Moogfest showcases North Carolina innovation through workshops, conversations
*Editor’s note: This article has been updated for accuracy.
Moogfest is not just a music festival; it is also a technology and sound summit.
Held in Durham, North Carolina, the music festival does not stop there with the local influence. This year workshops and conversations will include North Carolina institutions such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s 2016 Maker-In-Residence Elliot Inman, Duke University professor of dance and chair of African American studies Thomas DeFrantz, Ruel W. Tyson, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Humanities Mark Katz of North Carolina State University and the NCSU Libraries.
According to the Moogfest website, Inman has “led workshops in electronics and creative coding on topics ranging from basic electronics and Arduino programming to Fast Fourier Analysis, 8-bit chip synths, MIDI controllers, and the Internet of Things. He developed and led the “Musical Circuits” series as Maker-in-Residence at UNC (Spring 2016), “Quantification: The Art of Making Data” workshop series at NC State (Fall 2016), and “Microcontrollers for the Rest of Us” at the University of Rochester (Fall 2017).”
Inman will be leading the “Ciani Versus Buchla: An Audacious Experiment in Sound Design” workshop on Friday, May 18 from 10:30 a.m. to noon and on Sunday, May 20 from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“[W]e played tennis frequently,” said Suzanne Ciani talking about Don Buchla (Electronic Musician, May 2017). “He was a very good tennis player, and we shared that passion.” Inman’s workshop explores what that tennis match would have sounded like. “Using Audacity, we will create an imaginary auditory narrative of a game of tennis played by two of the greats of synthesized sound,” the description stated on Moogfest’s schedule. “We will model the sound of Ciani’s serve, Buchla’s return, a racquet hitting a ball, the bounce of a ball back and forth on the court, and the roar of a crowd. No experience with Audacity or sound design (or tennis) is required, but participants must bring a laptop (Mac or PC) of their own. Please download Audacity before the workshop.”
According to the schedule, this workshop on May 18 is listed as full on the website, but by registering attendees will be added to the waitlist. Arrive 15 minutes prior to the session and those not in attendance five minutes before will forfeit their spot.
Inman will also be leading the “From Digital Bits to Analog Waves: Breadboarding an 8-bit Synth” workshop on Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. (this session is listed as full).
According to the schedule, “Using only digital logic and handful of wires and resistors, we will breadboard a circuit that creates complex analog sounds. Theoretically speaking, we will wire an R2R (resistor to resistor) ladder to smooth the output of a Walsh function generator, experimenting with the auditory effects that result from altering those connections. Practically speaking, we are going to breadboard a circuit and poke it with wires to hear what happens. This is a make-and-take workshop. No computer, no soldering, no electronics experience required. Please bring your own earbuds to listen to the output. All other materials will be provided and you can keep what you make.”
DeFrantz will be hosting two panels as well as presenting a performance by SLIPPAGE, “Performance, Culture, Technology, a research group that explores emerging technology in live performance applications,” of which he is the director. “SLIPPAGE presents an exploration of redlining, gerrymandering, and asocial cartographies that produce and reinforce inequality,” states the Moogfest website. “Deploying custom-designed live-feed sonification interfaces, wearable technologies, and AfroFuturist performance practices, this hour-long afro-techno-punk extravaganza brings Duke faculty, graduate students, community activists, and SLIPPAGE artists together for a special Moogfest presentation.”
The performance “These Borders that Hold Me Down” is free and open to the public and there will be buses providing free transportation to and from the von der Hayden Theatre, located on Duke’s campus. “Buses will depart from West Parrish St slip road next to 21c Museum Hotel at 2:30 p.m. and 2:45 p.m., returning at 4 p.m. and 4:15 pm.”
Talent for this performance includes DeFrantz, James Clotfelter, Martin Brooke, Matthew Kenney, Quran Karriem, Rebecca Uliasz and Summer Dunsmore. This performance takes place on Friday, May 18 from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the von der Hayden Theatre and again on Saturday, May 19 at 3 p.m.
DeFrantz is also participating in two conversations: “Interfaces: AfroFuturism, Performance, Technology” on Saturday, May 19 from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. at 21c Gallery 4, located at 111 Corcoran St. in Durham; and “Building Wakanda: Afro+Future of Durham and Beyond” on Saturday, May 19 from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the 21c Gallery 4 as well.
Joining DeFrantz on the panel for “Interfaces” is Andre M. Zachary, Angel Iset Dozier, Ekene Ijeoma, Eto Otitigbe, Kenyatta McLean and Quran Karriem. This panel is presented by Hayti Heritage Center and SLIPPAGE: Performance, Culture, Technology, with support from the Duke Franklin Humanities Institute and the Duke Dance program.
“Join cutting-edge artists working through questions of performance and technology and varied relationships to AfroFuturism in their practices and creative production,” the Moogfest website states. “Lightning artist talks and conversation wind through examples of tending to AfroFuturist possibilities in artmaking and performance.”
Joining DeFrantz for the “Building Wakanda” panel is Andre M. Zachary, Angel Iset Dozier, Ekene Ijeoma, Eto Otitigbe, Kenyatta McLean, Justin Robinson, Extra Terrestrial Projects and Quran Karriem. This panel is presented by the Hayti Heritage Center and SLIPPAGE: Performance, Culture, Technology, with support from the Duke Franklin Humanities Institute and the Duke Dance program.
“Join a group of artists, community planners, environmental activists, scholars, researchers, and afrofuturist-leaning people as we collectively conjure AfroFutures of Durham and beyond,” the Moogfest website states.
“Building off Durham’s heritage as the site of one of the United States’ largest plantations, site of the largest Confederate surrender of the Civil War, and later emerged as the most prosperous Black cities — nicknamed Black Wall Street — we envisage future spaces and places of Black Excellence. Using Durham’s neighborhood, the Hayti, as a touchstone—a place that Booker T. Washington once called ‘The Black City of Cities’ and E. Franklin Frazier called ‘The capital of the Black Middle Class’—we ask What are the future potentials for Durham as a site of engaged Black life? If we engage a radical care toward an AfroFuture that encourages Black excellence, what could Durham feel like and sound like? Speculative conversations will explore the possibilities of intentional creativity toward a vibrant AfroFuture brimming with Black creativity in the Durham of 2068 and beyond!”
Katz teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and will host a panel conversation at Moogfest. Katz attended Moogest in 2017 as well and organized a panel on grassroots musical activism (which he said focused on local hip-hop artists) This year; his panel is focused on international hip-hop artists through his program, Next Level. Katz said in a phone interview that Next Level is a “cultural diplomacy program that is funded by the U.S. State Department and sends U.S. hip-hop artists abroad to work with young people in underserved communities. Connecting American citizens with citizens from other countries and to use hip-hop as a platform for building community.”
According to the Moogfest schedule, the “Hacking Systems to Build Communities through Hip Hop” conversation will be held on Friday, May 18 from 11 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. at the American Underground Bullpen, located at 201 W. Main St. in Durham.
“[Next Level]is an extension of the program called the jazz ambassadors program at the state department in the 1950s to 1960s that sent jazz artists like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington all around the world during the Cold War to build better relations with other countries,” Katz said. “It is going to allow hip-hop artists who have never been to the U.S. to be in a space where there are these incredible musicians that they would never get access to in their home country. I think that is really important just for building the musical and artistic community.”
Katz said the Next Level program goes to several countries each cycle and invite one hip-hop artist from each country to visit the United States for a two-week program in artistic and professional development. The hip-hop artists attending will be from Azerbaijan, Myanmar, Cambodia, Egypt and Morocco. Katz said these countries have limited freedom of speech and expression.
“I am partnering with Moogfest to bring these artists to the festival to talk about their experiences as hip-hop artists,” Katz said. “What they do with hip-hop artists is to find creative ways to express themselves and to resist oppression, represent themselves (their problems and communities) where open expression could actually get them in trouble.”
Katz said his favorite and the most powerful thing about Moogfest is that it builds community.
“It brings amazing artists from the country, from around the world and puts them in the same space,” Katz said. “There is an opportunity for them to interact, learn from each other [and] build with each other. I think that is really powerful. It’s not simply a succession of performances; it is meant to put people in the same spaces and get them to connect with each other.”
This will be the third year that NCSU Libraries will be participating at Moogfest. Three librarians and one student-teacher will be hosting the workshops.
“The (NCSU) library bills itself as a gateway to knowledge,” NCSU Data & Visualization Librarian Walt Gurley said. “We define the leading edge of new knowledge and technologies. Moogfest have seen what we have done, some of our spaces here at NCSU some of the services we provide, and they were very excited about bringing that to a larger audience at Moogfest. So some of the great resources we can provide on our campus we can now provide to the Moogfest community.”
Gurley said there would be three librarians and one Ph.D. student and Interactive Technology Research Assistant that will lead the workshops: Adam Rogers, David Woodbury, Payod Panda. Gurley said these workshops were developed in-house at NCSU Libraries by librarians and student employees. Rogers will lead “Digital Fabrications for Everyone” on Friday, May 18 from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the American Underground Training Room. According to the online Moogfest schedule, this workshop is full and is on a waitlist functionality. Those interested should still register and show up to the workshop 15 minutes before it begins.
“This session is for anyone interested in getting started with digital fabrication methods such as 3D printing and CNC machining,” the Moogfest website stated. “Participants will walk away with free, easy-to-use digital design tools for building projects with 3D printing, laser cutting, and CNC machining. They’ll also get to see tools such as LulzBot 3D printers and the Bantam Tools Desktop Milling Machine in operation up close, and learn their capabilities and limitations. We’ll also discuss tools for computer-controlled drawing and embroidery.”
Woodbury will lead the conversation “Music & Making Technology Demos” on Saturday, May 19, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. at The Iron Yard, located at 334 Blackwell St., B001 in Durham.
“Come experience the cutting edge with hands-on stations featuring virtual reality demos, robots, 3D printers, hackable synthesizers, and more,” the Moogfest website stated.
“Librarians from NC State will showcase its “Library of the Future” and the many ways it enables creative possibilities with technology. Kids, adults, and technophobes all welcome.”
Ph. D. student and Interactive Technology Research Assistant Panda will lead the “Coding 3D Landscapes of Sound” workshop on Saturday, May 19, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at The Iron Yard.
“Sound as far as the eye can see,” the Moogfest website stated. “In this workshop, participants will use a web-based programing language to create audio-responsive 3D landscapes in a web browser. We will provide a basic template for creating generative landscape features that can be customized and animated with sound. Previous programming experience will be helpful but is not required.”
According to the online Moogfest schedule, this workshop is full and is on a waitlist functionality. Those interested should still register and show up to the workshop 15 minutes before it begins.
Regarding Moogfest as a whole, Gurley said the festival is extremely important to North Carolina arts, culture and technology.
“It is a blend of technologies that go into making the music,” Gurley said. “The opportunity to attend a workshop with professionals who are actually creating this music and other technologists who are interested in getting others into creating music. Having that mix of workshop educational environment as well as a music festival-type environment, it has been a great opportunity to make connections with other people in the community. That is one things Moogfest has done; it has provided us an opportunity to meet other like-minded people throughout North Carolina.”