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Moogfest Brings Future Of Sound & Technology

May 19-22 festival features presentations by Duke faculty


Moogfest will include performances of electronic music during the three-day event.

Duke and Durham, brace yourself for a refreshing blast of the future -- the future of music, the future of creativity and the future of humans themselves.

Moogfest, a three-day celebration of art and technology, kicks off its first Durham appearance on Thursday, May 19, centered around downtown Durham performance venues, hotels and clubs. Five Duke faculty are on the program, which features technology workshops and talks during the day and music performances at night (See

Moogfest grew from a one-night celebration in New York in 2004 to a multi-venue festival in Asheville, North Carolina, home of electronic music pioneer Dr. Robert Moog and the synthesizer company he founded, Moog Music (Hint: say Moog like vogue, not mood). In 2014, Moogfest reimagined the typical festival format by adding a daytime technology conference to explore some of the ideas behind the night-time performances.

Durham leaders, including from the Durham Chamber of Commerce, RTP foundation, American Underground and Duke, along with several area technology companies spent about two years trying to get the festival moved to the Bull City.

“Durham is such an exciting city, and we have always been impressed by the incredible talent, creativity and historic diversity in the Triangle,” said Moogfest CEO Adam Katz. “The concentration of universities and our close partnership with Duke gives us great hope for the future.”

Ticketed and non-ticketed festival lectures, demonstrations and performances will be spread from MotorCo on Rigsbee Avenue to the Carolina Theatre and the Durham Armory to the 21c Museum Hotel and the American Tobacco Campus.

The Durham community’s involvement in Moogfest is key, Katz said, which is why there are free offerings every day, with a day-long, family-oriented program on Saturday at American Tobacco Campus (see listing of all free events). “Everyone is welcome. We’d like to share a promising vision for the city and the region,” Katz said.

Katz also wants the Duke community to come downtown and check it out, “so they can see all the ways faculty and students are contributing to the festival. Moogfest presents the most future-leaning thinkers in the world, and it’s no surprise that Duke has been invited to share some of their exciting work.”

A 4 p.m. May 19 (Thursday) performance in the Durham Armory called “Live Processing and Ghost Dancing” builds on a long-term collaboration between Duke’s Martin Brooke, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Thomas F. DeFrantz, a professor of dance who is also chair of Duke’s African and African American Studies Department.

DeFrantz and Brooke have partnered in a multi-year Bass Connections project exploring intersections between dance and technology, which includes incorporating robotics into dance works. “The thing that’s cool about trying this at a research university is we get to try things out,” DeFrantz added. “We can give it a go and fail wildly, but we get to try.”

moogfest workshop

Moogfest workshops will include varied discussions of the future of electronics and electronic music.

For an audience intrigued by both technology and sound, electrical and computer engineering professor Steven Cummer’s 10:30 a.m. May 20 (Friday) presentation at the 21c Museum Hotel will hit the spot. Cummer will talk about acoustic metamaterials printed in 3-D that have the potential to create “acoustic holograms” -- projecting a sound field into many physical shapes, and thin-film acoustic cloaking materials that can make an object effectively invisible to sound. He’s also working on an “acoustic lens” made of the wave-bending materials.

“I’m a little nervous about making sure that the research comes across as engaging and interesting to a different but still savvy audience,” Cummer said. But he’s going to build his talk about visuals and videos rather than PowerPoint bullets in the hope to spur an engaged discussion. “Nothing would thrill me more.”

At 4:30 May 20 (Friday) in the Carolina Theatre’s Fletcher Hall, Mark Anthony Neal, professor of African & African American Studies, will talk with the legendary rapper and science fan GZA, one of the co-founders of the Wu-Tang Clan. Their conversation, “Time Travelling Through Hip Hop,” is a part of Moogfest’s Afrofuturism theme, and may touch on musical sampling as a way for hip-hop to tap into the past while talking about the future, Neal said.

“We’re going to keep it organic and just start talking,” Neal said. “He can handle himself!” They might also touch on GZA’s 2015 concept album “Dark Matter,” which is about time and space, or GZA’s involvement in a project to teach science through music in the New York public schools.

GZA also will perform his music on two nights of the festival.

At noon May 21 (Saturday), neuroscientist Tobias Overath of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences will hold a workshop in the 21C Museum Hotel, Gallery 6, about how music is processed in the brain.

“It’s a fascinating connection, but one we know relatively little about,” said Overath, who has been using brain imaging techniques to study how the auditory cortex of the brain processes complex sounds like music and speech. The workshop will touch on questions such as: Are the brains of musicians different? Is there a physiological basis to musical consonance? How is your brain affected by music?

“I’m the very non-cool kid on the block with all these very cool and distinguished presenters,” Overath said. But already his scheduled appearance has led to a new connection with researchers from Google Brain who want to put him on their panel during the festival.

Duke units are also participating: Taz Arnold will guide a free daytime music meditation workshop at the Nasher Museum on Friday, May 20, from 2-4 p.m. The museum will offer free admission to all Moogfest pass holders throughout the festival. 

Katz said Moogfest has not suffered any cancellations due to North Carolina’s controversial “bathroom bill,” House Bill 2. “Both our artists and audience see Moogfest as a way forward,” Katz said. 

“We’ve had overwhelming support from the artists,” he added. “Electronic music culture has always been closely tied to the LGTBQ community, and several of our performers and a keynote speaker are trans.

“Inclusivity and diversity are important for innovation, and we hope this festival will help create a future without regressive, discriminatory laws like HB2.”

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WHAT – Moogfest Durham

WHEN – May 19 – 22, 2016

WHERE – ATC, Carolina Theatre, MotorCo and many points between

WHO - Duke faculty: Martin Brooke, Tommy DeFrantz, Steve Cummer, Mark Anthony Neal and Tobias Overath. Performers, including GZA, Laurie Anderson, Gary Numan, Daniel Lanois, Reggie Watts.

TICKETS– VIP Festival pass $499; Festival pass to all venues $249; Day passes $129.

Moogfest is recruiting volunteers! The volunteer application can be found here, or you can email for more information.