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At Moogfest, Electronics Stimulate Ears and Emotions

Published: 05/18
At the annual Moogfest, many festivalgoers are as fascinated with how music is made as with how it sounds. Performers wielding a copious assortment of electronic gear - along with acoustic outliers like a viola da gamba or a church organ - played at night in clubs and other venues in downtown Durham late last week. By day, many of them did double duty at workshops and stage interviews, explaining their artistic practices and technical solutions to audiences full of musicians. Festivalgoers could also try out all sorts of gizmos at a marketplace full of new and vintage electronic instruments and, often, the people who devised them.

Moogfest has emerged as the opposite of typical electronic-music festivals. It largely ignores so-called "big room" dance music in favor of sounds that stretch boundaries and explore sonic phenomena. Four-hour "durational" performances and an eight-hour, overnight "sleep concert" favored drones and meditative music. Moogfest also, in the state that passed and then repealed a divisive law on bathroom use, made a point of featuring performers and speakers who are gay, female, transgender or nonbinary - including a keynote stage interview with Chelsea Manning of WikiLeaks fame.

This year's Moogfest was scaled down from previous editions. Its biggest hitmaker was probably the socially conscious rapper KRS-One, whose Boogie Down Productions was a force in 1980s hip-hop. But it brought together a rewarding collection of performers whose gear, in the end, was beside the point. Below are 15 highlights.

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