Uncle John’s Moog

sonic deformance grateful dead style.


Moog Music’s Animoog for Iphone.

Whatever you think of the Grateful Dead, this is an interesting project: Moog Music has extracted the timbres and textures from a live concert by the band at the Carousel Ballroom on February 14, 1968, at the height of the group’s most electrically-charged psychedelic phase, and placed them within their Animoog application software.

As Cyril Lance, Moog Music’s Chief Engineer explains, in Moog Music’s announcement:

We’re not simply providing samples from the Grateful Dead’s body of work, rather we’ve distilled the essence of notes and phrases in a different way to transform these performances into new instruments — new voices. Now we’ve made these unique voices available to artists in a way that enables them to create their own music and voices based on this fundamental essence.

Along with Bjork’s recent album/app “Biophilia,” the Animoog software suggests an interesting development in musical remix culture.

In these creations, completeness is no longer the ideal for musical experience. Entering the stream of possible iterations becomes the goal. Artists are still leaving their marks, but they are modularizing them, breaking them up into bits (and bytes), to allow fans to play in the recording studio “sandbox” with the musician. It’s not an anything goes place, but the entire nature of composition starts to come into question in this new framework: what constitutes a song, exactly, if it has elements that are endlessly recombinant, deformable, mutable. We have entered John Cage land here: there are the rules of composition as determined by the original creator, but then there is the exploration of chance, of myriad individual ears and fingers and minds and moods. We might now truly ask, to quote ye ol’ Grateful Dead: how does the song go?

I think we are also witnessing a blending of the hip-hop practice of sampling with older ideals of musical “essence” and authenticity. What’s most fascinating about the Moog Music/Grateful Dead collaboration is that it focuses on timbre and texture, on unrecognizable (or at best only vaguely recognizable) extracts of voice and instrument. These are construed as the essence of a group rather than the sum total of their expressivity. No auteur theory here. And yet the longing to recover some kind of authentic past—captured on reel-to-reel, processed into digital files, synthesized into strange sounds—lingers. There’s a longing to get back, but it’s by somehow going forward through extraction and re-rendering. One long note of feedback from the Carousel Ballroom in 1968 to your IDevice?

As you can hear in the samples (scroll down), maybe so, maybe not. On one level, the results sound nothing like the Grateful Dead. To me, they sound much more synthetic, rubbery, “sproingy,” and dry—much less liquidly electronic—than late 1960s Grateful Dead (indeed, the samples sound to me more like the MIDI-fied Grateful Dead of the early 1990s).

But on another level, the concept of lifting a historically-embedded musical performance and appropriating it for new sonic creations is close to the essence of the Grateful Dead’s musical aesthetic, at least at its most psychedelically ideal. Drawing on the propositions of free jazz and post-Cage contemporary music, this is sound unloosed from the constraints of conventional song form, retaining elements of the American musical vernacular while also plugging them in to the new.

More: Moog Music Resynthesizes 44-Year-Old Live Recording of the Grateful Dead Into New Tools for Artists.

2 thoughts on “Uncle John’s Moog

  1. This is definitely for the high-end, interested fan. I mean, I would seek to listen to a recreated song for one of my favorite bands (early U2), but I wouldn’t do it often. This leads me to wonder about the financial sustainability of the “Moog project”: will enough people buy this option so that it’s a long-lasting thing? – TL

  2. Tim,

    You rockist, as the pop critics would say, valuing the original coherent rock-art work to the mashup, remix, sampled deforming of it! I’m kidding (though the rockist j’accuse is very much alive in pop music studies world). I think you are right that this kind of tool is for a particular kind of music maker, though the Bjork app raises other possibilities as more of a consumer product defined, in its way, with songs that are meant to be deconstructed, disassembled, recombined by the listener. It’s actually really interesting if you are into Bjork. Anyways, thanks for the comment (which reminds me I have your American Nietzsche posts to read still!! Patience, nihilist!)

    All best,

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