Robert Moog was a game-changing electronic music pioneer and the father of four children (and one step-daughter), including daughter Michelle Moog-Koussa, executive director of the Moogseum, a brand-new facility opening on what would have been Moog’s 85th birthday, Thursday (May 23), in Moog’s adopted hometown of Asheville, N.C.
The 1,400 square foot storefront in the downtown section of the city will display many of Moog’s personal archives for the first time. An official grand opening will take place on Aug. 15.
Moog was 30 years old in 1964 when he introduced the first commercial synthesizer to the world at the Audio Engineering Society convention in New York. Before he unveiled his invention, synthesizers were room-sized and sold for six figures. Moog revolutionized electronic music by introducing a compact-sized device playable by a keyboard and available for $10,000.
The album most responsible for the widespread popularity of the Moog synthesizer was Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Bach, which peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 in 1968. Around that time, the sounds of the Moog were featured on albums by the Doors, the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Keith Emerson.
The Moogseum, opening under the auspices of the Bob Moog Foundation, is meant to serve as an educational, historical and cultural resource for western North Carolina and the world of electronic music. Exhibits will include a multi-media, interactive timeline of Moog’s life and work; the story of Léon Theremin and his seminal invention, the theremin; a “How Electricity Becomes Sound” immersive visualization dome that invites guests to step inside a circuit board and trace electricity as it evolves into sound; a re-creation of Moog’s workbench and a prototype modular synthesizer from the 1960s; and a hands-on, immersive look at the basics of sound synthesis.
Billboard spoke with executive director Moog-Koussa about the founding of the Museum, Moog’s long-lasting legacy and her personal relationship with her father.
What are your earliest memories of your father and his work?
When I was little, my father was gone a lot, either working or traveling for work, so I didn’t see nearly as much of him as I saw of my mother. My first memories of him are from our house in Williamsville, a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y., where we moved after my father had to sell his company, R.A. Moog Co. I was three at the time, and more than any given event, I have a memory of what he was like, which was an unusual combination of somewhat aloof – thinking about work, most likely – and rather quiet and serious, but with times of warmth and humor. I always got this sense, even as a little kid, that he was different than anyone else I knew. He had this rare, wise presence, and I often felt he was functioning on a different intellectual plane than the rest of us.
The time that I did spend with him during that period, he was always very present. That was one of the special things about being around him — when he was with you, he was focused and engaged. My father didn’t really bring his work home, so as a young child I didn’t have very much exposure to it. That changed a little bit around 1973, when I was five years old and he was on the television game show To Tell the Truth. We weren’t allowed to watch much TV in my family, so the fact that my mother sat us all down in front of the TV was already a big deal. But then seeing my father on TV, and hearing how they referred to him, with the accolades and celebrity, well that was a real moment of dawning for me – that my dad meant something very different to the outside world.
As a child, did you spend time at your father’s workbench?
No. Dad never encouraged that, as he really kept his work at arm’s length from the family whenever possible. I would go downstairs to the basement, or out to his shop, wherever his workbench was at the time, to tell him dinner was ready, or to give him a kiss goodnight, but it was clear that he was working and that he needed to focus on that.
Did you meet any of the musicians he was working with?
Very early on, I remember meeting Joel Chadabe, saxophonist Eddie Harris, Isao Tomita and Wendy Carlos, who was like an aunt figure to me at the time. My sisters, who were five and seven years older than me, met Keith Emerson when they were young, but my little brother and I were too young to attend an Emerson, Lake and Palmer concert at that time.
When did you realize the impact he had on the world?
Not until he was sick and passed away. During that time, we set up a page for him on Caringbridge.com, a site for critically and terminally ill people to keep in touch with their loved ones. At first the page was password protected and only shared with 40 of his friends, to preserve dad’s privacy, but he eventually told us to take the password down, and over 60,000 people logged on to that site in the first seven weeks, and 20,000 people logged on the day he passed away. More astounding and revealing than the sheer numbers was the amount of people who left testimonials about how Bob Moog had changed their lives, and sometimes transformed them. There were thousands of them. I would help take care of him during the day, come home in the evening and put my young children to bed, and read those testimonials. It was overwhelming – the walls that my father had built around “Bob Moog” came tumbling down, which provided a dawning for me of the incredible and profound impact that he had on people’s lives. There were a lot of tears shed during that time. It was impossible not to be deeply moved by the force of inspiration that my father was to people all over the world.
How would you describe your father to someone who never met him?
Quiet, serious, geeky, super-smart, insightful, warm, exacting, demanding, raw sense of humor, creative, nature lover, animal lover, insatiably curious for knowledge, great teacher. A humanist. He abhorred exclusivity and the notion of celebrity.
Tell me about creating the Bob Moog Foundation and its work.
The Bob Moog Foundation was born out of the inspiration that we witnessed on the Caringbridge.com at the end of dad’s life. When we experienced this incredible outpouring from people all over the world, we knew that this was a legacy that not only deserved to be carried forward, but it demanded to be carried forward, as inspiration is such a powerful force for change and positivity. We wanted to inspire people through dad’s legacy, just as he had himself.
First, we devoted ourselves to creating educational experiences for children. That has grown into Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool, our hallmark educational program through which we teach second graders about the science of sound through music and technology. That program reaches almost 3,000 students a year, and we plan on growing it nationwide in the next two to three years. We also protect and share the vast collection in the Bob Moog Foundation Archives, which includes over 10,000 items ranging from prototypes to production instruments, from photos to schematics, and from vintage catalogs to desktop notebooks and much more. The educational and historic preservation nature of those project will converge into the Moogseum.
When did you first think about opening a museum?
It was always a vision, but we began working on it in 2007. We had some success raising funding for a large facility, but with the economic downturn in 2008, we decided to put the project on hold and focus on our other two projects. The Moogseum remained an ultimate vision, but we didn’t plan on opening it until the opportunity for our present space arose.
Was your father’s work preserved? Were you able to locate his inventions, his papers and other work and were they in good condition?
His work has been preserved. Much of his papers and archives were not in great condition, having been stored in his old workshop out in the countryside for over five years. They were covered in mold, with evidence of small animals throughout. We rescued those items, cleaned them, re-housed them, and moved them into climate-controlled storage, where they were more accessible and more stable.
Describe the process of building and opening the museum, including finding a location and deciding what to include.
The Moogseum has always been our vision of the ultimate representation of our work, bringing the legacy alive in an experiential way, allowing people to connect with Bob’s life and work. It was put on hold for many years as we grew our educational and archive preservation projects, but less than a year ago we learned of a space that was perfect for where we are right now; it was accessible from the point of finances and size. We signed a lease and moved in in October, and we’ve been working on the Moogseum ever since – still a fairly short amount of time for such an important project.
We are limited in the amount of space we have as the Moogseum is 1,400 square feet. That made us focus on what was most important and possible to share for now. First, we wanted to tell Bob’s story with all of its twists and turns, successes and challenges, so that people would be able to connect with Bob the person, which goes far beyond understanding him as an icon. We also wanted to make sure to pay homage to Léon Theremin, who was a significant inspiration throughout Bob’s career, and to bring the heart of Bob’s work alive for people, giving them an understanding of circuitry and synthesis. Finally, we wanted to put his work in context by honoring many of the different developments in synthesis that came before him and after him.
How do the foundation and museum interact with schools and students?
We interact with 3,000 students a year – and growing – through Dr. Bob’s SoundSchool, and through our Science of Sound and Science of Synthesis summer camps. The Moogseum will allow us to host thousands of kids through field trips to the facility, and to create kids’ weekend workshops.
Have you received support from many of the musicians who have used your father’s synthesizers in their work?
Yes, we have. They aren’t financially supportive, but they lend their support in other ways, such as supporting our raffles by signing a vintage synthesizer, donating materials to our archives and participating in our sound banks, such as Spectrasonics’ Bob Moog Tribute Library, MOTU’s Encore Soundbank and Native Instruments’ Modular Icons, released earlier this month.
What will be the state of the museum on opening day and how it will grow in the future?
May 23 is a soft opening. As with any first-time endeavor, the effort will continue to grow as time goes on. We will have seven exhibits ready on that date, with a total of nine exhibits ready by the grand opening on Aug. 15. In the next year, we hope to expand into the back of the space and create an Inventor’s Lab for kids and adults, and a research area.
The Moogseum is located at 56 Broadway Street, Asheville, N.C. 28801. Details about a series of concerts and workshops tied in to the Aug. 15 grand opening will become available at the moogfoundation.org and moogseum.org websites.