Once a mainstay of arty rock groups and avant-garde musicians, the Moog synthesizer has been supplanted in recent years by digital equipment based on the MIDI format. Largely an extended interview with engineer and inventor Dr. Robert A. Moog, Moog examines the use of the device over the past 30 or so years. One unintended conclusion may be that Moog-influenced music has fallen as much out of favor as the machine itself.
Writer, director and editor Hans Fjellestad interviews Dr. Moog at his Asheville, North Carolina plant, where we see workers assemble a Moog console, and in his organic garden, where the inventor speaks about the 'blur between energy and consciousness.' Dr. Moog describes the intricate construction process behind his device, and tries to explain why an analog machine sounds different from digital equipment. The inventor also recalls how critics viewed his early machines with suspicion and alarm. He cites the album Switched-on Bach by Walter (now Wendy) Carlos as a turning point in the machine's fortunes.
Dr. Moog comes off as an expert engineer with some pleasantly crackpot opinions, but it's almost 20 minutes before Fjellestad gets around to documenting music the Moog machine makes. Dr. Moog and others chuckle sheepishly over how the Moog was used to depict alien spaceships in movies. Walter Sear, an early Moog salesman, notes that advertising houses bought Moogs to replace live, and expensive, musicians. Rick Wakeman, a keyboardist with Yes, claims that Moogs 'changed the face of music,' in part because onstage keyboardists could now compete with guitarists for attention.
But judging from the performances in the film, Moogs changed the face of music about as much as Wakeman did. Electronic chirps, gurgles and squeals grow tiresome very quickly, even underpinning computerized scratch work by musicians like DJ Spooky. The most striking material here, including an 'Ol' Man River' performed by Dr. Moog on a theremin, doesn't even use Moogs.
Essentially an extended advertisement for Moogs, Moog may help sales of the machines, but is unlikely to inspire a revival of Moog music. If you're not already fascinated by synthesized sound, this could be the longest 70 minutes of your life.