Moogfest Q+A: Craig Leon

Craig Leon with the late musician/engineer/inventor/producer Walter Sear’s old modular Moog. Image courtesy of Leon

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.

Among the elder statesmen of this year’s Moogfest is musician/composer/producer Craig Leon whose music you know, even if his name is unfamiliar. Leon’s work has been in movies like Karate Kid and 200 Cigarettes, as well as on classical recordings by Luciano Pavarotti and Joshua Bell, among others. But his career hasn’t been all symphony-going and film scoring. In fact, after moving to New York City in the ‘70s to work with Sire Records, Leon signed The Ramones and the Talking Heads and worked on Blondie’s early records. The 150-plus records that he’s produced over the years include projects by Richard Hell, Guy Clark and Cowboy Junkies, as well as his own albums.

At Moogfest, he’ll perform his 1980 album, Nommos, in collaboration with a quartet from the Asheville Symphony. The record is “enshrouded in impenetrable mystery – from its understated artwork to the rich assemblage of analog synths contained inside,” according to press notes. Head Heritage said Nommos is the ‘missing link between the proto-industrial rhythm and drone of SUICIDE and the whole minimalist drone / static / repetition method of Terry Riley and La Monte Young.’”

Craig Leon performs at Moogfest on Saturday, April 26, at Diana Wortham Theatre, at 9:30 p.m.

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

Craig Leon: There is a growing need for entertainment and music projects to have strong multimedia content. This obviously is best served by digital technology linking up the audio, visual and other elements of the performance/recording. Also for streaming of live performances over the internet, to cinemas and other venues outside of just the concert hall. Actually, it’s an exciting time for all.

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

Thrilled. I’m hoping to explore new ways of writing my music and getting it heard and seen and to experience first hand what others are doing in the same area.

What Moog instruments do you play or wish you owned?

Over the years I think I used most configurations on projects that I produced and on my own. The ones that come to mind are Moog modular 70s version, Minimoog D, Polymoog first version. I am currently using the Arturia software based Moog Modular in the performance at Moogfest and in other live shows.

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

This year I’m recreating an older album of mine from 1980 called Nommos for a performance that utilizes a string quartet. At Moogfest, we will be joined by a quartet from the Asheville Symphony. I would like to collaborate with the symphony in the future performing larger scale works for full orchestra integrated with synthesizer that I will be touring in Europe later this year and next.

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

There are too many to list only three but this morning as I type it’s the sounds of Carl Ruggles, Virgil Thomson and Austin Pitre.

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

No. I only write down what I hear in my head and hope that someone listens.

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

Transport from day to day existence. To create a sense of Ecstasy using the term as Arthur Machen uses it relating to literature on his 1902 book, Hieroglyphics. This doesn’t mean it all has to be serious. Fun counts as Ecstasy as well.

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

Looking forward to seeing the Blue Ridge Mountains again and maybe getting an hour or two to listen to some bluegrass music.


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