It's an idea so simple it's genius: Pack a room wall-to-wall with analog Moog equipment, invite an adventurous band touring through Asheville to drop by, lock said band in said room, feed them beer and pizza, and let the sonic mayhem ensue. Hit record, and voilå! You've got yourself the Moog Sound Lab, the live video performance series debuting this month on Moog Music's revamped website, moogmusic.com.
"They're like kids in a candy store," says Emmy Parker, commercial marketing manager at Moog Music, about the musicians that have stepped into the Sound Lab studio so far (e.g., Tegan and Sara, OK Go, The Dandy Warhols, Kylesa, to name a few). "You have no idea what it's going to end up sounding like, so it's been really exciting. And I don't think the bands have much of a clue of what it's going to sound like, either. It's an experiment, and every single one has come up with something really unique."
Before the taping, each band gets a quick demonstration on how to use the array of Moog toys scattered around the room, which includes everything from staples like the Minimoog Voyager and Little Phatty synths to more exotic fare like the window-rattling Taurus Bass Pedal or the E-bow-sounding Moog Guitar. Then, with cameras rolling, the band launches into a few of their songs, exploring and oftentimes completely reinventing their sound.
"It's a whole different view of a band," says Jason Daniello, Moog's artist relations manager. "Each band has been so different, but they've all been open to stepping out of their boundaries, stepping out of their normal, everyday gigging routine."
To say that the bands have taken the concept to heart would be an understatement. Tegan and Sara walked through the Sound Lab doors carrying nothing but an acoustic guitar. And Jamie Lidell and his band? Hell, they didn't carry in anything.
"They didn't even bring in a drummer," says Parker about the band's all-analog performance. "They used the synths to form every facet of the sound. It was really neat. Every single session that I've sat in on, I've gotten goosebumps. "
And the musicians are equally as enamored with the ongoing series. Just ask Jamie Lidell.
"I thought I was going to lose my bandmates for days in that little room," the British electro-soul singer jokes over the phone with Xpress. "When you get there it's like, "Ooh, I want to play that one! No, I want that one!"
Get one they did. After the band's raucous set, Lidell was so smitten with the Voyager synth he'd been messing around with that he bought it on the spot.
"It was just a brilliant day out for the band," he says. "Those kind of events are really special on the road, because you're just working so hard all the time doing shows, and it just gets kind of repetitive. So this seemed like a cool opportunity to do something really insane."
Artists like Lidell got the idea for the Sound Lab series percolating in the first place. Unbeknownst to most people outside the Moog offices, musicians from around the world visit the Moog factory on an almost daily basis. Some stop by to pick up gear or test out new equipment; others just want to meet the engineers and watch their favorite instruments being built by hand.
"It was just a natural fit for us," says Parker, "because bands come into our factory all the time, but nobody outside of Moog really knows about it. The way that Bob Moog built all his instruments, he collaborated with musicians all the way through the design and building process — because ultimately that's what we're doing, we're building tools for musicians. So we've got bands coming in the factory pretty much everyday, giving us feedback on the stuff we're developing and working with us on stuff that's already in the marketplace. So at a certain point we were just like, 'Hey, wait a second, we've got to share this with everybody else.'"
True to the Moog Music spirit, every facet of the Sound Lab series — from the roving camera crew and the engineer behind the sound board to all the post-perfomance mixing and the editing — is done entirely in-house. They even bring in students from UNCA's multimedia department as interns (at least one of whom has already been officially hired).
And local bands will be far from left out. In fact, Parker says they're starting a Sound Lab series focused entirely on Asheville musicians. Experimental outfits RBTS Win, Sonmi Suite and Hello Hugo are already slated to play in the near future.
But the best part for music fans is what still lies ahead. Soon, when Moog Music moves into its new, glass-fronted headquarters on Broadway Street, anyone walking by will be able to stop and watch through the windows as their favorite band cooks up a live Sound Lab set.
"It makes the Moog factory a little bit more accessible," says Parker, "so it's not such a big secret, so we're not so separated from everyone else. We want Asheville to be a part of everything that's going on with Moog."
Sure, but with all that noise, it's got to be hard to work, right?
"I don't think that's really possible here," Parker says, laughing. "We're kind of all about that. As long as we're shaking the windows we know we're doing good over here at Moog."
— Miles Britton is an Asheville-based freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
who: Primus and Gogol Bordello
what: Oddity Faire tour
where: Thomas Wolfe Auditorium
when: Wednesday, Oct. 6 (8 p.m. $47.25. ticketmaster.com)