Five Questions: Emmy Parker

Moogfest creative director describes the themes and spirit behind this year's event
Image placeholder title

Moogfest launched in 2004 as a single-night event celebrating the 50-year history of Moog Music. That first year featured artists such as Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Bernie Worrell, and Stanley Jordan, performing for an audience of 600 at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Times Square.

The festival has evolved into an annual gathering of more than 40,000 musicians, entrepreneurs, critical thinkers, and their fans for four days of concerts and programming, focusing on musical and technical experimentation, cultural collaboration, and the future of creativity.

Image placeholder title

Moogfest 2017 is to be held in Durham, N.C., May 18-21. Highlights will include performances by Michael Stipe, Flying Lotus, Suzanne Ciani, Talib Kweli, S U R V I V E, and Animal Collective; as well as workshops on hacking systems, STEAM education, spatial sound, and techno shamanism. Moogfest creative director Emmy Parker talks about the ways this festival celebrates the spirit of Bob Moog.

Moogfest seems to have a growing focus on technology and futurism. How is the festival looking to explore these ideas, in the context of electronic music?

Electronic music is unique in that it’s the only genre that is dependent on new technological tools to advance the art form. It’s a fascinating interplay between futurists who tell us what “can be,” inventors that deliver new technologies, designers who fashion them into creative tools, and artists that ultimately use these instruments to express new compositions. This spectrum of ideas progresses through the intimate relationship between creativity and technology, and in order to truly grasp electronic music’s deep cultural significance we explore not only the artists, but also the futurists and technologists that perpetuate it.

The human-machine interface is fundamental to electronic music expression. What are some of the ways the festival explores the evolution of this relationship?

Every year we have an intense focus on instrument design and its history. Some highlights of this year’s program are presentations by Dave Smith, synth-design icon and one of the inventors of MIDI; and Dave Rossum, cofounder of E-mu Systems and the inventor of instruments and technologies that have advanced the state of the art of electronic musical instrument design for more than 47 years.

Gerhard Behles, CEO of Ableton, will discuss the aesthetic, emotional, and political implications of the democratization of digital tools, and modular video synthesizer designer Lars Larsen will reflect on the current revolution using analog tools in video art production. To give context to the overall exploration of music and machine, Andy Cavorta of MIT Media Lab will explore highlights from the past 400 years of expressive machines.

Moogfest features a protest theme this year. Why is it so important to include music and technology in conversations about sociopolitical engagement?

Technology plays a critical role in shaping the future, and music is a universally powerful and uniquely resonant human experience, and each can be harnessed for positive change. This is a unique opportunity for everyone present to explore sonic resistance and how emerging technology tools can be used for counteraction.

How are festival participants taking these conversations and carrying them forward—keeping the momentum going after the event?

While Moogfest is a platform to explore themes in our community, it is just as much a place to instigate new dialog. This effect relies on the founding principles of our origins in synthesis—through combining new elements in a single platform, you can create something wholly new. We allow for new relationships to bud via collaborations that span multiple disciplines. When can an experimental noise artist share a stage (or an audience) with a biophysicist? We see this all the time: People meet, start new musical collaborations, invent businesses, get a new skill (or piece of hardware) that allows them to explore in a way they never have before. We are confident that this will be the case with our protest stage, and that it will be more than “inspiration” to organize and take action.

What are some of the more far-reaching ways the festival is continuing to honor Bob Moog’s legacy?

Bob liked to say that he was simply a channel and that his creative process was somewhere between discovering and witnessing. Moogfest began as a celebration of Bob Moog and the creative tools he invented. Twelve years after his passing, the festival continues on as a celebration of his fearless spirit of innovation, and how new technology enhances creative expression. Our hope is that people will take what they learn and experience at Moogfest back into their communities and build on it to design our future. Bob Moog started out building Theremins in his father’s garage; who’s to say the next technology visionary couldn’t start out at a synth workshop at Moogfest?