Alex Finlay is a tech at The Orange Peel, a renowned Asheville venue. We checked in with him to discuss Moogfest, the local scene in Asheville, and Moog’s influence in general. Alex will be working at the Moogoplex during the concert, demoing synths and theremins for festival goers, and will also be volunteering for the Moog Foundation in local schools. He still hopes he can find time to check out some of his favorite acts at the fest, including Amon Tobin and the Flaming Lips.
The Tuned Inn: How long have you been in Asheville?
Alex Finlay: It’ll be 4 years this month. By now I’m sort of ‘the resident electronic music guy’ here at The Orange Peel.
TTI: What else do you do in Asheville, besides teching for shows?
AF: I moved to Asheville for the music scene, as a musician as well as for my job. I started off as a guitar player in high school, like many people do I guess. I have a project now with synth and piano and drums, dance-oriented with a classically influenced idea of form. Called the Graviton Project – a graviton being the theoretical particle that explains gravity, in physics. Anyway, after high school I went to school to study music, but ultimately transferred to Middle Tennessee State to study recording. Then I worked in Nashville for a couple of years, but the country music scene wasn’t for me – it’s far too label-dominated. And since then I’ve been here.
“Back in the day they would do these boom box symphonies, where they would get 30 different boomboxes each playing a different take on different instruments, each played by a different person and they would conduct it like a symphony.”
TTI: What’s the best part of your job?
AF: Getting to meet guys from The Glitch Mob, Bassnectar, Derek from Pretty Lights - quizzing them on theory and seeing how they visualize their music. The beauty of this kind of music is there’s as many ways of using the tech as there are people using it. Some bands are more inclined to make backing tracks and play solo instruments over those tracks, where other people are more DJ style, other people use more sequencing. With a guitar there’s only so many ways to play it and so many sounds you can make. I also saw Pretty Lights recently, who do these long form, almost symphonic form – much less loop-based than a lot of electronic musicians. He does a good job having the video tie in well with the song.
TTI: So the stage show is very important to you?
AF: Well that’s my profession, so yes. One of the down sides to electronic music is that it isn’t as exciting to watch as it is to watch someone running around the stage playing a guitar. So it’s important to show it in a cinematic way.
TTI: Is there anyone who has a particularly creative stage show?
AF: Many people – but The Glitch Mob comes to mind. They just have three multi-touch displays and drum pads – and a computer. It makes it more of a dynamic stage show. I think the interface is very important. One of my favorite things about the Moog instruments is the big knobs they have. It seems like a small thing, but then you can really grab it and make adjustments live. Also Livid Instruments [a company that builds handmade MIDI control devices], out of Austin, does cool stuff with interfaces.
TTI: What’s the hardest part of the job?
AF: When we’ve got the big truck load in – a semi worth of lighting gear. There’s a church that meets here Sunday mornings, so we have to set that up, and break it down afterwards and set up for a whole other show after. That’s like, 12 hours of work. But generally it’s actually a lot less difficult to set up for electronic music, because they mix it themselves from onstage. What gets tricky is mixing live instruments on top of that – it’s hard to get it to sound balanced and come through clearly in the mix.
“Part of it is getting out into schools and showing kids how to interface with this technology. Showing kids, hey look this is the science behind these strange sounds.”
TTI: What bands are you looking forward to at Moogfest 2011?
AF: This guy Amon Tobin, he has a really good act I have heard. He has this crazy 3D mapping visual set up. Also excited about seeing the Flaming Lips. I was a Flaming Lips fan since back in the mid ‘90s. Back in the day they would do these boombox symphonies, where they would get 30 different boomboxes each playing a different take on different instruments, each played by a different person and they would conduct it like a symphony. Also an album they came out with back then with four different albums meant to be played simultaneously.
TTI: Will any of your favorite acts be playing The Orange Peel?
AF: I’m not going to be working at The Orange Peel then actually – I’m volunteering with the Moog Foundation. It’s an organization that’s dedicated to teaching about the space where music and science collide. Part of it is organizing the archives of Moog’s work and designs, but part of it is getting out into schools and showing kids how to interface with this technology. Showing kids, hey look this is the science behind these strange sounds. The beauty of these synthesizers is you can just sit down and start turning knobs and get crazy sounds. It’s kind of a mystery to sit down with a box and imagine how it makes music, so we want to help them make that transition. Friday and Sunday I’ll be working at the Moogoplex, though, where they’ll have all the Moog instruments and theremins set up. Everyone should should check that out, it’s awesome.
TTI: What band did you like best at Moogfest 2010:
AF: Jonsi, he just had this amazing show. He got the company that does stage design for the Metropolitan Opera to do his stage design. Also Massive Attack had one of the best light shows I have ever seen. Nosaj Thing also had a really unique approach I got really into.
TTI: Any more thoughts on Moog?
AF: Moog is a presence. It definitely fosters a community of electronic music here. A pretty diverse mix of music comes through The Orange Peel – everything from Country to dance. But the presence of Moog the company and of Moog himself, that definitely draws a lot of people to Asheville – myself included, really.
Interview by James Kraft.