The Synthesis of Art, Technology, & Music
By G. E. Light
Moogfest began as a one night event on Tuesday, May 18, 2004 at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Times Square to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Moog Music and its involvement in electronic music, bringing together Moog musicians including Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Bernie Worrell, Suzanne Ciani, DJ Logic, Stanley Jordan and Eumir Deodato (all on synthesizers) and Pamelia Kurstin (on Theremin). Footage from this event is at the heart of Hans Fjellestad's 2004 documentary Moog. From 2005 forward, it became a memorial for Bob Moog, who died from inoperable brain cancer in August. In 2010, Moog Music paired with AC Entertainment (co-producers of the Bonaroo Festival) and moved the festival to Moog's homebase of Asheville, NC, expanding the event to a three day, multi-venue event in October. Moog dropped AC Entertainment after Moogfest 2012. In 2013, it was repurposed as the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit."
This year's Moogfest really was a unique festival providing all kinds of different options for different strokes. Those on the electronics/computer side could treat it as trade show/networking/conference and an economic development sale pitch for high tech in the Greater Buncombe County area. Fans of electronica could see their favorite DJ's. Old timers were provided a who's who of headliners: Pet Shop Boys, Kraftwerk in 3D, Keith Emerson Band, Bernie Worrell Orchestra, and Chic featuring Nile Rodgers but alas, understandably, no Laurie Anderson. There was also a wide array of mainly daytime educational workshops, installations, and Q&A's with such artists as Janelle Monae (an extremely thoughtful and articulate spokeswoman for Afrofuturism), Herb Deutsch (godfather of avant-garde electronic music; co-inventor if Moog synthesizer), Niles Rodgers (big time producer and hit maker as well as a talented raconteur) and Giorgio Moroder (performer/producer extraordinaire). The conference was indeed a very successful "synthesis of art, technology, an music."
Welcome Back My Friends to The Show That (almost) Never Ends: The Concerts
C Powers + Pet Shop Boys, Thomas Wolfe Auditorium
Wednesday night's opening headliner show was a mixed bag. Personally I found that C Powers' 2 hour DJ set with four turntables but no microphone was much of a muchness (overreliance on a small set of beats being his prime crime). Mr C, I ‘ve seen Q-bert live, and dude, you are no Q-bert. Hell you're not even Mix Master Mike or Dan Deacon. There was one interesting 10 minute segment point of the show where the groove got heavier and more industrial for about 10 minutes. Still in all I won't be rushing out to Atlanta's HUNGER club night or Savannah's Cape Fear to hear him spin.
However, the Pet Shop Boys brought down the house with one of the visually best shows I've ever seen, ironic coming from a 50 something duo where the gray balding one sings and the silent cap wearing one plays a synth stand. Starting with a song form their new record, Electric, and playing behind a gauzy film screen with what could have been outtakes from Koyaanisqatsi, they did an interesting traipse through their entire corpus replete with a back catalogue of costumes from prior tours. Above near the end they hit their masterpiece IMHO Very with a lovely blue and orange (though Lego-less) color scheme while performing "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing."
Visually, it was the best show I have ever seen as a total live performance in my top 10 pop and rock concert experiences, including such gems as the first Mission of Burma "farewell" show at the Bradford Hotel, The Smiths in Salford on The Queen is Dead Tour, and Fishbone at The Warfield in '92.
Stars of Moogfest 2014; the revived Kraftwerk, with sole original member and vocalist Ralf Hutter, performed their famed 3D show three times, supposedly with different sets. But I suspect each show featured at least such warhorses as "Radioactivity," "Computerwelt," "Autobahn," "Tour de France," and "Trans Europe Express" as did the middle one I saw on Friday the 24th.
They opened their show with "The Robots" and a high point was their version of "Airwaves":
As you can see the audience was fully entranced by the projected 3D images.
Keith Emerson Band + Bernie Worrell Orchestra
Keith Emerson opened his show with the turgid late career piece "Three Fates." He's not as spry as he once was. Though he still looks youthful, he sat throughout most of the show. Eventually the band got to warhorses like ELP's "In the Beginning." One of the highlights of course was "Lucky Man," the demo of which Keith gave to Bob Moog in London way back when he received the Moog modular seen above. Marc Bonilla was featured as vocalist and lead guitarist/banjoist.
In contrast forever young 70-year-old birthday boy Bernie Worrell rushed on stage to a Moog employee vocoder-led audience version of "Happy Birthday." For the next two hours, he pitched "WOO" while also bringing the funk. An early highlight was his original James Bond theme-tinged composition "Thugs."
The intro he gave to a 15-minute workout on "Genius of Love" was "this one's by a couple of my friends." The show of course closed with a raucous "Flashlight."
Chic featuring Nile Rodgers + M.I.A.
Sure Chic featuring Niles Rodgers read more like a Chic cover band playing the Amigo Room at your local Denny's in NorCal down to the extended medley of Rodgers/Edwards hits for others (2 Diana Ross/2 Sister Sledge). They played the inevitable hits: "Le Freak," "Good Times," "Like a Virgin," And "Modern Love." He even pulled out an early classic, "Everybody Dance," apparently Grace Jones' favorite song. The stage invasion at show's end made it clear what Niles was doing hanging out in the crowd down below the stage before the show started, so not really a spontaneous thing. Still and all, I could listen to them all day and all of the night just to hear his patented super funky, low fretboard riffs as evidenced here.
Not surprisingly, between shows the crowd's average age plummeted as millennials flooded in for a late night rave with M.I.A. and the Boomer collective limped home from their night out reminiscing about Studio 54 and the glory days of glitter balls. M.I.A. was MIA as her set started with a onstage DJ and a stage-side synth player. Soon the green tracksuit wearing Paddington Bear-hatted Anglo-Sri Lankan diva strode onto the stage with tracks from her current album, 2013's Matangi, "Karmageddon" and "Bring the Noize." Other highlights included "Bamboo Banga," "Galang" and "Boyz." She, of course, closed it out with her Slumdog Millionaire smash, "Paper Planes" from 2007's Kala and the current hit single "Bad Girls."
From the Theremin to the Minimoog Voyager: Bob Moog's Story
In 1954, at 20, Bob Moog began building Theremins with his father. "I was interested in electronic musical instruments for as long as I can remember." (Keyboard Sept./Oct. '75, issue No. 1). In 1963 inspired by composer Herb Deutsch, Moog builds the first Moog Modular synthesizer."More or less in my spare time I built two voltage-controlled oscillators and two voltage-controlled amplifiers, and some kind of controller that could turn the sounds on and off and change the pitch and rates of modulation. It might have [amounted to] a couple of doorbells. When Herb [Deutsch] came up... he just flipped when he heard what my breadboards could do. By the end of that session and the one that followed, together we had come up with the basics of a modular analog synthesizer. (Keyboard, May 1988)A year later, Moog demonstrates the synthesizer at the Audio Engineering society and started taking orders. In 1965, he earned his Ph.D. in Engineering Physics from Cornell. In 1967, the R. A. Moog Company was incorporated and offered Moog Modular Synthesizers I, II, and III. 1968 saw Wendy Carlos' Switched on Bach, recorded entirely with a custom-made Moog Modular synthesizer. At the 1970 AES (Audio Engineering Society) conference, the Minimoog was introduced. 1975 saw the first polyphonic synthesizer, the Polymoog. In 1978, Moog moves to Asheville, NC. In 2002, Moog regains the right to use his own name on musical products renaming his company Big Briar to Moog Music, Inc. The Minimoog Voyager begins shipping.
Future Keynote ("the Future of Creativity") with Professor Nick Bostrom
"Superintelligence and the Structure of the Future" was a bad TED talk without any of the requisite presentational legerdemain. The Anglo-Swedish philosopher kept referring to PowerPoint slides he didn't show. The argument was muddled, simplistic, and frankly not that interesting: the worst kind of futurist speculation about HDMI android outperforming humans in 50 years. Maybe the guy truly is brilliant, but one couldn't tell from the evidence presented here.
Q&A with The Electric Lady: Janelle Monae , Chuck Lightning, and Nate "Rocket" Wonder moderated by YACHT's Claire L. Evans
The second talk/interview session was a knockout. While Janelle Monae and her Electric Lady producing partners talked with passion and eloquence, roaming across such diverse topics as Afrofuturism, android, Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near, The Matrix, John Henry, their version of Metropolis, and the classic design of the traditional black and white tux all the while laying out Janelle's career path, the origin story of their Atlanta collective Wondaland Art Society as well as focusing on the production of her latest record, 2013's The Electric Lady. The best of many quotes was this one by Janelle: "The Android as a minority: the new black... gay... woman." I even learned a new word: "Sapisexual." (n): a person who is sexually attracted to intelligence in others. For 90 minutes, they were the smartest people in the room. But enough of my nattering on about this Q&A, why not watch it for yourself and decide.
From Moog to Mac: Herb Deutsch
82 year old Herb Duetsch is arguably the third most important figure in the history of the Moog Corporation. He co-invented the first synthesizer with Bob Moog and wrote many of the product manuals for various later synthesizer. Only Bob himself and Walter Sear (Bob's business partner, sales manager and a major Moog composer in his own right) loom larger. Deutsch delighted a crowd in the Diana Wortham Theater at Pack Place by touring through his career as a electronic music pioneer. He even played the famous 1964 audio letter from Moog through to pieces composed in the last couple of years. He told a cute story about not recognizing the Moog model on his t-shirt (seen above) until he received a fan letter with a photo and realizing he had written the model's program manual. That's really forgetting more than most other people ever knew. Sheepishly as his set concluded, he wondered if it was O.K. to sell and sign product from the edge of the stage. You're 80 and a legend: you basically have a lifetime free pass.
Q&A with Giorgio Moroder
Italo-Bavarian godfather of electronic disco and movies soundtracks. A wizened less hirsute Giorgio spoke at length about various key records in his career. It's not surprise they hit Donna Summer's smash "I Feel Love" straight out of the gate. Moroder had some interesting stories about how he came to use a synthesizer in Utah ("I had a girlfriend in Provo" always the machismo), what Freddie Mercury was like to work with on Metropolis. "He was a pain in the studio... great singer ... great lyricist... great pianist... but maybe too much of a perfectionist. Ze English they are [pause as Giorgio in that ineffable Southern European way waves his hands around to "describe"] they are great... musicians [here the pause holds all the weight and significance in the statement]." He also spoke of why he's doing video game soundtracks now ("Frankly, there's money in it"). The only miss was not having the David Bowie "Cat People" video ready to view and be discussed. Apparently, the slacker 20-something interviewer couldn't be bothered to put in the minute and 30 seconds max it would have taken to load and embed said YouTube clip. This is why the millennial "innovators" probably won't take over the world; they're just too lazy and often incompetent.
Moog Documentary Q&A with Director Hans Fjellestad
After screening his delightful award-winning 70 minute documentary upstairs in the 3rd floor theater on the Masonic Temple, director/musician Hans Fjellestad talked about his visual style (non-narrative), his filmmaking career, why Moog had to be shot on analog film stock (true to Moog's spirit), how come Kraftwerk wasn't in the documentary (in 2004, they weren't touring and the budget did not allow for an extra trip to Deutschland), and future projects (he's finishing a documentary on Radio Caroline and he beginning of commercial rock radio in Europe).
See Part II of the Moogfest 2014 article
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