Friday, September 24, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Moog" is the Muzak of documentaries

Special to The Seattle Times

Warning: You probably have to be a musician, or a fan of electronic music, to enjoy "Moog," a 70-minute video documentary on the man who invented the modern synthesizer. I'm neither, and didn't.

The documentarian, Hans Fjellestad, might make the argument — indeed, the press kit does — that the film's subject isn't restricted to music but embraces Robert Moog's ideas about creativity, interactivity and spirituality. But these, unfortunately, are not why Moog is famous, nor should they be.

On the notion of where new ideas come from, for example, Moog states, "It's something between discovering and witnessing." On his own famous discovery, he's rather abrupt. He was selling theremin kits; he met Herb Deutsch; Deutsch took him to an electronic-music show; and it was there that he discovered/witnessed the idea for the modern synthesizer. Later, he began making and selling them. Most of this took place in the '60s and early '70s.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer

"Moog," with Robert Moog, Keith Emerson, Money Mark, Walter Sear. Directed by Hans Fjellestad. 70 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences.

The documentary follows the white-haired septuagenarian from his garden in North Carolina, to hip-hop shows in San Francisco, to visits with music pioneers in New York City and Long Island. Money Mark tells him, "You created the whole language of what aliens sound like." He reminisces with Walter Sear about how music houses were the first group interested in the synthesizer. It replaced musicians.

Most of the doc is like this. It's older guys sitting around talking. Remember when people thought the synthesizer was evil? Remember before we added the keyboard? Those were crazy times. Then we get a musical interlude of "Three Blind Mice."

At one point, Moog goes backstage to talk with musician Rick Wakeman. Wakeman is funny and personable and tells great stories, and suddenly we realize what's been missing. The doc focuses exclusively on Robert Moog, and Robert Moog is, well, kind of boring. He's either stating the banal (gardening puts you in touch with nature) or the fantastic (there are levels of reality beyond time and space). Then we get a musical interlude of "Stars and Stripes Forever."

"Moog" is part of a weeklong "Pioneers of Electronic Music" bill that includes the documentaries "Haack: The King of Techno" and "Sonic Acts."

Erik Lundegaard:

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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