Tonight at the Orange Peel: Theremin enthusiasts unite, and a Moog mystery is revealed

Tonight in downtown Asheville, the Orange Peel will play host to a three-day musical festival featuring an international line-up of musicians, an electronic musical instrument that dates back to 1919 and a new innovation called a “revolutionary new musical instrument.”

The EtherMusic Festival, organized by Asheville’s Moog Music, will feature some of the world’s best theremin players, including theremin virtuoso Lydia Kavina, a grand-niece of the instrument’s inventor, Lev Termin. Innovator Robert Moog, known for developing synthesizer technology, started building theremins in the 1950s and ‘60s, and Moog Music continues to manufacture the instrument.

The instrument that can produce a range of sound — everything from the ethereal to classical accompaniment. And it has a core of devoted fans that continues to grow, Chris Stack, Moog Music’s marketing manager, said in a recent interview.

“We can’t build them fast enough,” Stack said on a tour of Moog Music’s manufacturing facility on Riverside Drive. “Sales are through the roof.”

Why the popularity? Stack attributes it to several factors, from the theremin’s uniqueness to some YouTube exposure that has shown off the instrument’s versatility.

Aside from the performances, the EtherMusic Festival will include a line-up of educational workshops, according to Stack. “We’re really trying to spread the knowledge” through workshops covering everything from looping to focused study sessions on technique.

Another highlight of the festival will come during the festival’s 8:30 p.m. show tonight (Thursday). Moog Music will offer a sneak peek at its newest invention — a guitar. It will be the first public showing of the instrument.

The company has been secretive about the guitar, although it did spark a burst of speculation when it posted some information about it on its Web site on April Fool’s Day.

Here’s what Stack told Xpress: “It’s not a guitar synthesizer. It’s a really revolutionary product that’s going to change the way people think about guitars. … It follows our philosophy of connecting people to instruments. It’s designed the way it is to be an expressive instrument.”

In all, the EtherMusic Festival promises an eclectic musical offering, Stack said — classical music, ambient and electronica, and one helluva a funky guitar.

Click below to see Randy George perform the Gnarls Barkley hit “Crazy” on the theremin. The YouTube video has received more than 1 million hits. George will be performing at the Orange Peel on Saturday night.

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor

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