In struggle over Bob Moog’s archives, Asheville loses

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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Moog_archivesOn Thursday, the widow of electronic music pioneer Bob Moog announced that she was donating the inventor’s notes, recordings and other material to the Cornell University Library. Ileana Grams-Moog, in announcing the decision, said:

“It was Bob‘s wish that his archives be preserved and made accessible to other scientists, inventors, engineers and innovators. The Cornell Library makes its extensive rare collections accessible to students and scholars all over the world.” Cornell awarded Moog a doctorate in engineering physics in 1965.

That’s fine. But Grams-Moog’s announcement discounts the fact that for the past several years, the Bob Moog Foundation, run by his daughter, Michelle, has been working on preserving said archives. Bob Moog moved to Asheville in 1978 and continued his work in Asheville until he died here eight years ago. Moog taught at UNC Asheville, and there’s a music studio with his name on it at the university.

Grams-Moog, in today’s Asheville Citizen-Times story about the Moog archives, said the foundation wasn’t equipped to do the preservation work. Michelle Moog countered by noting that foundation recently secured a lease to process and preserve the archives at the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources western offices in East Asheville. The foundation also hired an archivist to oversee the work.

I don’t know the details of the family differences, but I think the fact that the archives are are being shipped to New York is a huge loss for Asheville. The archives, in my opinion, should stay in Asheville, which is home to the foundation run by his daughter, as well as the company that continues to produce quality musical instruments bearing his name.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. Burnsey July 22, 2013

    Geary, thanks for the summary.

  2. August Worley July 21, 2013

    I am intimately aware of much of what is in these materials, having assisted The Bob Moog Foundation in reviewing and cataloging this collection shortly after its formation. Speaking as an engineer who knows a good deal about this technology and has worked at Moog Music in both New York and Asheville, a lot of the documentation we reviewed is VERY arcane, and I doubt that the Cornell Library, (an institution that, by-the-way, really couldn’t give a toss about Bob during his career), will know what half of it is, or what the hell to do with most of it.

    This body of material does indeed require a significant amount of interpretation, in the same manner as an archaeologist needs to survey an entire dig site to place all of the fragments in context. There are drawings and schematics that will make no sense when taken out of the context of their relationship with some of the other materials that are NOT in this portion of the archive. These materials need to be interpreted in their entirety.

    Bob Moog was prolific, but he did NOT work alone: this is not all just simply “Bob’s stuff”! There is a scope of involvement of a lot of other people (like myself) that needs to be taken into consideration to truly understand the historical context of these materials. And unless you were collecting a Moog or a Norlin paycheck at the time, very few people can look at a bunch of initials in a drawing’s title block and get a proper understanding of who was involved and the what’s and why’s of how that document came to be.

    Not all of these materials relate to anything tangible that ever saw the light of day, but are important when placed in an R&D context, and unless you were part of that effort it would be very easy to dismiss as historically insignificant. These materials are now historical information, and if you’re going to assemble that history accurately, you need to KNOW these details from the people that helped create them. As scholarly as any library personnel may be, they are still going to need to contract people that are true experts to be able to sort through this pile of stuff to have any hope of developing a historically accurate picture.

    The Bob Moog Foundation has taken the care through the years to nurture relationships with the actual individuals who were THERE when this stuff was created. I cannot speak for all of my colleagues from “back in the day”, but speaking for myself, I refuse to contribute any of my information to support this material being in the hands of entities that have demonstrated such poor integrity in this matter.

    There are still more felines to be released from their fabric confine, but when the dust settles it will be clear that The Bob Moog Foundation is the only organisation that has operated with integrity.

  3. Geary Yelton July 20, 2013

    I’m convinced the Bob Moog Foundation would do a better job of making these materials accessible to a wider audience than Cornell University. Take a look at Cornell’s current archives, and you’ll find limited online access to only a few materials in the public domain for each collection stored there. I don’t know the details of Cornell’s policies, so I can’t say for certain, but to view copyrighted materials or examine stored synthesizer prototypes, for example, you would probably need to provide your academic credentials and make an appointment with Cornell’s archivist for a supervised visit. I strongly suspect Bob’s work would be just another collection in Cornell’s vast collection of collections, and more than likely, many of the materials will simply be put into storage.

    Contrast that with the Bob Moog Foundation’s accomplishments and plans. Under the leadership of Bob’s daughter Michelle Moog-Koussa and with the enthusiastic support of all her siblings, the Foundation spent much of the past seven years rescuing these materials from rot, damp, mold, mouse droppings, heat, cold, and other perils. They’ve hired and consulted with professional archivists and spent thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars bringing the materials up to a point where they’ve been cleaned, restored, and ready to be accessed by researchers and exhibited to the public.

    While all this progress was being made, Bob’s widow, who once served as the Foundation’s Chairman of the Board, verbally assured them that when the time was right, she would transfer ownership of the collection and archives to the Bob Moog Foundation. No contracts were signed, as she was family, and the rest of the family felt they could take her at her word. On occasion, the Foundation displayed the limited portions of the collection that were ready for public exhibition from coast to coast. In recent years, the Foundation made some materials from the archives available for publication while protecting others from exploitation.

    More than three months ago, after a year of negotiation, the Foundation secured office, exhibit, and archival storage space at the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources’ Western NC Archives here in Asheville, a new, state-of-the-art, temperature- and humidity-controlled facility that houses collections significant to Western North Carolina’s history. Currently, researchers and scholars travel from the all over the world to view the historical archives of Black Mountain College, which are available there under the guidance of the facility’s full-time archivist and her staff. It would have been fitting for Bob Moog’s archives to be available alongside the works of John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, and other prominent artists and innovators who once lived and worked in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

    If all had gone according to plan, once the collection actually belonged to the Bob Moog Foundation, it would have qualified for numerous grants and donations, including one for $600,000 from the Buncombe County Tourism Product Development Authority. That would have allowed the Foundation to open a planned Moogseum, where experts and trained volunteers with a passion for all things Moog could have offered tours and taught visitors about Bob’s life and work, and allowed people a hands-on experience that would have been a tangible boost to Asheville’s musical and cultural significance.

    The only recent obstacle has been that after literally years of confirming a verbal agreement that she would hand over ownership of Bob Moog’s archives and collection, his widow succumbed to outside influences and simply changed her mind. No restitution was offered to the Foundation, no compensation for their hard work and money spent, not even a thank you from Moog Music or from anyone involved in the arrangement with Cornell University. No one from the Bob Moog Foundation was consulted in the decision.

    Does anyone really think the Foundation made all this effort and spent all this money so Cornell University could simply accept it with, as Andy Griffith used to say, “A handful of gimme and a mouthful of much obliged”?

    Quite sincerely,
    Geary Yelton

    1. schwarzcat July 22, 2013

      Agreed. Having one of a kind information/resources in Asheville = good for Asheville.

  4. ronfrankl July 19, 2013

    Whatever logic you wish to use, this sounds more like a personal grudge between the widow and the daughter over control of Moog’s legacy, rather than a disagreement over what’s best for the archives and its users. I suspect that there will now be lawyers involved. Too bad Moog didn’t specify what he wanted prior to his death.

  5. Jacque July 19, 2013

    “A huge loss . . .” Please. Moog’s legacy can and should extend beyond Asheville. Does anyone really think the Foundation and Asheville would do as good a job as internationally-known Cornell to make these items accessible to a larger audience? Cornell has a music research center with a focus on keyboards! Bob got a PhD there, so it seems fitting to return his work to it’s origin.

    John Lennon had a museum in Japan and his artifacts are on display throughout the world. Monet has paintings all over the place. Asheville is fortunate to have his namesake company, nonprofit, and music festival in town, his imprint is still evident at UNCA. Maybe it’s not fair to pull the rug out from the foundation who has already been working on this, but not everything Moog has to be in Asheville, as he did have quite a life before coming here.

    1. Jason Sandford July 19, 2013

      Jacque, your point is well taken. I still think it’s a loss for Asheville.

  6. Jason July 19, 2013

    Cornell is a better place for these archives. Let’s face it, I’m sure they know a thing or two about preserving documents, tapes, etc… I doubt the Asheville Moog place can compete with them in that regard.

    1. John R. July 19, 2013

      Maybe the Ashville ‘Moog place’ doesn’t have the skills, but if you read the article it said they were working with the recently opened North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources western offices in East Asheville to house the collection here. That place is top notch when it comes to historic preservation and record keeping. WNC could certainly house this collection adequately, and it is definitely a cultural and historical loss for our region.


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