Feeling the Moog spirit

Michelle Moog-Koussa knows her dad would've dug the spirit behind Moogus Operandi.

Bob Moog, the legend.

For one thing, it features an analog modular synthesizer so massive, it's known as the "Wall of Doom." And virtuoso keyboardist Erik Norlander won't be playing the monster alone. An orchestra of diverse local musicians (including Woody Wood, Ellie LaBar, Adama Dembele, Shen Hunt, Greg Howell, Derrick Johnson, Oso Rey, Debrissa McKinney and Amos Gaynes) will be adding strings, percussion, horns and vocals to the mix.

Bob Moog would've loved the idea of creating such musical fusion, says Moog-Koussa, who timed the event to celebrate what would've been Moog's 76th birthday. "His beacon was really music as a transcendental means of communication that brought people together in community," she says. "And that's what this event is doing — it's bringing different musicians together, different kinds of music together."

Offering a night of musical, artistic and multimedia exploration, the Moogus Operandi event aims to bring the legacy of Moog, the synthesizer engineering pioneer, to life.

A worldwide electronic-music icon known for his innovative analog synths and theremins, the inventor lived in Asheville for 27 years before his death in 2005. Now, the Bob Moog Foundation, a nonprofit started by Moog-Koussa, seeks to carry Moog's torch by educating and inspiring people through electronic music.

Keyboard virtuosos Erik Norlander is bringing his 400-pound analog modular synthesizer, the "Wall of Doom," to the show. Photos courtesy of the Bob Moog Foundation

"This foundation is driven by making an impact on future generations," Moog-Koussa tells Xpress. "That's a very powerful thing to be able to do. I think it would be a waste of his legacy if someone didn't fulfill that."

The latest in a series of creative events held to help fulfill that mission, Operandi will be headlined by keyboard maestro Norlander, who Moog-Koussa says she recruited because he's "a really multifaceted symbol of how the Moog legacy has carried on; through the music he chooses to perform and the variety of Moog instruments he uses."

One of the instruments Norlander will bring to Asheville from his home in Northern California is a massive, 400-pound analog modular synthesizer his roadies coined the "Wall of Doom." Powering the six-by-seven-foot musical monolith is a 1967 vintage Moog modular, complete with 22 oscillators(!) and six filters.

"When I got my first Minimoog, it was an epiphany for me. It was, 'Wow, this is the greatest sounding synthesizer I've ever heard,' and it just kind of went on from there," Norlander says of his ever-expanding rig. "It's only a 'wall of doom' for the poor guys who have to lift the thing and put it into trucks and all that."

On his new album, The Galactic Collective, Norlander harnesses the musical beast to craft epic instrumental compositions that call to mind everyone from Pink Floyd and Rush to Metallica. A prolific artist, he culled the songs from his previous 32 albums of material, re-recording the tracks with a new band and reinterpreting them into a cohesive sonic whole that navigates intensely technical prog-rock. "You take the idea of a best-of album but then you go in and you reinterpret all those songs in one singular context," Norlander says of the concept.

At the Orange Peel, Norlander plans to recruit top local musicians to help bring songs like his 20-minute opus, "The Dark Water," to life. The collaborations promise to produce a unique mix of electronic and organic improvisation that Norlander sees as a fitting way to honor Moog's work.

"A big part of the modular Moog system is truly the spirit of limitless possibilities and the idea of improvisation; not only musically, but sonically," he says. "There will be certain anchors and themes, but how long it takes us to get to each of the themes, and how we get there, is really up to all the musicians."

Empowering the audience to join in the creative spirit, Operandi will also provide opportunities for those in the crowd to collaborate and improvise, as organizers plan to set up a public "MoogLab" with theremins and synthesizers. The evening will also include the launch of Moog Filtered Ale (See sidebar, pg. 57), a multimedia presentation created by local digital-design guru Gene Felice, and an art auction of Moog-inspired work from local artists such as Gabriel Shaffer, Chad Adair and Phil Cheney.

All of the proceeds from the event will go to the foundation, which Moog-Koussa says has been hit hard by the sluggish economy. "We're struggling just like other nonprofits right now," she says. "So, we're getting creative. The beer is one of the ways we're getting creative."

Moog-Koussa thinks that her dad would've approved of the new brew. "He loved beer," she says. "We never drank any kind of soda at our house. He would always say, 'Beer's better for you than Coke is, beer's better for you than pop.'"

The foundation continues to make slow but steady progress towards its goal of creating a Moogseum to house Moog's archives, interactive exhibits and a performance venue, says Moog-Koussa. In the meantime, expanding the foundation's school program is a major focus. "Instead of just going into schools every once in a while, we're going to develop something for grades K through eight that we can start here and then grow throughout the region and then the nation in the next five to 10 years," she says.

More than anything else, Moug-Koussa says it's the potential to impact young lives that motivates her to plow ahead.

"Sometimes I surprise myself at how hard I'm driven at it," she says, relaying a story of how she got up at 3 a.m. on a recent morning to start working. "My husband said to me, 'Do you have the holy spirit in you?' and I said, 'No, I have the spirit of Bob Moog in me.'"

Jake Frankel can be reached at jfrankel@mountainx.com.

who: Erik Norlander and the Wall of Doom, Blind Boy Chocolate and the Milk Sheiks and other local collaborators
what: Moogus Operandi, a benefit for the Bob Moog Foundation
where: The Orange Peel
when: Thursday, May 27 (7 p.m. / 6 p.m. doors. $10/$12. theorangepeel.net and moogfoundation.org)

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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