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Moogfest Prix Fixe: 8 Performances to Pair with Panels

Our suggestions for the ultimate experience in all Moogfest has to offer

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Ah, the Moog. A synthesizer so popular even non-musicians can recognize it by logo, but almost everyone fails to pronounce its name correctly. Way back in 1964, Robert Moog created a voltage-controlled analog synthesizer with Herbet Deutsch that was neither bulky nor too pricey. Once it was demonstrated at a couple festivals, musicians began grabbing copies immediately, most notably The Beatles, Mick Jagger, and Sun Ra. All of a sudden, electronic music wasn’t ostracizing listeners in the way its eerie tones once did — especially not when performed in pop or jazz songs — and by the time the Minimoog came around in the ’70s, musicians began dragging it around on tour, introducing it to audiences worldwide. The Moog became a permanent fixture in music.

Maybe you didn’t need that history lesson, but it’s important nonetheless to provide insight as to why Moogfest was created — and why it’s so valuable some five decades later. After its first run in 2004 in New York City, Moogfest began drawing larger crowds not just of music fanatics, but people curious about the logic and technicalities of the instrument itself. The festival moved to Asheville in 2010, took a break in 2015, and then, as if out of nowhere, relocated to Durham for this year’s installment.

So what does all of this mean? Moog was a bizarre sight so many decades ago, nevertheless a bizarre sound. A change in location with 12 new venues (to regulars, at least), a giant lineup featuring Gary Numan and Laurie Anderson, and a commitment to more innovative panels represents a return to unfamiliarity and the joy it can bring. With a new setting, the festival can further blur the lines between musician, speaker, techie, and festivalgoer, allowing attendees to interact with one another and redefine their traditional title to one more representative of the day.

So to prep for that, we offer up our top eight pairings of the festival. Here, you get duos that emphasize both the performer and the panel. These dip into history from the ‘60s, afrofuturism, synth-heavy music, rising rap, Kinetic interactive features, Berlin club music, and more, matching them up so your transition from day to evening activities maintains some consistency during a festival that prides itself in shaking things up.

–Nina Corcoran
Associate Editor

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WHO: Hundred Waters

WHEN: Thursday, May 19th @ 7:00pm
WHERE: MotorCo Park

For three people, Hundred Waters create an atmospheric sound way larger than seems possible. Nicole Miglis, Trayer Tryon, and Zach Tetreault find middle ground between acoustic gentleness and electronic waves, stitching together the type of gorgeous, soft, crescendo-filled work that hits your gut until you start to tear up. If you’ve ever wondered what it would sound like if Bjork teamed up with Four Tet, this is your dream come true. Above all else, stick around to hear Miglis sing. While playing keys, her vocals take extraordinary form, maintaining body while never sacrificing the delivery of a sung whisper.

PAIR IT WITH: The Exchange: Switchboard Synthesizers

WHEN: Thursday, May 19th @ 12:00pm
WHERE: The Carrack

In this installation, repurposed antique manual telephone switchboards are converted into fully functional modular synthesizers. With patchable synth circuits, the once-defunct household item pushes imagination, reinvention, and environmentally friendly techniques towards new horizons. All questions will be answered by the event’s organizer and presenter, NYC-based DJ Antenes, during a Q+A session that follows.

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WHO: Arthur Russell’s Instrumentals

WHEN: Thursday, May 19th @ 10:30pm
WHERE: Carolina Theatre, Fletcher Hall

Though impossible to sum up the importance of his career, Arthur Russell and his legacy live on through the passion and performance of fans. The cellist, DJ, electronic musician, and more influenced musicians of every genre (Sufjan Stevens, Hot Chip, Blood Orange, etc.) long after he passed away from AIDS in 1992. During this rare performance, nine musicians will perform one of Russell’s greatest works, Instrumentals, which was only performed five times while he was still alive. It’s since been revived in London, Dublin, Cologne, Oslo, Liverpool, Paris, and Barcelona, but never once in the US since he passed. It goes without saying that an opportunity to understand his genius in the live setting like this can’t be missed.

PAIR IT WITH: Future Projections: Memories of the Space Age

WHEN: Thursday, May 19th @ 2:30pm
WHERE: Carolina Theatre

Moogfest’s nine-part screening program of short films, Future Projections, aims to capture the changes humans have seen occur over the last 125 years. From techno-prophecy to oracular visions, it’s an enlightening look at what we feared and what now fears us. Films range from three minutes up to just shy of half an hour in length, all of which trace the future of Earth through things like daydreams, flickering static, and a sandstorm of sounds. It’s a harsher vision of Earth that needs sweeping clean after by the gorgeous instrumentals of Russell.

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WHO: Grimes

WHEN: Friday, May 20th @ 8:50pm
WHERE: MotorCo Park

After releasing our third favorite album of last year, Grimes is a must-see. For starters, she’s fresh off the release of a powerful LP with stuttering pop and no-prisoners lyricism that’s as much a feminist statement on modern-day living as it is an encouragement for everyone to lighten up. Live, those songs speed in tempo, and Claire Boucher’s addictive personality sees her jumping around with more energy than a child. At Moogfest, her music will take a deeper turn, likely exploring not just her gift for hooks and harmonies, but Boucher’s attention to the intricacies of her instruments, all of which she taught herself how to play.

PAIR IT WITH: Realiti – Inside the Music of Grimes

WHEN: Friday, May 20th @ 10:00am
WHERE: DCC Plaza

This free installation invites viewers to explore the technical side of Grimes’ musical creations. With help from Microsoft’s Music x Tech program and their updated Kinect technology, she created a hands-on environment in which fans can rework single “REALiTi”. Users can manipulate their surroundings, translating data into audio and visuals, in an ever-evolving, immersive, and dynamic world, blurring the line between musician, audience, and — of course — reality.

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WHO: Grouper

WHEN: Friday, May 20th @ 9:10pm
WHERE: Carolina Theatre 

Liz Harris could easily be the only Californian who doesn’t embrace the state’s unrelenting sunshine. Though Harris grew up in the Bay area, her music couldn’t be further from beach weather, adapting melancholy reverb and monotone vocals that scream “Your life is haunted” instead of “Your life is happy.” Throw in some bare guitar work and plodding piano and you’ve got Grouper. Don’t interpret that as a sign of laziness. Harris crafts articulate, emotional, filling minimalist work that never settles for the easy path. Live, she turns much of Grouper’s work into a dronefest so it pummels listeners even harder.

PAIR IT WITH: Acoustic Metamaterials

WHEN: Friday, May 20th @ 10:30am
WHERE: 21c Museum Hotel 

There’s no better way to prep for atmospheric music like Grouper’s than with a panel talk on acoustic metamaterials. Duke University professor Steven A. Cummer will talk on the science and application of artificial materials for sound, explaining the ways in which they enable us to create engineered structures, to manipulate sound waves, and the benefits they provide that vary from ordinary materials. If that doesn’t sound tempting, maybe the inclusion of acoustic holograms will.

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WHO: Tory Lanez

WHEN: Friday, May 20th @ 11:45pm
WHERE: MotorCo Park 

Toronto boasts a reputable music scene when it comes to indie rock and electronica. Rap, on the other hand, gets shoved to the side. Say hello to Tory Lanez. The Toronto artist turns the spotlight on hip-hop and R&B with hints of UK grime, whipping up beats that make art out of dirt and broken glass. Yeah, Lanez creates a sound far more sinister than Canadians generally showcase, but it’s a sound that has paid off — especially given Lanez has numerous mixtapes out at this point. If that wasn’t the case, Lanez’s set time wouldn’t be just before GZA himself.

PAIR IT WITH: Time Traveling with Hip-Hop

WHEN: Friday, May 20th @ 4:30pm
WHERE: Carolina Theatre 

Over the years, fellow Wu-Tang Clan members often said GZA serves as the group’s “head.” In this discussion, GZA sits down with Duke professor Mark Anthony Neal to talk about the role of hip-hop in challenging our ideas of science fiction, its relation to rap, and how the two further additional themes as a result — essentially making good on that title. Given GZA often dives into the theory that Black Studies’ rise out of Black Power can be traced back to a move to university from the streets, he’s a perfect fit for the panel, likely already preparing to stretch his widely-discussed extensive vocabulary to a size twice what it is in his lyrics.

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WHO: Jlin

WHEN: Friday, May 20th @ 12:00am
WHERE: The Armory 

When parents have good taste, it’s almost guaranteed their child will, too. That’s the case for Jerrilynn Pattson. The steel mill worker grew up listening to everything from Anita Baker to The Rolling Stones, and now, under the moniker Jlin, she interprets those influences in subtle ways in her own electronic music. Since she began producing music in 2008, Jlin is everywhere. Her songs appear in footwork compilations and fashion shows, and live, they move every foot in the room.

PAIR IT WITH: Body Scrub, Gender

WHEN: Friday, May 20th @ 10:00am
WHERE: Carolina Theatre 

In this interactive installation, video game technology amplifies body language thanks to a Kinect sensor and a few Mac minis. Body Scrub Device gives control of the audience experience to those performing, allowing them to create a virtual fun house where spectators are encouraged to become the spectacle. The twist? It’s intended to be displayed near public bathrooms so that when viewers and participants are reflected, they’re cast as male and female symbols. It suggests gender is fluid and, as more people argue in passing years, not as binary as bathroom signs like to pretend they are. It’s the brainchild of Iranian-American research artist Kurosh ValaNejad, a man whose work suggests he’s wise beyond his years and preps listeners to forget preassigned information about themselves just in time to let loose dancing at Jlin’s set.

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WHO: Moses Sumney

WHEN: Saturday, May 21st @ 4:00pm
WHERE: First Presbyterian Church 

If you’ve heard of Moses Sumney, then it’s likely you keep your ear to the ground. The musician rose to fame in just over a year. After moving to Los Angeles to attend UCLA and teaching himself guitar, Sumney began performing on campus to ever-swelling crowds. Soon his hushed songs and looping melodies passed around by word of mouth, earning him airplay on KEXP with cuts like “Man on the Moon”. Barely a year later, Sufjan Stevens invited him to open his tour, stunning audience members with barely enough tracks to constitute an EP. Raised between Southern California and Ghana, he captures his hometown’s sounds with effortless heart, namely afropop rhythms and lush, feel-good guitar.

PAIR IT WITH: Can You Remember the Future?

WHEN: Saturday, May 21st @ 2:00pm
WHERE: The Armory 

If there’s a true can’t-miss Moogfest conversation, it’s the panel known as Can You Remember the Future? A broad discussion about Afrofuturism as both a discipline and practice pushes those onstage to discuss its current state, how it furthers arts and culture, its shift in politics, and more. It’s the type of freewheeling conversation that etches enlightenment without trying too hard, often resulting in a take-away far greater in value than viewers expected upon entering the room. Thanks to its stacked lineup — Mykki Blanco, Kimberly Drew, Chuck Lightning, Janelle Monae, Reggie Watts, and more — it’s already garnering buzz that will naturally carry over to the roots of Sumney’s music.

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WHO: Julia Holter

WHEN: Saturday, May 21st @ 6:15pm
WHERE: First Presbyterian Church

Describing the genius of Julia Holter is like trying to articulate why magic is enchanting, why orchestrations are warm, and why fairy tales are very much true. It’s impossible, though a simple “Go see her live” will do. The multi-instrumentalist continues to one-up her own game with each release, and last year’s excellent Have You in My Wilderness was no exception. Holter throws musical sparkles upwards and freezes them in the air, bringing upright bass to life with her live band and never once letting her ballads drag their feet. Hazy effects and striking vocals allow poppy hooks to feel like a dream you will definitely remember come the morning.

PAIR IT WITH: No Effects Live Podcast Recording with Julia Holter and Empress Of

WHEN: Saturday, May 21st @ 10:30am
WHERE: 21c Museum Hotel 

Get a peak into Holter’s world when she does a live podcast taping. Tanlines’ Jesse Cohen runs a podcast called No Effects, which dives into the life and work of musicians, oftentimes going long in a natural, conversational format. Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste, A Tribe Called Quest’s Shaheed Muhammad, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, Kenny Hval, and more have appeared on it over the years, each giving insight into what it’s like to be them as a musician and them as a human. Holter will be joined by Lorely Rodriguez of Empress Of as well. What better way to prep for a show than to find out what the artist is thinking about while they’re up there?

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WHO: Laurel Halo

WHEN: Saturday, May 21st @ 8:30pm
WHERE: Pinhook 

Even though she’s received plenty of praise from press, Laurel Halo never seems to garner as much attention in the US as her work warrants. The electronic musician is a staple of Hyperdub, releasing both instrumental and vocal records on the label to great success as well as collaborating with acts like John Cale and Julia Holter. With a style that draws from Detroit, Germany, and the UK, her music pulses with liquid synth and remarkably light — but constant — percussion, no doubt influenced by her current setup in Berlin.

PAIR IT WITH: Sensory Percussion and The Future of Drumming

WHEN: Saturday, May 21st @ 1:00pm
WHERE: Full Frame Theatre

Drumming is one of the oldest forms of instrumentation, but it’s still got a long way to go. In this hour-long workshop and demonstration, Tlacael Esparza of music tech startup Sunhouse discusses Sensory Percussion, a new system for percussive expression in electronics. The platform aids in creating and performing music through acoustic control of digital sound, lending a hand in understanding the sonics of tight, crisp, and gentle drumming in electronica. Renowned drummers Ian Chang and Greg Fox will be present to demonstrate and perform with the platform. It’s the perfect breakdown of a sound heavily present in Laurel Halo’s music, although likely created in alternate programs.

 

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