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Cutting-edge Moogfest reboots in Durham

Musician Nile Rodgers entertains listeners at the 2014 Moogfest, in Asheville. The multi-day electronic music event has rebooted and will be staged in Durham May 19-22.
Musician Nile Rodgers entertains listeners at the 2014 Moogfest, in Asheville. The multi-day electronic music event has rebooted and will be staged in Durham May 19-22. Moogfest

The name Robert Moog should not ring a bell. It should instead play a bell-sounding note on a synthesizer. Moog (1934-2005) was an electrical engineer who pretty much invented electronic music and whose various synthesizers added electronic sounds to work by the Beatles, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Emerson Lake & Palmer and other musical artists.

The famous “Switched-On Bach” earned keyboardist Wendy Carlos three Grammys; it featured all-Bach classical music ... all done on a Moog synthesizer.

“Moog,” by the way, rhymes with “vogue.” And his various name-brand synthesizers, as well as those he developed for the Kurzweil company, paved the way for synthpop, electrohouse and other new pop-music genres.

The inventor’s plug-in arts legacy will power Moogfest May 19-22 in Durham, at various performance venues, galleries, lecture halls and cinemas. It includes performances, a film fest, talks, art installations, panels and workshops.

The music-art-tech event was first held in 2004 in Moog’s hometown, New York. It relocated to Asheville – where Moog spent his later years as a research professor at UNC Asheville and where a Moog factory and store are still in operation. During its years there (2010-2014) it expanded its avant-garde arts components. Festival growth and management brought financial problems. Moogfest was on hiatus last year and organizers decided to reboot and relocate to Durham, in the tech-savvy Research Triangle.

The Durham Moogfest topped a preview of spring music festivals published in the New York Times, with writer Jon Pareles noting, “Its lineup suggests a sci-fi dance party with a Ph.D. in STEM subjects.”

This month, Rolling Stone magazine put it atop its list of “Summer 2016’s 30 Must-See Music Festivals.”

Headliners? Grimes – Canadian electronic musician/producer Claire Boucher – plays Motorco Park May 20; her “Flesh Without Blood” single was named Time magazine’s Best Song for 2015. Gary Numan, who pushed electronic music to the forefront in the late 1970s, performs May 19 (Motorco Park), May 20 (Carolina Theatre) and May 21 (back at Motorco Park). On May 21 at Carolina Theatre, Laurie Anderson – musician and NASA’s first-ever artist-in-residence – performs a concert ... and returns there for a from-stage conversation the following day as part of Moogfest’s “Future of Creativity” series.

Other scheduled speakers include virtual-reality pioneer, musician and author Jaron Lanier and author, activist and satellite communications whiz Martine Rothblatt.

Besides the “Future of Creativity,” other themes are “Afrofuturism,” “Art & Artificial Intelligence,” “Hacking Sound Systems,” “Instrument Innovators” and “Radio & the Radiophonic.”

Check moogfest.sched.org for the full lineup, which includes many free events.

Want to go?

Moogfest is May 19-22 at various venues in the Durham area, a little over two hours northeast of Charlotte via I-85. One-day passes are $69-$129; multi-day pass is $249. Details/prices: www.moogfest.com.

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