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Moog Music: Contemplating the Future of Music by Looking Back

Sukh Dhillon Writer

After taking last year off, the music and tech lovers Moogfest event returned this year, taking a more future-leaning approach than past years.

The four-day event, filled with panels and workshops, breaks new ground each night as some of the most innovative and exceptional electronic music artists in the industry show what they can do.

“This year we transformed the festival to better reflect the ethos of Moog Music by inviting some of the brightest and most forward-thinking minds and artists to explore how technology will enhance the way we creatively express ourselves in the next 50 to 100 years,” said Emmy Parker, brand director of Moog Music and Moogfest.

Ahead of this year’s event, Parker reflected on the impact of late sonic innovator Robert Moog to describe what’s in store for the future of music making.

What do you think makes Moog Music, and Moogfest, so unique?

Bob Moog was a real pioneer in using new technologies to enhance the way we creatively express ourselves as human beings. [And at] Moog Music, we’ve continued to do that work, and that’s what we focus on every single day. Everybody in this building is trying to figure out how to use technology to enhance the way that not just musicians, but everyone — hobbyists, physicists and engineers in sound effects — is creatively expressing themselves.

There’s a lot of like-minded folks that are in electronic musical instrument design, in all facets of the tech sector, who are interested in talking about and engaging in conversations around what the [future] will look like — the things that we’re only seeing and hearing in our heads right now. One day, technology is going to make all of those things physical in this world, and everyone is excited about getting there.

Moogfest has been focused on the intersection of art, music and technology. How has that synthesis evolved?

At Moog, we are embroiled a lot in a debate about analog versus digital. It’s interesting because I think we’re at a very special point now where we’ve come to realize the potential of technology to create new tools, but also at the same time, we’re starting to really understand and appreciate some tools that may be outdated or outmoded. A lot of people are talking about a Renaissance of analog gear, but really, it’s more that we’ve figured out how to use tools from the last 50 years in conjunction with each other to create pieces of art that are even more dynamic. No matter what the change is moving forward, I think we’ve finally figured out how to look backwards and bring those things along with us, and Moogfest is a lot about that. It’s not just about looking forward, but it’s also about respecting and celebrating what was created in the past.

Bob Moog made some incredibly important contributions to the way music is created. If he were still alive, what do you think he would say about today’s technology and how its intersection with art and music has changed?

I think that Bob Moog would be tickled about [where we are today] … I think that he would be overjoyed at the fact that people are getting together to talk about what’s possible, because people put a lot of focus on the end product, but the process of getting there is where all the learning happens. And we see that with the instruments that we put out into the marketplace.

Yeah, we ended up with this one instrument that everybody can purchase, but really, the work that went into that instrument is what was transformational for us, and what will lead to greater things in the future.

And what do you see as this future?

The future is bright for creators of all sorts because collaboration is so easy at this point. It’s really hard to say where things are going in the future …because we have the ability to work cross functionally, and share ideas, and share learning with so many different creators. All that I can say is that I think everybody feels over the moon about what could be next.

We’re working on specific things here that we hope people are excited about. Some of those things are forward looking and some of those things are very backwards looking, but I think people have recognized the huge value in things that were made decades ago. Our ability to recreate the processes that were used 50 years ago suddenly seems to be very important. That’s where we find ourselves looking backwards, but always in a respectful way with an eye towards what we can do for the future.

How do you feel technology, like tablets and computers, has changed the process of music making?

We have a very specific relationship with tablets because our best-selling synthesizer in the history of the company is the synthesizer that we developed for iOS. That changed things very quickly for this company. Within the last 36 months, we’ve sold around 800,000 copies of a digital synthesizer that our engineers, who are known for their design prowess of monophonic analog synthesizers, were able to develop specifically for [tablets], which have burst the sales of the Minimoog.

When you ask this company, which I think people really feel like we are vintage-leaning, that has become probably the most important growth opportunity. Our stated goal is to find ways to allow artists to create new sounds, and tablets are a way forward for us.

Daft Punk’s multiple Grammy wins this year were a big step forward for electronic music. Giorgio Moroder was one of their influences, and he’s attending Moogfest this year.

Giorgio Moroder is a very special artist because he helped to pioneer an entire genre of music. You have people who are working within genres, and then you have some of these outliers who are like lightening bolts that create something or help to push forward something totally new. He’s one of those guys. He did it with disco, of course, but he also has a really impressive body of work as it relates to soundtracks and film scores. He’s one of those guys that you start to associate with the soundtrack of your life because he created so many seminal sounds and songs that you can pinpoint to one specific genre and one specific era. He’s a really good example of how we want to be very careful as we talk about the future, to celebrate the past.

Some critics are afraid of how digital technology may change the quality or the sound of music. How has the transition been from creating sounds on the original synthesizer to now ones on a tablet?

We try to be really careful not to place judgments on things that are different. They are different sounds. It doesn’t mean that they are better, it doesn’t mean that they are worse. Bob said, very famously, that he’s a toolmaker, and that’s what we are at Moog. We’re making tools for artists and some of those tools we are hand building here in the Moog factory, and some of those tools you buy by clicking a button in the iTunes store. They’re just different, and that’s a good thing. That’s not a bad thing. When Bob introduced the synthesizer, people were terrified and they were angry and they actually said that his creation was going to ruin music. And look where we are now. Images courtesy of PhotoAtelierBrandon Daniel and Moog Music

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