Directed by Hans Fjellestad. (2004, NR, 70 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 26, 2004
Robert Moog, the inventor of the music synthesizer that bears his name, has changed the face of modern music. Over the 40 years since Moog’s first contraption was produced in 1964, our ears have become accustomed to the otherworldly sounds of which the Moog synthesizer is capable. Yet, more likely than not, we are generally not aware that we’re hearing synthesized music, so common is it for musicians to use the device to re-create and duplicate already known sounds and instruments than create new, never-before-heard notes and arrangements. But that investigation would involve social history and music evolution (as would a study of the number of musicians out of work due to replacement by synthesizers). Moog is a laudatory ovation to the man whose technical work has proved essential to numerous artists working today. As such, it provides only a smattering of social context for the electronic music explosion. Moog is an inventor’s movie all the way. Robert Moog appears in every scene in the film, which is largely a compendium of talking heads telling of their first introduction to the Moog synthesizer or testifying about how intrinsic the apparatus is to their work. Keyboard musicians Keith Emerson of Emerson Lake & Palmer, Rick Wakeman of Yes, and funkmaster Bernie Worrell all sing Moog’s praises – both the man and the machine. Groups like Stereolab are seen in concert and modern samplers like DJ Logic try to compare the synthesizer’s capacity for storing information to the way hip-hop artists sample the riffs of yore. There are things to be learned here, but it would take a real aficionado to geek out on all the knobs and circuit boards on display. We learn something of Moog himself, who kicks off the film by saying, "I can feel what's going on inside a piece of electronic equipment." To him, creating synthesized sound is a very organic process (he is also an organic vegetable gardener). It makes sense, somehow, that he was a theremin salesman before he got into designing synthesizers. A later tangent in the film has him observing a theremin player in Japan. The point the filmmaker is trying to make is that synthesized music should not be synonymous with canned music: Synthesized music is still created by the human hand and mind. However, the point would be better argued with examples that didn’t include the bombastic riffs of Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman. Sometimes just because a thing is possible doesn’t mean it should be done.