Recently on Beyond the Black Rainbow, I spoke with Moogfest's Festival Director Marisa Brickman, giving us a taste of what to expect of this year's festival happening from May 19 - 22, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.

Moogfest is a festival positioned as a platform for communication, creativity, and experimentation within the realms of technology, music and art. It pays tribute to Dr. Robert Moog, pioneer and innovator/inventor of the infamous synthesizer that bears his name. This annual event bills itself to welcome "futurist thinkers, inventors, entrepreneurs, designers, engineers, scientists, artists and musicians" as they offer workshops, lectures, exhibits, and performances.

Read along to follow my conversation with Brickman for a preview of what to expect in this year's edition, or click here to hear it as it first aired on April 18th. And stay tuned for CJLO's on-the-ground coverage of this year's Moogfest from yours truly...

Julie Matson: How are you?

Marisa Brickman: I'm good. Ya, we are releasing the schedule, and we currently have 324 sessions of various workshops, conferences, and live performances, happening so its pretty good!

Julie: Ya, I was wondering actually, just looking at the website again today, I was like how? I don't even? I can't even imagine the beginning of an undertaking of trying to fit that into one schedule in such a short amount of week-time, you know?

Marisa: It’s awesome, we are really excited, it's going to be really amazing.

J: And I'm really excited. Okay. So I'm going to start off by, actually just start talking a little bit about you, and why we're talking with you in particular. So, Marisa, how about you introduce yourself? It's easier for you to kind of talk about who you are and what you do with the festival, and then we'll go from there!

M: Sure! Yeah I’m Marisa Brickman, I’m the Festival Director for Moogfest. So, you know, I’m essentially running the show over here, steering our programming committee, the production team, marketing, social media, um, local community partners, pretty much trying to keep everyone on track.

J: That’s amazing, and I applaud you in advance because I know how big this festival is. How long have you been involved with the festival?

M: Since last July. So, you know, Moogfest has, um, obviously been around for quite some time. It was originally, ah, it was a New York event, back in the early 2000s, guys getting together and paying honour to (Dr. Robert) Bob Moog. You know, the Moog factory moved to Asheville, which is where they are now, and the festival eventually moved to Asheville. It happened for a few years in Asheville, but then recently it relocated with some new partners, and a new team to Durham, North Carolina, last July. So I moved here in July of 2015, and have been basically kind of building the groundwork here in a new city.

J: Amazing. That sounds like a feat. Has it been going well? I know it must be a lot for you being new, in a new city, with a festival in a new city.

M: Yes, I mean, I was actually born in a city, about twenty minutes away from here in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. So, I’m somewhat familiar with the area. But I mean Durham - it is a completely different place than it was back in the 2000s. Obviously, Duke University is here, there’s North Carolina Central, and just kind of generally, this whole area has tons of universities. So it’s an amazing place as far as research, innovation, new thinking, so it's been fun and it hasn't really been that challenging.

I think any time you move to a new city and you try to start something from scratch with a new team of people, and you know, a certain set of local politics and new relationships, I think it’s challenging. I think the festival itself is a fun challenge. And then integrating yourself within a new community and figuring out how all of that works is a separate challenge.

J: Umhum, I'm excited to come. And just check it out, and see what's happening. I've never been to North Carolina, so I'm definitely looking forward to it. So, I want to talk a little bit about the festival itself… And there's a lot, as we kind of were hinting at, there's a lot that is happening. In terms of events and classes etc etc, and I was just wondering, from the organizers’ perspective, what it looks like to come up with the theme that you've come up with for this year and, how that sort of plays out with going to achieving that, you know from the ground up, how does it start? It would be amazing to get so-and-so artist or, what can we build around that… or? You know? Do you have any little insights, or little tidbits that might be insightful for that kind of process?

M: I mean I think it’s a pretty natural and organic process. Generally, the festival, it’s all about exploring the tools that are used for creative expression. You know, Bob Moog himself was a synthesizer design pioneer. He worked in partnership with artists such as Wendy Carlos, Steve Emerson, Sun Ra and really designed new synthesizers and tools that they can use in their music. I think that kind of pioneering spirit and collaboration is something that is really the baseline and underlying tenet of Moogfest. We had a variety of different programming partners from various fields and industries who have helped put together and shape the program that we have.

So, a theme like Afrofuturism, for instance, is a pretty hot topic in Durham, which is a 50% African-American community. The GZA, as you know, is one of our headliners. He’s obviously pretty well known for being an academic in addition to being the genius behind the WuTang Clan. We have him coming to talk with one of the leading African-American professors from Duke. They’re talking about time traveling and Hip Hop. Chuck Lightning of Wondaland [Collective] is curating the whole Afrofuturism program. There is a local community organization called the Hayti Cultural Center, which is also launching their own Afrofuturisms program, and we are collaborating with them. So, it kind of comes in a variety of different ways.

I think something like Transhumanism is very appropriate for an event like Moogfest, where people are becoming technology, or how are we using technology to form our bodies, our selves and our minds. One of our keynote speakers is Dr. Martine Rothblatt, who is a transgender woman who started [Sirius] satellite radio, she runs United Therapeutics, has a new book coming out, has a robot version of her wife, and is very pioneering when it comes to that type of discussion how technology is transforming the future of our lives. She is actually even more appropriate with the HB2 [legislation] controversy that is happening here. I could keep going on and on here, but I think those are two good examples that show the diversity of Moogfest, from the Afrofuturism angle to the Transhumanism angle. 

J: The program looks amazing. I'm pretty excited that it's so full spectrum. I really love how there's a whole film component as well, and it’s not just a film component. It’s amazing, several films are being scored by really amazing people, just like, sidebar, on top of them performing live, and I really am blown away by the program itself. Is there something that you are really happy with? You know, in the planning process, was there anything that you wanted, that would be really amazing to get so and so. Or, what if we incorporated this theme, or this kind of master class? Something that you have a personal connection to that that worked out and you're like “wow, this is cool!” 

M: I think, you know getting Blood Orange was pretty big to perform in North Carolina. He doesn’t tour that much at all, so having him come to North Carolina is exciting. Robert Rich, who is super hot right now, has never been to North Carolina. Mike Snow are coming to kick off their entire US tour. Gary Numan is performing for three nights, doing an album triptych, so he's performing three different albums each over a series of three nights in different venues.

Every time I look at what we have in the program gets me really excited. We have an old theatre which showcases architects of sound and many avant-garde artists with radical compositions, So there you've got Sunn O))), Explosions In The Sky, Oneohtrix Point Never, Laurie Anderson, Alessandro Cortini, Daniel Lanois, Tim Hecker, Ben Frost, Arthur Russell. So, that particular venue is a beautiful old theatre, we programmed that particular location to the venue, you know, the production will be really high levels. There's an old armoury here, that literally used to be an armoury that had an old brick building, we are transforming it into a nightclub.

There we will have Godfathers of electronic, house, disco and techno, like The Orb, DJ Harvey, Bicep, The Black Madonna, Jlin, Qrion, and UV boi. So its kind of, I think, generally what we do at Moogfest is show a spectrum of artists along a certain scale, and a spectrum of genres, and artists that represent each niche, from classic artists to new artists, etc.

J: I really like that about your festival actually. Because I find my show is focused on, I play more experimental electronic music. That's what i'm drawn to, and whenever I talk about music with people that don't necessarily know what that is, they just assume it's one certain thing and i'm like no! And so I really appreciate and respect the diversity that you've put together and pulled off in such a way. It’s very exciting and very diverse and interesting. You know the program is really, really spectacular and I'm very excited to just come and be a part of it. What is one of your guilty pleasures that you're pretty excited about?

M: I wouldn't say any of them are guilty pleasures. It’s all pretty heady. But I do think that if you were to have to select what someone may consider a guilty pleasure it would probably be more in the pop sound of things, you know, like Grimes, who I am pretty excited to see. You know, I had a magazine for fifteen years, and we did one of her first interviews and fashion shoots six years ago. I think she is a real badass, I’m really excited to see what she is going to do.  As I start to see people’s tech riders and stage plots, and understand what we are going to be doing for their production, I think “whoa!” I can’t believe we are going to be doing that! A lot of these artists are on big tours, playing big festivals. We are a small festival, only 4500 people. These artists are bringing their shows here that are the same exact shows they are taking to Coachella.

J: Yeah that's spectacular.

M: I don't think anyone here really understands what they are in for. Everyone on our team, we are here together as a group trying to build something that we believe doesn't exist, that we’re inspired by. And everyone that is involved, our talent buyer is also a music manager, and a booking agent and a music lawyer, and is super well-connected in the music industry, and has impeccable taste and specializes in electronic music. Emmy, one of the creative directors form Moog music, she obviously works with artists at Moog. Our CEO runs an agency that specializes in cultural outreach in activist projects.

Our program manager used to work at Lincoln Theatre, and is from the UK, and has done several festivals in the UK. It is a really diverse group of people. Sometimes that is challenging, in my position, in wrangling people, but ultimately it has gotten us to a really great place, having this many people have a voice in how this project unfolds. 

J: I think, yeah. I'm looking forward to it and very excited. Is there anything that you feel like i've missed out? About asking or regarding the festival or Is there anything that you feel like I’ve missed, or that you want to put a special focus on?

M: I mean I think definitely check out the schedule and workshops that we have. There are workshops on how to sonify plants, how to build an immersive audio visual environment, we have theremin workshops for kids, we have IBM Watson coming to do cognitive tech for developers. We have creating music tech for kickstarter. It is a pretty good combination of inspiring programming that is also very educational.

I think some conferences or festivals sort of gravitate more B2B platform information, like how to build your Facebook pages, or why the net is killing the music industry. We aren’t about that at all. We want to really inspire people to think in a different way, or just to think, generally. I highly suggest anyone to take a real deep dive into our website, we have the full schedule up; you can click through and read about every individual workshop. We have nine interactive art installations that will be scattered across the city.

A bevy of information to dive in to, hopefully it will be a little bit easier for people to wrap their heads around. We are super excited to get all of this information out there, and to get people excited about everything that is possible. 

J: That’s great. I’ll definitely be checking that out and, recommending everybody to you. If people want to sign up for workshops, it will be pretty straightforward on the website?

M: Yeah. We're going to give everybody a few weeks to digest it. We will be alerting people when the signups are open; some of the workshops are only twenty people. So, I think we will give everybody some time to figure out what they want to do before there is a mad rush to sign up.

J: Thank you, thank you for that! I appreciate that. Well, perfect! Thank you so much for taking the time out to talk with me, I really appreciate it. I always like to get the insight into people that are actually putting this together, rather than just interviewing artists, because I know that it's more special than just going to see a live band, you know?

That's what I like to have my listeners, and our audience to be witness to, and to actually realize that people put thought into these things, it's not just like “You know what would be a really cool dance party?”  So this is why I really love to interview organizers and people that are putting on the shows. That’s its own special art form and talent and, you know, I like that little bit of insight, and you had so much insight for me- I love it.

M: Awesome! Yeah, I’m super excited that you guys are excited, and I look forward to welcoming you to Durham!


Catch Julie on Beyond The Black Rainbow as she puts back the experimental back into experimental music every Monday at 4pm EDT. Be sure to also catch our coverage of this year's Moogfest, only on CJLO.  

Photos: Moogfest 2014; Festival Director Marisa Brickman, Kraftwerk @ Moogfest 2014- All photos courtesy of Moogfest.