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The future of sound and thought at Moogfest 2016

Moogfest bills itself as the synthesis of music, art, and technology. Now in its 12th year, Moogfest will take place in Durham, North Carolina about a mile from Duke University, from Thursday May 19th through Sunday May 22nd. The conference will feature performances by Gary Numan, Miike Snow, The Orb, Laurie Anderson, Grimes, and dozens of other artists.

All told, including during the day, there will be over 300 sessions, performances, and workshops at Moogfest 2016 covering future tech, business, product design, science, and perhaps most importantly, the process and craft of creating music — from rock and electronic music to the experimental and avant-garde.

Dr. Robert Moog Moogfest

Moogfest is named after Dr. Robert Moog (sounds like “rogue,” pictured above), the famed inventor and founder of Moog Music that engineered the analog synthesizer in the 1960s. Perhaps the most famous early use of Moog synthesizers was Wendy Carlos’s 1968 Switched-On Bach. But it was the launch of the compact Minimoog synthesizer that propelled the synthesizer into the forefront of rock and pop music.

The Minimoog popularized what is now considered standard fare for controls on a synthesizer, including voltage-controlled oscillators that generate sound, a filter that adds harmonics and resonance, and an amplifier that boosts the resultant audio and lets you shape it with attack, sustain, decay, and release parameters. Back in 2012, Google honored Moog with a doodle that let you play with a miniature version of the synth in your browser.

The employee-owned Moog Music of today has a pretty comprehensive product lineup, with prices ranging from a few hundred dollars for filter and effects pedals, up to $5,000 for the flagship Minimoog Voyager XL. The lineup also includes Taurus bass pedals and theremins in addition to virtual analog machines. On the software side, the company has also produced some truly inexpensive and amazing iOS apps, from the popular Animoog to the most recent Model 15, which now delivers the power of a $10,000 modular synthesizer inside a $30 app that runs on any recent iPhone or iPad.

Moog Model 15

It wasn’t long before Moog wasn’t the only game in town, and that’s even more true today. Countless synthesizer plug-ins and apps from other vendors deliver a lot of the same power, and in some cases new and interesting interpretations of modeled analog synthesis. Arturia builts its name on a series of spot-on plug-in emulations of original Moog hardware. Today, you buy a Moog because you want the sound of the original in hardware that you can take on stage as well as record with in the studio.

Moogfest 2016 isn’t just about synthesizers. The show floors will be packed with hands-on workshops and immersive installations. It will feature a talk by virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier, who wrote You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto among other books, as well as one by the transhumanist visionary Dr. Martine Rothblatt. I’ll be attending Moogfest 2016 for ExtremeTech; watch this space for coverage of IBM Watson, artificial intelligence, smart cities, and of course, any and all things synthesizer and music-making that I can get my hands on during the conference.

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