From Strings to Synthesizers: UNC Asheville Music Department offers explorations in the classical and contemporary
UNC Asheville Music Department Offers Explorations in the Classical and Contemporary
When UNC Asheville music majors enter the lower level of Lipinsky Hall, they are stepping into a place where the classical coexists with the contemporary.
Electronic Music Composition students Courtney Hall
and Dylan Stephens with Dr. Wayne J. Kirby
Photos by Ian Shannon '10
They are following in the footsteps of alumni who have landed dream jobs in the music industry. And they are studying in cutting-edge classrooms at the only university where music pioneer Bob Moog ever taught. Moog is best known as the inventor of the Moog synthesizer.
In a rehearsal space down one hallway, the string quartet practices for an upcoming performance in the 600-seat Lipinsky Auditorium.
In the recording studio, two students learn their way around a $100,000 recording and mixing console. Meanwhile, in the electronic keyboard lab, music majors and minors concentrate over work stations equipped with MIDI keyboards and Macintosh computers.
It's all part of a normal day for the 80 students pursuing degrees in UNC Asheville's Music Department, where those carrying violin cases and those carrying computers both get a top-notch education.
Dylan Stephens and John Buscarino working with
a Moog Synthesizer
In the bachelor of arts program, students are enrolled in experiential classes that provide many opportunities to practice, learn and perform. Student ensembles range from a Chamber Symphony to the University Singers. The music majors in these ensembles are joined by talented students from across all disciplines on campus.
The bachelor of arts program with an emphasis in jazz studies attracts students who are interested in careers as jazz performers, composers and arrangers. These students also make up the popular Jazz Band, the Jazz Ensemble and the Jazz Choir.
The third track is a bachelor of science degree in music technology. This highly selective program combines music, engineering, mathematics, computer science, music business and electronics. Students learn how to professionally mix and record music and put those skills to use in internship opportunities ranging from Echo Mountain Recording to the Orange Peel Social Aid and Pleasure Club. Graduates of the program have worked with top recording artists, including R.E.M. and Alison Krauss.
Students in the music technology program can now take advantage of the newly dedicated Bob Moog Electronic Music Studio, located in Lipinsky Hall. Named in honor of the late electronic music legend and UNC Asheville professor, the Moog Studio houses a variety of classic analog synthesizers and processors, including a Voyager Mini Moog, Moog pedals and theremins.
During the fall semester, the eight student members of the Electronic Music Ensemble were hard at work in the Moog Studio creating original scores to accompany short films. Their work debuted in a concert on Thursday, Dec. 3, at White Horse Black Mountain in downtown Black Mountain. The show wrapped up with a live finale of students, faculty and special guests composing work in real time to accompany excerpts from the classic silent film "Metropolis" by Fritz Lang.
Junior Courtney Hall estimates that she spent more than 25 hours creating a composition to accompany the 1968 David Lynch film "The Alphabet," which premiered at the concert. The four-minute piece features digital sounds composed on Moog synthesizers.
"Creating this music is like working with clay. By turning knobs on these synthesizers students are creating a sound sculpture," said Wayne Kirby, Music Department chair and professor.
Though Moog was noted for being remarkably humble, Kirby believes that Moog would be honored by knowing that the studio that bears his name is a place for students to learn and work.
"The Electronic Music Ensemble is bringing experimental, avant-garde music to the community," he said. "Bob would have loved every minute of it."
Bob Moog: Music Pioneer and UNC Asheville Professor
Tinkering in his New York City apartment in the 1950s, a young Robert "Bob" Moog had no idea that he was about to change the face of popular music forever.
The brainy teenager had been fascinated with electronics since childhood. Inspired by a magazine advertisement, he took up building theremins, the electronic musical instrument composed of two metal rods around which musicians move their hands to create high-pitched eerie sounds popularized in early sci-fi and horror movies.
In 1954, he founded the R.A. Moog Company as a part-time business focused on building and selling theremins and other funky electronic instruments to help fund his way through college. By the time he had earned a doctorate in engineering physics from Cornell University, Moog's business was a full-time venture—and music hasn't been the same since.
The engineer essentially turned electricity into music. Moog created the electronic music synthesizer that bears his name and that became widespread among experimental composers and rock musicians. His earliest instruments were large machines better suited to studio work than live performances. But as rock bands adopted them, Moog expanded his product line to include smaller and smaller instruments that could be used more easily on stage.
The innovative sounds of the Moog synthesizer were featured on the 1969 Top Ten album "Switched On Bach." Immediately the synthesizer became the must-have tool for bands. It was used by the Beatles on several "Abbey Road" album tracks as well as on tunes by The Monkees, Stevie Wonder and Pink Floyd. In fact, it became the force behind generations of new music—from 1980s New Wave to 21st century techno.
In 1978, Moog moved from New York to Asheville and started a new company that produced synthesizer modules. As he continued to build and create, his instruments became mainstream, turning up not only in recording studios but also in homes and classrooms. University music programs nationwide established electronic music labs around Moog synthesizers.
UNC Asheville was uniquely positioned to take advantage of Moog's expertise. He began presenting workshops and lectures on campus not long after his move to Western North Carolina. Eventually the bushy-haired engineer joined the Music Department faculty and served as Visiting Research Professor.
"The students were in awe," said Wayne Kirby, UNC Asheville Music Department Chair and Professor, who hired Moog in 1989. "It was like being taught by Thomas Edison."
Students came from around the country and around the world to study with Moog. He taught a number of courses, including "Synthesizers and Music Software," "Electronic Music Seminar" and "Electronic Music Practicum." Kirby noted that the pioneer-turned-professor had a tough teaching style.
"He was demanding in a humane kind of way," Kirby said. "He expected as much out of his students as he expected out of himself."
Moog retired from full-time teaching in 1993 and went back to work tinkering with electronics until his death. Moog died in 2005 at the age of 71 from an inoperable brain tumor. Musicians around the world mourned, and the New York Times eulogized Moog with a half-page obituary. Memorial concerts were held, and a foundation was established to preserve his archives.
Now, a newly expanded and refurbished music studio on campus will further honor him. The Bob Moog Electronic Music Studio, located on the lower level of Lipinsky Hall, was dedicated in December 2009. Designed as a work and performance space, it is filled with Moog synthesizers, theremins and computers as well as chairs for audience members. For years to come, students who study and work in the studio will uphold the legacy of the music pioneer and professor who left an indelible stamp on the recording industry and on UNC Asheville.