MoogFest 2014: Synth Passions Go Back to the Future

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A funny thing has happened in the synth resurgence. You might think that new-found passions for analog, for names like Moog, and even for the once-fringe world of modular synths are some sort of retro trend. But make no mistake: synthesizers are like science fiction all over again.

Nowhere is that more evident than at this year's Moogfest. Alongside the expected synth legends (Keith Emerson, Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, Malcom Cecil, Bernie Worrell, and more), and pioneering hardware makers (Roger Linn, Dave Smith, Tom Oberheim), you'll find a parallel narrative about the future of ... well, everything. (Image below: New Moog Werkstatt synthesizer.)

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Panels investigate the sounds of space, cybernetics, and sonification. I rode in a shuttle from the airport with a guy who helped build an iPhone app that can connect to brainwaves or be viewed through VR goggles, turning downtown Asheville, North Carolina into a trippy, acid-colored world. There are researchers into futuristic musical instruments, a panel investigating the mathematics of The Simpsons and Futurama, a "future studies" expert helping to imagine where we're all headed. The science-with-sci-fi magazine OMNI enjoys a reboot, as King Britt stops by to talk afro-futurism and synthesizers. If someone proposed strapping a vintage Moog modular to a rocket and launching it into space, it'd fit right in.

I'm here reporting from sunny Asheville, North Carolina for Keyboard magazine through April 27, 2014. You can follow us here and on social medial for plenty of synth eye candy and some glimpse into what artists are doing.

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Already, the opening couple of days of Moogfest have seen this kind of connection between the legacy of Moog and where electronic music and beyond can go next. In opening parties at essential Asheville music venue The Orange Peel, Flying Lotus disappeared behind a two-layer set of projections, a flurry of visuals (produced by Beeple and Strangeloop) immersing him in spiraling technicolor vortexes and Tron-like rushes of circuitry (image below).

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That same stage saw Ghostly International's Matthew Dear play from inside an alien cocoon (image below).

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But it was just as moving to hear the familiar strains of Keith Emerson's original Moog Modular as it sang the sweeping line of "Lucky Man." It was that role that helped cement Moog's place in popular music and not only experimental sound studios. Keith's wall of sound looks every bit as otherworldly now as ever, resembling nothing if not an evil computer from Star Trek, cascades of blinking lights and tangles of cables.

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Moog themselves are revisiting that history with a rebuild of his modular, part for part. And perhaps that's the point: optimism about the past is pairing with optimism for the future.

Stay tuned to Keyboard for plenty to watch from Moogfest.