Moogfest Q+A: Higher Learning

Higher Learning, photo by Daniel Leake Photography
Higher Learning, photo by Daniel Leake Photography

Sure, the Moogfest lineup is star-studded (I’m looking at you, M.I.A., Kraftwek and Niles Rodgers). But the roster — which includes over 100 acts just for the night program alone — includes some lesser-known gems worth discovering. This series of email interviews is culled from my personal list of interesting artists I plan to check out.

Atlanta-based Higher Learning is “well on their way towards the outer reaches of Jupiter,” according to the band’s bio. “Their mission, daunting as it may be, is simple at its core: to distill the cosmos into sound. Their natural abilities to endure long periods of isolation and odd sleep schedules have enabled them to strive towards this goal with unbridled tenacity. From their collectively-twisted mind comes a sonic stew composed of liberal portions of analogue and digital frequencies – grounded for your pleasure by the familiar sounds of a live four-piece band.” The quartet is Niles Roberts (production and keys), Adam Chelton (production and synthesizer), Ryan Renoud (bass and analog synthesizer) and Rohan Prakash (drums and electronic percussion); they perform on the Broadway Outdoor Stage (open to the public) on Saturday, April 26, 3 p.m.

Mountain Xpress: Beyond amplification and electronic instruments, what ways do you see music/art and technology intersecting?

Chelton: The really amazing thing that technology has brought to the art community is accessibility — both in its creation and its distribution. Kids are making really amazing things in their bedrooms these days, and it’s easier than ever to get your work seen by a huge audience. The big record label paradigm has faded considerably since the advent of media platforms like SoundCloud and YouTube, and that has given artists much more freedom to create what they really wanted to create all along.

How do you feel about playing a festival that’s equally dedicated to technology/invention and to music?

Renoud: We’re thrilled. We couldn’t do what we do without the craftsmen who build the tools we use — they deserve at least as much attention as we do. Roger Linn, Dave Smith, Tom Oberhiem and (of course) Bob Moog are legends among electronic musicians and producers. It’s great that they’re getting more mainstream recognition, considering they have been changing the course of popular music for 40+ years. Electronic musicians are bound to the engineers of electronic instruments. These days so much time and effort goes into sound design and timbre. Producers require more and more sound complexity because the listeners get bored of the same sounds over and over. So it takes innovation at the engineering level as well as creative producers to keep the listeners engaged. I don’t think musicians in the past have ever relied on instrument manufacturers like we do.

What Moog instruments do you play or wish you owned?

Renoud: We use a Moog Little Phatty and a few Moogerfooger units on stage.

What other Moogfest artist would you most like to collaborate with?

Chelton: Oddly enough, she’s lecturing and not actually playing music at Moogfest, but it would have to be Dorit Chrysler. She is truly an amazing Theremin player.

What are the top three sounds, sights or ideas inspiring you recently?

Renoud: Trentemøller comes to mind right off the bat. He’s a brilliant Danish composer who has such a knack for breathing life into electronic music. He’s been putting on these incredible shows all around the world and we find a lot of inspiration in what he’s doing.

Science Fiction literature has been a big influence lately. The technology predictions are fun but the serious themes associated with living in a machine driven world can be eerily accurate. Philip K. Dick is probably our collective favorite.

I think the sight of the city is another influence, although it’s more subconscious. We live in the middle of Atlanta. So we see a lot of concrete, steel and glass every day. I feel like it definitely contributes to the way we sound.

When you create music, do you have an audience in mind? If so, for whom?

Chelton: We mostly try to make music that we personally like, but we obviously hope that others enjoy it too. There’s no particular demographic or “scene” that we’re shooting for though.

As a listener, what experience do you seek from music?

Renoud: Obviously this differs amongst the four of us, but we all find a certain haven in the music we enjoy. It’s a respite from day-to-day existence and a peek into something transcendent.

Anything you’re looking forward to doing in Asheville beyond Moogfest?

Chelton: Eating!

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts writer and editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs.

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