumental in the evolution of electronic music – a bountiful
musical harvest.

 

The above quote comes from Dr. Moog’s daughter Michelle
Moog-Koussa, who as executive director of The Bob Moog Foundation
(MoogFoundation.org) is charged with furthering her father’s legacy. To that
end she’s spent the better portion of the past five years spearheading a series
of projects ranging from preserving and organizing the Bob Moog Archives (which
include vintage gear, personal notes and correspondence and hundreds of hours
of tapes); to a student outreach program designed to get kids interested in
electronic music and instruments; to the delightfully-named “Moogseum” which is
intended to display artifacts representative of the Moog legacy as well as
serve as a unique historical and hands-on resource for the public.

 

Although, it must be said, it’s equally clear that the
familial connection lends a personal element to Moog-Koussa’s efforts, too. As
she put it in a 2008 interview with BLURT, reflecting on her dad’s death in
2005, at the age of 71, and her subsequent decision to establish the
Foundation, “Immediately following Dad’s passing, thousands of people around
the world paid tribute to the effect that Dad had on their lives, both through
his instruments and through his warm, humble spirit. My father has a unique and
beautiful legacy of touching people’s lives through innovation, creativity and
human warmth. The Bob Moog Foundation aims to carry that legacy forward. As my
father would say ‘What’s not to like?'”

 

What’s not to like, indeed. This weekend, October 29, 30 and
31 in Asheville, NC, home to Moog Music, which continues to design and produce
in-demand electronic gear, there’s going to be a whole lot to like when some 50-odd musical artists descend upon
the artsy, bohemian-tilting mountain city and take part in a marathon Bob Moog
celebration that most observers agree marks the biggest musical event ever to
happen here. Full disclosure: I live in Asheville,
so I’m particularly partial to the city and its music scene; but I can recognize
a phenomenon when I see/hear one.

 

It’s dubbed MoogFest 2010 – official website is MoogFest.com – and it represents the logical evolution for MoogFest, which had taken place
as single-night events in previous years in NYC featuring the likes of Keith
Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Money Mark, Jan Hammer, DJ Logic, Jordan Rudess of Dream
Theatre and others. If you’ve kept up with some of the BLURT news clips about
the event or entered in our ticket giveaway contest, you already know that this
year’s event features some of the biggest names in electronica and alternative
rock, performing over the course of the e three evenings and at multiple
venues. Among the artists: MGMT, Massive Attack, Big Boi, Girl Talk, Van Dyke
Parks w/Clare and the Reasons, Thievery Corporation, Jonsi, Caribou, Four Tet,
Hot Chip, Sleigh Bells, DJ Spooky, Projek Moog With Brian Kehew, Nortec
Collective Presents Bostich + Fussible and RJD2. (Cee-Lo, originally announced as the
Sunday headliner, had to cancel due to a scheduling conflict, while just
yesterday DEVO announced they were postponing their current tour following an
injury sustained by Bob Mothersbaugh. As of this writing, Mark Mothersbaugh and
Bob Casale are still scheduled to attend and are reportedly planning to work up
some type of musical presentation.)  Shows
will be kicking off on a staggered basis around 6pm each night at the Asheville Civic Center,
the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium and the Orange Peel Club, and the performances will
extend until 2:30 in the morning with late night sets at the Stella Blue club
and the aptly-named “Moogaplex,” established specifically for MoogFest.

 

Meanwhile, on Saturday and Sunday at the Moogaplex there
will be daytime workshops, interactive exhibitions and panel discussions
ranging from several synth history panels (one, titled “The Birth of the
Minimoog,” will feature early Moog collaborator Herb Deutsch and Moog Cookbook
keyboardist Brian Kehew) to performance demonstrations involving the Theremin,
Moogerfooger, the Moog Guitar and the Abominatron. Local independent movie
house the Fine Arts Theatre plans to screen a pair of documentaries, “Bouncing
Cats” by Nabil Elderkin & Red Bull Media House (Oct. 30) and “Moog” by Hans
Fjellestad, the latter offering a Q&A with Deutsch and DJ Spooky after the
screening. There wil also be an art display, “Synth: A Group Art Show Inspired
By Bob Moog,” featuring limited-edition prints for sale from a number of
acclaimed contemporary poster artists and graphic designers; proceeds will go
to the Moog Foundation. Leading up to all this has been a series of contests
open to the public including the MoogFest/URB.com Remix Contest (Moving Temple
And Peripheral gets a DJ slot on Oct. 31 at one of the venues for submitting
the winning entry, a remix of Hot Chip’s “We Have Love”) and the Moog Circuit
Bending Challenge, in which three finalists will be selected to showcase their
soldering skills at the Moogaplex and compete for a grand prize.

 

Speaking of prizes: on Oct. 29, attending members of DEVO
will be presented the Moog Innovation Award by the folks from Moog Music. The
award “celebrates
pioneering artists whose genre-defying work exemplifies the bold, innovative
spirit of Bob Moog” and will also be accompanied by the presentation of a
special synthesizer to the band.

 

Says Moog-Koussa, of this year’s blowout, “I attended the
MoogFests in New York,
and they were one night, they were at the BB King nightclub and held about 500
people, and maybe four or five hours long. So I thought it sounded really
exciting since the musical possibilities for a weekend are huge. [Concert
promoters] Ashley Capps and AC Entertainment showed us they could fill up that
weekend with a great variety – Moog Music and The Bob Moog Foundation are both
supporting and partnering with AC in different ways, but it really was Ashley’s
vision. I’d have to give him 100% credit for that, and I personally feel like
we’re really lucky for him to have an interest in this and to be able to pull
it off so well.”

 

(View the MoogFest schedule of performances, panels and
workshops, along with locator maps of the venues and additional details on the
contests and more, at the MoogFest.com website.)

 

“It’s going to be a
great weekend – I really think it’s just going to be epic.”

 

That’s AC Entertainment founder Capps speaking, making an
insider’s prediction about MoogFest. He’s been promoting concerts throughout the
region for more than three decades, including, not insignificantly, the annual
Bonnaroo Festival as well the smaller but no less critically acclaimed Big Ears
Festival in Knoxville,
where AC is based. So if the man uses a term like “epic,” pay attention.

 

“MoogFest has been in a state of evolutionary development
for at least three years or more,” Capps continues. “The idea is something I’ve
thought about and talked about with people for quite a long time. I’ve always
thought that Asheville,
with its support for the arts and live music in general, was the perfect
setting for a great festival. And MoogFest had a tradition [as] an event that
was being staged in New York City.
So with that existing MoogFest it took awhile to work through this idea that
rather than it being this one day event in New York, why not do it in Bob Moog’s
adopted hometown, the place where Moog Music is still churning out amazing new
instruments and developing new products. And invite people to this magnificent
city for the celebration. That’s really the crux of the issue, or at least the
real catalyst for developing the event.

 

“Certainly [with] the planning of an event, new
opportunities have emerged and certain ones we’ve been able to incorporate and
certain other ones we may have to wait a year or two before they become a
reality. But the scope of the festival that you see right now was planned from
the beginning. It’s complicated, and it’s very time consuming to put something
like this together, so the unfolding of the various elements, especially for a
first year event, is really just part of the process.”

 

In addition to the no-brainer aspect of staging MoogFest in
Robert Moog’s back yard, Capps cites the layouts and physical proximity of the venues
and the Moogaplex and the general “walkability” of Asheville as key to ensuring that the Oct.
29-31 weekend will be a success. “To this day I’m really excited about being involved
with Bonnaroo,” he says. “It’s an amazing event and I love outdoor music
festivals. But I’m also very attracted to these more boutique oriented
festivals that have a theme and take place utilizing indoor venues where you
can create different types of experiences for the artists and fans. Our focus
is on those details and trying to surprise people, not only with great music on
a stage, but [with] visual design elements too. [For MoogFest] we’re working
with some visual artists to try to transform some of these rooms into some
pretty incredible experiences visually as well. And we’re also limiting the
number of ticket sales so we can provide the very best possible experience for
everyone that we can.

 

“Also, one of the key components of making that experience
work for me, at least, is the walkability of the city: people need to be able
to experience the festival on foot, and Asheville
certainly affords that opportunity. And you’re right – the longest distance,
Asheville Civic Center to the Orange Peel, is not only merely a ten minute
walk, it’s a fun ten minute walk with
lots of fun stuff taking place along the way.”

 

On that latter point, yours truly can weigh in readily with
a “boy howdy.” To anyone reading this who is attending MoogFest and is not familiar with Asheville – which just
this past Sunday, was the subject of a glowing “36 Hours In…” profile in the New York Times – I’d recommend partaking
as much as possible of the local flavors while in town. The downtown area where
the official MoogFest events are taking place Friday through Sunday is
literally crammed with eateries, coffee shops, clubs and bars of all imaginable
persuasions, with the Lexington Avenue and Biltmore Avenue stretches in particular
providing plenty of touristy bounce to the ounce (record collectors: check out
the Voltage, Static Age and Karmasonics music stores). As Capps noted, it’s a
walking-distance city that won’t tax the ankles and arches unduly, and the
relative density should also play enabler to all you Gawker types determined to
play spot-the-musicians. Make sure you ask a bartender for a pint of Moog
Filtered Ale
while you’re here. Also, for those of you who get in on Friday, do
not miss the Friday night drum circle at nearby Pritchard Park, as it’s a
boho-bash par excellence suitable for upright citizens and visiting deviants
alike.

 

Too, depending on the length of your stay and how much time
you can allot to fanning out in the area, there’s plenty to do. A MoogFest
Pre-Party will take place Thursday night at The Southern (Lexington Ave.)
featuring a DJ set from King Britt, while an After Party will run Sunday night
until 4am at the Flood Gallery (on Roberts Street, in the nearby River Arts
District adjacent to downtown). Not far from the River Arts District is West
Asheville, also bohemian-tilting and home to a slew of restaurants, bars and
shops – notably, BLURT’s buddies at Harvest Records, easily the finest
independent record store in the region. Lastly, if you’re outdoors-inclined,
riding up on the Blue Ridge
Parkway to take in the views or hit a hiking trail
should definitely be on your itinerary, as the weather is generally beautiful
this time of year in the mountains, and as of this writing it looks like we’re
headed for a clear-skies weekend.

 

“It’s all a
celebration of his spirit and the technology he innovated.”

 

If you go to the Moog Music website you can read a fairly detailed
bio of Dr. Moog, a two-time Grammy winner. His story, in brief: from making
Theremins in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, he created the first Moog Modular
Synthesizer in ’64, and by the late ‘60s, following the success of Wendy/Walter
Carlos’ Switched-On Bach album and
the infiltration of the synth into the rock world, Moog’s invention had become
a cultural sensation; he eventually left Moog Music in 1977 to found another
company, Big Briar, soon moving his family to Asheville where he taught at the
University of North Carolina and continued to design gear, ultimately
reclaiming the rights to the Moog Music and Minimoog trademarks and changing
the name of Big Briar to Moog Music Inc. in 2002. (Moog was also an
accomplished keyboardist although he rarely played in public; however, a CD of
a 1980 performance was released earlier this month as a timely lead-in to
MoogFest. Read more about it elsewhere at BLURT.)

 

Yet perhaps the most revealing detail of the bio is the part
that reads thusly:

 

“Where
would R&B, rap and hip-hop be if groups like Parliament and Funkadelic
hadn’t used Moog keyboards? Where would rock and roll be if groups from Yes to
the Beatles hadn’t used Moog keyboards? Would jazz music have branched off into
fusion without Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea using Moog keyboards? And would
classical music have enjoyed such resurgence without Wendy Carlos and her
modular Moog synthesizer?”

 

Consulting the schedule of MoogFest performers, you can
quickly see the logical corollaries to those questions – the lasting impact of
Bob Moog is enormous. By way of acknowledgement Michelle Moog-Koussa notes,
“What we’re trying to carry on is that spirit, the way he impacted people’s
lives. Whether it was because they played the instruments or because they were
inspired by the music that was produced by those instruments. That’s what we’re
trying to move forward. [For example] at the MoogFest workshops and panels, we
have pulled from a lot of people from the Moog legacy to participate. Those
panels at the Moogaplex are a manifestation of our mission, to educate and
inspire people through electronic music. But that mission also sprang from what
Bob Moog was all about. So I think what you’re going to hear at MoogFest, it’s
all a celebration of his spirit and the technology he innovated.”

 

The Moog spirit, perhaps, can be found in the connections
the man made in his life and with his work – connections both literal (as in
circuitry), and spiritual. In 2004, BLURT contributor Steven Rosen interviewed
Bob Moog.
The documentary film Moog had
recently been released, and one of the comments he made to Rosen was quite
telling, both about his intellectual gifts and about his outlook on life:

 

“When I was a teenager, and a little bit before, I really
loved electronics,” said Moog. “I have a talent and a gift for making contact
with electronic circuitry. It’s a gift that enables stuff to come through you.
I don’t think I’m so smart or creative that it starts off inside my head and
then comes out.

“I think all us humans are capable of experiencing connections – engaging in
spiritual things like that. Whether or not we take advantage of that depends on
a lot of things. I found it through electronics, particularly musical
electronics.”

 

The obvious question, then, is how Dr. Moog himself might have
reacted to all the fuss taking place this weekend. It’s a question that
apparently been posed a number of times to Moog-Koussa during the run-up to the
festival.

 

“Someone asked me in an interview about what would my dad
have thought of all this,” she says, with a chuckle. “And I said, ‘You know, I
can’t really answer for my dad. He was a very unique thinker, and I can’t
profess to know exactly what he would think. But my suspicion is that he would
be a little shy-slash-uncomfortable with all the attention.’

 

“And that was not his nature in general, but when it came to
this type of recognition of this magnitude, and anything that hinted at notions
of celebrity, it did make him a little uncomfortable. Because he was very
humble, and he would describe himself as a ‘tool maker’ – a tool maker for
musicians. And I think that would be his first sentiment, a little unease. But
once he recognized what the event was all about, it’s really what he was all
about too.

 

He was all about the
musicians
, and he was all about music. 
This is what he worked to do; he worked to provide tools to musicians.
And here is the fruition of his work.”

 

 

Go here to read more of our interview with Michelle Moog-Koussa, in which she discusses the recent
CD release
Bob Moog Live as well as
some of what’s been cooking with the Bob Moog Archives.

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