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A Virtual Visit to the Moogseum

Geary Yelton

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Synth and Software investigates the Moogseum, a new museum dedicated to the life, work, and legacy of one of electronic music’s founding fathers.

Bob Moog needs no introduction to electronic musicians.

Bob was the pioneering inventor who unveiled his first modular synthesizer in 1964. It captured the popular imagination in 1968 with the release of Wendy Carlos’s groundbreaking Switched-On Bach, which quickly became the bestselling classical album up to that point and kicked off a revolution in live and recorded music. It also made the name “Moog” synonymous with “synthesizer” in the public mind.

Photo by Stephan Pruitt Photography

Although synths existed in limited numbers as far back as the Helmholtz sound synthesizer in 1905, the Moog modular was the first to garner widespread attention and led to electronic instruments gradually gaining ground in mainstream music. Bob’s early modular systems influenced practically every electronic instrument that followed, right up until today’s tablet-based virtual synths and the latest analog and digital keyboards from the U.S., Japan, France, Sweden, and Germany.

Bob was a modest man who referred to himself as a toolmaker. Like most brilliant inventors, it seems, he was not a brilliant businessman. After leaving the company that bore his name in 1978, he said goodbye to his home state of New York and relocated to the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina, where he founded the company Big Briar. Although he reacquired the Moog Music brand in 2002, sadly, he succumbed to a brain tumor in 2005.

A year after his death, his daughter Michelle Moog-Koussa, the second youngest of his four children, founded the non-profit Bob Moog Foundation with the support of friends and family.

Serving as the foundation’s executive director, Michelle spearheaded the organization’s volunteer efforts and spent the next few years collecting, restoring, and preserving the prototypes, recordings, technical drawings, and other ephemera Bob left behind. Along the way she established Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool, an educational outreach program that teaches elementary school students about the connections between science, music, and creativity.

Photo by Nicole McConville (www.nicolemcconville.com)

Michelle’s initial concept was for the foundation to eventually display Bob’s archival collection in a museum centering on his life and work. Facing many obstacles, setbacks, and detours, seeing the Moogseum come to fruition took almost 13 years, but it finally opened its doors in downtown Asheville on May 23, 2019. A grand opening is planned for August 15. The Moogseum’s location is across the interstate and less than half a mile from Moog Music, the manufacturing plant where Moog synthesizers are built. Moog Music is popular with tourists for its public tours of the factory floor. A trip to Asheville isn’t complete without visiting both places.

Many Moog fans are unaware the Bob Moog Foundation and Moog Music are unaffiliated.

One is a non-profit archival and educational organization that subsists entirely on donations, and the other is a privately owned business whose lifeblood is profit from sales of synthesizers, theremins, and related products.

Because I helped gather materials for one of the Moogseum’s interactive exhibits, I was invited to attend a small after-hours gathering celebrating its opening. About a month later, I asked Michelle some questions about the Moogseum and the Bob Moog Foundation.

What is the purpose of the Moogseum?

The purpose of the Moogseum is two-fold. First, it’s to bring Bob’s life and legacy to life through interactive, engaging exhibits so that visitors gain a deeper understanding of him as person, as opposed to the glossy portrayal of an icon that is more publicly available. Second, the Moogseum’s purpose is to educate and inspire visitors through the science of sound, the journey of innovation, and the vast capabilities offered through electronic music. 

Photo by Susan Granados

What can you tell us about the Moogseum’s origins? 

For over a decade, the Bob Moog Foundation has focused on education and archival preservation as a way of inspiring creativity at the intersection of music, science, and innovation. It has always been our vision to synthesize these two efforts into a public facility so that we could share our innovative work with a wider audience. In 2008 we received a lead grant from the Tourism Development Authority in Asheville to help build the Moogseum, but because of the recession and the dynamics on the then Board of Directors, we were not able to secure the funding needed for that version of the project, which was a multimillion dollar investment. Instead, we decided to focus on growing our educational project, Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool, which now serves 3,000 elementary school children a year, and on preserving and sharing the vast materials in the Bob Moog Foundation Archives. Those two projects have gone extremely well, and with the success of that work, we were poised to take the opportunity to open this iteration of the Moogseum with an entirely new Board of Directors than the one we had ten years ago. 

What kind of experience can visitors expect when they enter?

The Moogseum has a rich variety of interactive experiences. Visitors are invited to explore decades of Bob’s history and synthesizer history through several touchscreen kiosks holding over 1,000 pieces of rare archival material, play theremins and learn about waveforms, step up to our immersive dome that traces electricity through a circuit board as it becomes sound, experience the fundamentals of synthesis through a guided tour of the Minimoog, and explore a re-creation of Bob’s workbench, including many rare, vintage Moog synthesizers. The Moogseum is designed to serve learners of all types—visual, aural, tactile—and to allow people to customize their own experiences. 

Photo by Stephan Pruitt Photography

How much time should someone plan to spend visiting the Moogseum? 

We’ve had people spend 20 minutes and people spend over 3 hours. Because we are sharing a breadth of material through our many touchscreen kiosks and other exhibits, visitors can create their own experience, delving as deeply as they wish into history and into interacting with theremins and synthesizers.

How much of the Moogseum is dedicated to electronic musical instruments and musicians, how much to science and technology, and how much to Bob Moog the man?

It’s equally split between those three categories. 

Will many of the materials on display change from month to month or from year to year?

Yes, we will be updating and changing exhibits regularly. Our touchscreen kiosks allow us to continually upload new material about Bob’s life and legacy and about the history of synthesis. Our Bob’s Workbench display will allow us to feature rotating vintage Moog instruments, and our archival cases will allow us to display a wide variety of personal material that Bob left behind. 

For our grand opening on August 15th, we will be featuring an extremely rare Moog synthesizer that will be on loan from another museum. We can’t reveal what synth that is yet, but this will be the first of many rare instruments that we bring in from our network of museums and educational institutions.

What circumstances gave you the opportunity to finally open the Moogseum?

Because we believe strongly in creating a sustainable museum, we’ve been patiently waiting for the most suitable location with the right financial dynamics. The opportunity to lease our current space in the heart of downtown Asheville was presented us less than a year ago. And we knew we were extremely fortunate to find a storefront museum space with an affordable rent, because rents in downtown Asheville have become so expensive that many local businesses have had to leave. Our landlord is not quite as merciless as others and extended a very fair offer to us, and we knew that we had to grab the opportunity. 

This combination of financial access and great location laid the groundwork for us to build the Moogseum that we had always envisioned. All of the work that we’ve been doing in education and archival preservation converged in the Moogseum, which is truly the result of over a decade of work. 

What steps did you have to take to make it a reality?

Even putting together a small museum is a very involved process that includes permitting, conceptual renderings, architectural renderings, exhibit planning, exhibit design, exhibit installation, lighting consultation, construction, historical research, including gathering materials from scores of original sources, scanning and display of over a thousand historical items, and some very high tech printing and application processes. Every one of those steps is very detailed and very labor intensive. We had the great fortune of working with many specialists who had been involved in museum creation in the past, and their expertise has been invaluable. The entire Bob Moog Foundation staff poured their hearts and minds into making the Moogseum a reality. It was quite a feat to pull the project off in just over six months’ time. 

Did you encounter any surprises along the way?

There were plenty of surprises along the way, which was to be expected from an ambitious project that was unlike anything we had done before. With thousands of details to oversee, and dozens of service providers, exhibit designers, and collaborators, the need to problem-solve due to shifting circumstances was almost constant, especially the closer we got to fruition. It was remarkable to watch everyone involved surmount the challenges, because we were all so committed to not only completing the project, but doing so in a way that would honor the brilliant legacy that we represent. I am indebted to everyone who worked to make the Moogseum a reality. We could have never pulled it off without extraordinary efforts from so many people. 

Let’s drill down a bit. Could you please go into more detail about some of the exhibits and the interactive experiences visitors could have?

The Moogseum brings Bob Moog’s pioneering legacy to life through experiential historical exploration and educational exhibits.

Photo by Stephan Pruitt Photography

A multimedia, interactive Bob Moog Timelinelends insight into lesser-known junctures in his life and work, including those with whom he worked closely, using archival and digital material. This timeline features almost 100 beautiful photos and documents on a wave-shaped wall, graphically connected by elements of a circuit. However, we didn’t want to be limited by our wall space, so we provided three interactive touchscreen kiosks that feature 700 pieces of archival material, including rare photos and letters that can’t be found anywhere else in the world, allowing people to delve deeply into any given year along Bob’s trajectory and read much more about it. The kiosks also feature over 50 songs using the Moog synthesizer, and a host of interviews with Bob, allowing people to hear his perspective on a variety of subjects.

Embedded in the timeline are four cases featuring rare archival items taken from both the Bob Moog Foundation Archives and the Moog Family Archives, including items like Bob’s slide rule that he used as a teenager, foot pedals that he designed for Maestro while still at Moog Music, and a set of three Moogerfoogers that he gifted to an employee, all serial number 3, and more. 

[You’ll also find] the all-important story of Leon Thereminand his seminal invention, the theremin, both inspirational forces in Bob’s life, including interactive theremins and oscilloscopes providing a lesson on understanding waveforms and playing the theremin.

A “How Electricity Becomes Sound” immersive visualization dome invites visitors to step inside a circuit board and trace electricity as it evolves into sound, delving into the very heart of Bob’s work in sound synthesis. 

Photo by Stephan Pruitt Photography

A re-creation of Bob’s workbenchand an exhibit on modular synthesis features alegendary modular that includes prototype modules from the late ‘60s.

The interactive Timeline of Synthesis features 34 crucial developments of both historical and contemporary pioneers in the field, beginning with the Teleharmonium in 1896 up through the Haken Continuum in 1999. Through this exhibit, we are carrying on Bob’s commitment to understanding the pioneers who came before and after him. He used to both lecture and write extensively about this subject. 

Hands-on Synthesisfeatures an interactive tutorial and a chance for visitors to play synthesizers that Bob inspired and learn about the building blocks of synthesis. [Insert Hands-On Synthesis.jpg] Visitors to the Moogseum love this exhibit because it makes synthesis accessible to the everyday person with little or no musical or technical background. The exhibit guides the visitor through the functionality of oscillators, filters, envelopes, harmonics, voltage control, and more and allows the visitor to explore each parameter through sculpting sound in a directed but creative way. It also allows people to experience sequencers and to experiment musically and technically.

Photo by Stephan Pruitt Photography

Please tell us more about Bob’s workbench.

In an effort to share Bob’s working environment with visitors, we recreated his workbench, using a combination of his own equipment and identical equipment. A former engineer from Moog Music who worked with Bob on the Voyager assisted us in the exhibit. One of the fun things about the exhibit is that we can fill it will all kinds of rare instruments that Bob would have worked on. Right now there is a Minimoog Model D, a Sonic Six, an R.A. Moog PMS-15 amplifier (extremely rare, with only two known to exist), a Moog Music 12-Stage Phaser and 16-Channel Vocoder, and an R.A. Moog Modular from 1967.

What can you tell us about the exhibits pertaining to Bob’s life? 

The Bob Moog Timeline is a true highlight of the Moogseum, as it traces his 71 years by drawing on rare archival material from both the Bob Moog Foundation Archives and the Moog Family Archives. Using materials that include never-before-seen photos, correspondence from Bob to his relatives, and professional documents, the timeline lends unprecedented insights into his complex life and legacy. The materials in this exhibit are shared in a linear wall exhibit interspersed with cases of rare physical archival materials, as well as through interactive touchscreens that allow the visitor to delve into any given year and discover much more about it through over 700 pieces of archival material, video, and music.

Bob’s life is also shared in the Leon Theremin exhibit, which conveys Theremin’s work and history, but also connects that to Bob’s early beginnings in electronic music. This exhibit is marked by three rare theremins that Bob created: the R.A. Moog Co. Model 201, one of approximately 20 ever made (1954); the R.A. Moog Melodia theremins, Bob’s first transistorized theremin and the design that led Herb Deutsch to him a couple of years later (1961); and a Big Briar Ethervox MIDI Theremin, one of only 50 ever made, serial number 002 (1998).

Where did the archival materials in the Moogseum come from?

The archival materials on display at the Moogseum are part of the vast collections in the Bob Moog Foundation Archives and the Moog Family Archives, with the exception of one very special small prototype synthesizer project, which is on loan from a private supporter. The Moogseum is the only museum that currently has access to the Moog Family Archives, so there are hundreds of items on display that can’t be seen anywhere else.

Photo by Geary Yelton

What can you tell us about the Bob Moog Foundation’s educational outreach?

Our hallmark educational project, Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool, teaches second-graders about the science of sound through music and technology. We currently serve 3,000 students a year through this innovative 10-week program, during which students learn how sound is made, how it travels, and how it’s heard. Every lesson is created to be multisensory, so children are touching, hearing, and seeing sound, thus reinforcing the material in a way that it is most likely to be retained and inspire them. We use theremins, oscilloscopes, and a wide variety of musical instruments to demonstrate the concepts, as well as using pages from Bob’s schematic notebooks to teach scientific methodology. 

We have expanded the program from eight classrooms to over 100 classrooms in our local area, with the goal of eventually expanding nationwide. We are currently developing our own educational tool to be able to scale the program to serve hundreds, if not thousands, of classrooms, and we look forward to training teachers all over the country to be able to inspire as many children as possible.

What kind of educational tool are you developing?

We are developing a theremin-based tool that will integrate an oscilloscope application, an amplifier, and some additional components, allowing ease of use for teachers from any background to use to teach kids about the physics of waveforms.  

How can Synth and Software readers help the Foundation carry out its mission?

There are many ways to support the Foundation, and they are enumerated on our website.

The top most powerful ways include finacial donations. Funding fuels any non-profit, and ours is no different. We rely on the support of donors to help strengthen and sustain our projects, including the Moogseum. Consider becoming a sustaining donor, donating $10, $20, or $50 or more each month.

Donations of instruments or archival materialwill help keep the Bob Moog Foundation Archives growing. To help us foster a greater understanding of Bob’s life and legacy, and to help keep the Moogseum vibrant with new material, consider donating your Moog-related instruments or archive material, including photos, to us to protect, preserve, and share. Write us at [email protected] to inquire.

Volunteer to lend your skills to our work, including education, archival preservation, fundraising, marketing, or leadership on the Board of Directors.

Gaining Moogmentum

To celebrate the grand opening of the Moogseum, the Bob Moog Foundation will host a three-day event called Moogmentum: Synthesizing Innovation, Music, and Creativity. Of special significance will be an exhibition of the first prototype Moog synthesizer, on loan from the Henry Ford Museum, which Bob developed alongside Hofstra University professor Herb Deutsch in 1964.

The festivities will begin on Tuesday evening, August 13th, when synthesist Larry Fast, formerly of Synergy and the Peter Gabriel Band, will moderate a discussion with Bob Moog collaborator Herb Deutsch at Asheville’s Masonic Temple. Attendees will hear some of the earliest recordings of the first Moog synthesizer, along with clips of Bob explaining its operation to Herb. Later that evening, ex-Yes and Moody Blues keyboardist Patrick Moraz will perform on the same stage and discuss his longstanding relationship with Bob.

The following day begins with Michelle giving a guided tour of the Moogseum, followed in the afternoon and evening by VIP events. These include “Modulations with Moog and Moraz,” the unveiling of the original Moog prototype, and a dinner with guests of honor Herb Deutsch, Larry Fast, and Patrick Moraz.

A synth workshop featuring multi-instrumentalist Lisa Bella Donna will take place beginning on Thursday morning, followed by Larry’s free keynote discussion, “Tracing Analog to Digital,” both at Asheville Music Hall. Back at the Moogseum, everything culminates at 4:00 with the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Festivities come to a close that night at Asheville Music Hall with a concert by Lisa Bella Donna.

You can purchase tickets for all Moogmentum events on Eventbrite. Including all fees, general admission tickets are $81.20, and VIP tickets are $314.59. Tickets for individual events are also available. Note that a ticket for the free keynote discussion will be required.

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  1. Pingback: On the Scene at Moogmentum | Synth and Software

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