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Reviewed by:
  • Moog
  • Travis D. Stimeling
Moog. DVD. Directed by Hans Fjellestad. Brooklyn, NY: Plexifilm, 2005. PLX018. $24.95.

Robert Moog (1934–2005) was a key figure in the development of electronic music in the United States during the second half of the twentieth century. As the inventor of the synthesizer, Moog's influence has been felt in many musical realms, including avant-garde composition, popular music, and even in advertising. At the same time, Moog was often castigated for creating "unnatural" musical instruments that were mistakenly thought to reduce or eliminate altogether the humanity of musical composition and performance. Hans Fjellestad's documentary film rectifies this common misunderstanding of Moog and his instruments, portraying Moog as a curious observer of nature, as an inventor deeply concerned with the ways people interact with musical instruments, and as a passionate and awestruck fan of music and the people who make it.

The film begins in Asheville, North Carolina, at his Moog Music, Inc. factory and at his home, where he explains how electronic music is a human creation. As Moog demonstrates how the various electronic components in the Minimoog work together to create sound, he observes that, like a violin builder's knowledge of wood, his understanding of circuitry imbues his instruments with specific timbral characteristics that are inseparable from Moog himself. In conjunction with this discussion, a beautiful sequence follows a Minimoog from raw materials to finished product, focusing especially on the hands of the technicians responsible for building the instruments. In this first act, therefore, Fjellestad and Moog together defend electronic music as an extension of humanity, not as an artificial and mass-manufactured product.

This idea is expanded upon in the second act of the film, which features Moog interacting with musicians who have made use of his instruments in their compositions. The impact of Moog on the face of music in the past four decades becomes abundantly clear as musicians as diverse as Walter Sears, Gershon Kingsley, Paul D. Miller/DJ Spooky, Rick Wakeman, Bernie Worrell, Herb Deutsch, Pamelia Kurstin, Tim Gane, and Keith Emerson perform and discuss how Moog's instruments changed the way they make music. The ensuing discussions also make it clear that, despite the wide-ranging musical styles of the musicians who have used Moog's inventions, his devotees form a community that transcends stylistic differences. Furthermore, footage of Moogfest 2, a concert held in New York on 18 May 2004, provides ample musical evidence of Moog's influence and of the very personal connections which musicians have made with their Moog instruments.

Fjellestad's film successfully portrays Moog as a sensitive man with an abiding love for humanity and for music. Viewers will be disappointed, however, that the DVD's bonus features include only three complete performances from Moogfest 2 and that the deleted interview scenes are quite brief. But, keeping with Moog's wish that people will interact with his instruments, the disc includes a Minimoog V emulator that permits people to understand more clearly the possibilities afforded by Moog's inventions.

Travis D. Stimeling
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


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pp. 674-675
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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