Moog

on September 24, 2004 by Sheri Linden
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Before digital sound, there was the space-age analog wonder of the Moog synthesizer. Its inventor, Robert Moog, was interested more in the physics of sound than popular music, but he nevertheless became the hero of keyboard gods like Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman. For those with only a vague notion of the machine's place in music history, this brief yet rambling docu serves as a sporadically intriguing intro. Prog-rock fans and others in the know likely will get a kick out of seeing Moog (rhymes with vogue) talking about his work and its applications.

Like the recent "Tom Dowd & the Language of Music," this film profiles a gentle-souled physicist who made a mark on popular music. But unlike the late recording engineer/producer Dowd, Moog didn't work directly with musicians. At first his sonic machine was of interest to avant-garde composers, then became a staple of film soundtracks and commercials (the docu includes Edd Kalehoff's rousing Moog rendition of the Schaefer beer theme). The synthesizer's mainstream breakthrough was the 1968 hit album "Switched-On Bach" by Wendy (né Walter) Carlos (who refused to be interviewed for the film).

For a film about music, "Moog" lacks a beat. Director/editor Hans Fjellestad tends to let his subject repeat himself in interviews and conversations. Still, the 70-year-old scientist-turned-entrepreneur's childlike wonder comes through, whether he's puttering in his organic garden, chatting with composer Herbert Deutsch, his collaborator in the 1964 invention, or listening to musicians rhapsodize about his innovation. Wakeman, of the band Yes, explains that the Minimoog empowered rock keyboardists to hold their own with guitarists in the all-important realm of solos. He and Bernie Worrell, of Parliament-Funkadelic, offer bawdy insights in a backstage chat with Moog that feels like the most spontaneous part of the film.

"Moog" ends just when it's getting interesting, delving a bit deeper into the inventor's musings about the mysterious connection between the musician and the instrument. Moog, who built his first theremin at 14 and remains fascinated with the ethereal electronic device, says at one point that the deeper you go into matter, the more it's energy. Would that this affectionate tribute to the unassuming man behind a musical revolution had more energy of its own. Directed and written by Hans Fjellestad. Produced by Ryan Page and Hans Fjellestad. A Plexifilm release. Documentary. Unrated. Running time: 69 min

Tags: Directed and written by Hans Fjellestad, Produced by Ryan Page, Hans Fjellestad, Plexifilm, Documentary
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