Moog Family Feud
July 20, 2013 4:14 AM   Subscribe

Robert Moog's personal archives of notes, plans, drawings and recordings were donated to Cornell University Library by his wife this week and will be housed in the library's Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. The donation came as a surprise to non-profit Moog Foundation in Asheville, which led by one of his daughters and has spent the last 8 years preserving his archives of instruments, photos and papers, reel to reel tapes, recordings and prototypes, with preservation grants from the GRAMMY foundation and had been working towards opening a ""Moogseum"" with the archives. A personal statement from Moog's daughter on the Transfer of Bob Moog's Archives.

Robert Moog received a PH.D in engineering physicals from Cornell and spent the 1990s research professor of music at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

Moogfest is scheduled for April 2014 in Asheville. Moog Music, also based in Asheville, continues to make Moog instruments.

"We believe firmly that bob Moog's archives belong in Western North Carolina; Western North Carolina was my father's spiritual home for 25 years," according to Michelle Moog-Koussa, Moog's daughter.

Dr. Ileana Grams-Moog, Moog's wife and stepmother to Moog-Koussa, on the donation to Cornell: "It was Bob‘s wish that his archives be preserved and made accessible to other scientists, inventors, engineers and innovators,” Grams-Moog said. “It has been eight years since my husband’s death and I am happy that my gift to Cornell will finally make this rich collection available. Bob would be pleased to know his life’s work is finally being properly preserved so that current and future generations may advance upon his work.”
posted by katinka-katinka (31 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, not a surprise to anyone who knows Ileana. She's a bit of a prickly person.
posted by rikschell at 4:32 AM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Prickly," that's a polite way of saying "huge asshole," right?
posted by GoingToShopping at 4:51 AM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

The moment I saw 'stepmother', everything made so much more sense.
posted by Sequence at 4:59 AM on July 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

Don't put words in my mouth. If I'd have meant to say "asshole," I would have.
posted by rikschell at 5:04 AM on July 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

Less controversial but also just recently donated to Cornell are Afrika Bambaataa's archives.
posted by maurice at 5:10 AM on July 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

I don't know anything about any of the players in this, but as soon as I read the article with the quote above using the word 'finally' two times, I could see that there was bad blood between the daughter and Moog's widow.

It appears that legally it is Moog's widow's right to do as she fits, but it seems to this outsider that some sort of deal could have been struck. A five year transition period? There always being a part of the archives on display in Asheville? Something.

To me, this is just another story of how post death, many of the underlying family squabbles come to a head with bickering and infighting. It is too bad Moog himself did not shed light on where to house his collection. He is the person who should have had the most say.

Although I don't anticipate dying with a whole lot of financial wealth, I have laid out pretty specifically where all the things like family pictures go, who gets access to and controls my digital life, etc.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:03 AM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Okay, this is the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon at work. Last weekend I was riding my motorcycle around Western North Carolina and I passed a small Moog manufacturing facility. I thought, WTF? Moog, here? So I googled Moog (I moogled?) and read up on Robert Moog. And now here's this post. Thanks for filling in some missing backstory.
posted by workerant at 6:05 AM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I won't jump to the hackneyed conclusion that the stepmother is evil. Perhaps Cornell does have the scope and reach and can offer better archiving and storage facilities, not to mention wider, global access? And it's not like they're a random choice -- it was his intellectual base for a long time. Perhaps the daughter's crusade is personal, rather than professional?
posted by thinkpiece at 6:18 AM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, not a surprise to anyone who knows Ileana. She's a bit of a prickly person.

Ironically, she has no filter.
posted by w0mbat at 6:24 AM on July 20, 2013 [8 favorites]

Ironically, she has no filter.

Nice one, I Saw what you did there, that had resonance. Though personally I oscillate between disdain and forgiveness for Ileana. Michelle should have read the sines though, and anticipated being cutoff.
posted by sourwookie at 6:30 AM on July 20, 2013 [23 favorites]

If the daughter can SUSTAIN the LEVEL of her fight long enough with some DELAY TIME, there's a chance that the old widow will die off and then it will be ATTACK TIME.
posted by readyfreddy at 6:46 AM on July 20, 2013 [7 favorites]

Isn't it possible that Bob Moog told his wife and his daughter slightly different things about how he wanted his personal papers preserved, just because he wanted to keep the women in his life happy? Couldn't Cornell and UNC Ashville work out some arrangement so that all the papers that would be more relevant to scholars stay in an archive, while all the memorabilia that would have more wider interest gets put in a museum?
posted by jonp72 at 6:51 AM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with thinkpiece. From Ileana's point of view, Cornell is certainly the stronger option. Via Guidestar, the foundation had $200,000 cash as of the end of 2011 (2012 report not yet filed). In the scheme of things that's not much for an outfit looking to build a $3 million museum and then to operate it.
posted by beagle at 6:52 AM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

You aren't going to get the uninitiated excited about Moogs by stuffing them in a boring library so that "scientists" can access them easier. This sounds like a "hey Cornell, look at me!" move by the widow.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:53 AM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

...based on a verbal understanding...

Any number of problems that may have been avoided, or solved in short order, are based on this.

First and foremost, any transfer of materials from the custody of one person/entity needs to be in writing, and conform to the existing laws in that state regarding transfer/potential, future, or pending transfer of property. So that mistake seems to be on the Moog Foundation.

As for Cornell: if their acquisitions staff is on their game, they would know what they are and are not going to get (including funds to process--arrange and describe--the materials). They would know if another institution held some part of the collector's materials, and determine if there is an agreement in place that covers what Cornell is in discussions to acquire. And most important is to determine chain of custody--that means who has the right to donate or sell the materials.

And quite honestly it could come down to the question of who will care for the materials best.

I know... tl;dr. This situation is probably not the outcome Moog intended.
posted by datawrangler at 6:53 AM on July 20, 2013

I know Ileana Grams and she's a good human. Enough with the insults, lest you invite some in return.

Death often leaves a little stress in families. Moog's company, festival, and legacy are in Asheville.

No one here has any right to judge the disposition of assets from anyone's estate that they are not personally involved in. Sure, you might prefer them in your living room, but it's not your decision.

The happiest outcome would have been that Moog lived to 100 or more, healthy and productive. He did not. Leave his widow alone.
posted by FauxScot at 8:20 AM on July 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

I've been watching this story with some interest, largely because I have in my possession the last worldly possessions of a poet, artist, and performer who never achieved the fame or notoriety he should have because his greatest gift of all was the mastery of the art of self-sabotage. The guy was a pain to work for, a lunatic, a pervert, and, even before the metastasizing cancer cells and chemo fried his brain, a completely erratic person.

I'd taken a vacation from him around the time he died, but I was his last archivist, fighting the impossible fight to catalogue the indescribable, and his brother showed up at my office with a rented van on the actual eve of the Snowpocalypse and told me that the poet had wanted me to oversee his archives.

Seriously? I get to work for the guy for free even after he's dead?

We drove the rented van to his apartment, where, in the same way that literally everyone but me packs for a move, there was chaos, disorder, and a hundred boxes in a hundred different shapes, sizes, and states of collapse. Packed everything out to the truck with a single, tiny, half-broken hand truck. Held off the psychic violence as the sister-in-law explained how they'd discarded the "hurtful" materials, which, in the poet's case, were a big chunk of his work. Felt a little flush of hilarious anger when they pointed out exactly where he'd died, marked by a huge brown blood stain in the carpet around the broken ruins of the music stand I'd repaired for him over and over as he managed to trip over it and break it or drop it and break it and otherwise just damage it for a decade.

"Really, David," I said, to no one in particular, "You had fall on that goddamn thing and break it one more time?"

I stored a hundred boxes in a hundred different shapes, sizes, and states of collapse in a hidden room in the giant clock tower where I work, returned the rental van, and went back with my own car to pull what I could of the "hurtful" work out of the dumpster before the snow got heavy enough I had to flee for home. I thought I'd start working on the collection here and there right off, but immediately after the region recovered from the storms, I got a tip that items from his home had shown up in a local auction house, and I hotfooted it to the place and ended up buying back a lot of my own things that the romantic larcenous poet had stolen from my apartment over the years we worked together, as well as a large number of important books, notes, and artworks. Fortunately, the mainstream community hasn't a clue who either Paul Sharitz or Davi Det Hompson were, so those pieces, at least, didn't cost me much.

In addition, and perhaps most disturbing to me, his Hermes 3000, a typewriter I'd carefully restored and maintained after it had sat, jammed solid, on his desk, had disappeared, and it was, and I'd told him this any time he'd asked me if I ever wanted to be left anything of his, the only thing of his I ever wanted for myself. I don't know where it went. He might have given it to a toothsome grad student, as was his lecherous way, or just lost it along the way.

I reboxed about a third of the collection, then left it alone in a clean, dry room under the clock machinery for the tower where I worked, and it sat there for three years. I made a few attempts to gather his friends and associates in an effort to inventory, sort, and properly store his archives, but artists are a flaky lot, and poets are worse (in the interest of full disclosure, my degree is in poetry, so I'm allowed to say that), so it sat.

Then, that job ended, and I had to move the collection again, and so I reboxed as much as I could, sorted as much as I could, all in a hot, hot, hot room in the middle of a hot day so I could take out to the hot sidewalk and load it into my hot truck, which barely held it all, and drive it to my storage space (climate-controlled), which also barely held it all, and which I need to shut down, now that there's no more money coming in.

I've got an interim place lined up to store the archive, but it's an uncomfortable thing. My possession of it is entirely happenstance, and my decisions regarding its curation, conservation, and ultimate dispensation are not backed by anything legal. The family, who all regarded the poet with such distaste (deserved at times, purely conservative at others), don't care. The friends, most of whom share my love/hate dynamic with the poet, have a variety of thoughts, all contradicting each other. There is no budget, and I'm spending my own dwindling money on boxes and supplies to at least have the archive in some level of semi-professional state before it's back into the deep storage.

"Why don't you just give it to someone else to deal with?" my friends ask.

Part of me wants nothing more, and part of me still wishes the poet had a grave I could pee on to divert the little occasional bursts of anger.

Then, sifting through the papers, I'll read a series of letters from Robert Creeley, or open a manilla envelope to find a series of photographs of the poet in bed with Edith Massey, reading TV Week and laughing. I'll open an envelope filled with glitter, or another with a piece of mail art from Davi Det Hompson, or another with a drunken scrawl from Root Boy Slim, for whom the poet had opened many, many times over the years.

I sort through the tapes, and from the tapes from which excerpts where used for This American Life, episode 43, Act II, in which the poet was haranguing innocent people in the guise of a telephone psychic, are all neatly boxed, along with many, many more. The poet obsessively taped every poetry reading he attended, and there are recordings of many amazing poets reading their work.

Goddammit, David.

Where does it go?

Ultimately, if I end up with any control over the final dispensation of the work, it will be scanned and digitized, shared across the internet so that it'll belong to the world and to the future, as a resource and a thing to be discovered by people who might take something of the wild, anarchic spirit that, at its best, made amazing new things in place of the same old ways. Working with the guy, as exasperating as it was in the worst of it, was like working with the beat poet no one knew, and the work is genius, just genius. I want others to know him, too, but I'm too limited in my time and resources, and don't have the reach I need, so I'll surrender this archive when I find a worthy home for it.

There's something to be said for the ability of a large university to conserve and keep a collection, particularly a large and rambling collection, though they're not the best for outreach. I'd hope in this case that the Moog Foundation could scan and digitize as much as they can before it goes, too, to set it free and to promote Moog's spirit and legacy, but those family conflicts can make everything a mess. It's a shame that this donation would be made without any sort of communication or consultation with the Foundation, which at the very least provided safe harbor for the collection (and appears to have also maintained good stewardship over the Moog legacy), because it's really a tacky, thoughtless move.

Death complicates everything, at least for the living.
posted by sonascope at 8:33 AM on July 20, 2013 [43 favorites]

You aren't going to get the uninitiated excited about Moogs by stuffing them in a boring library so that "scientists" can access them easier. This sounds like a "hey Cornell, look at me!" move by the widow.

Yes, but not all memorabilia would be as equally exciting as a display piece in a museum. What you do with all the day-to-day correspondence that Bob Moog wrote to non-famous people that museumgoers might not necessarily be interested in?
posted by jonp72 at 8:34 AM on July 20, 2013

Slight derail, but I have to recommend the training and demo videos produced by Marc Doty, Education Specialist at the Moog Foundation.

Here's to hoping Cornell and the Moog Foundation can come to an agreement for exhibition of the material in the future. I can only imagine the impact worldwide of making Moog's research and notes widely available to the public.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:00 AM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

An archivist's nightmare, but this is going to happen more and more often now as more and more patrimony is born digital and exists in multiple places (and belongs legitimately to multiple interested parties) the instant it is created. Our old ideas about archives as "repositories" are getting long in the tooth.
posted by spitbull at 9:11 AM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Not saying that's the situation here, but of course things that get digitized latterly are also hard to keep track of vis a vis chain of possession.
posted by spitbull at 9:12 AM on July 20, 2013

Also, I oscillate back and forth about this.
posted by spitbull at 9:21 AM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

workerant: That's a totally different Moog.

And, just a reminder, it rhymes with vogue.
posted by achrise at 10:52 AM on July 20, 2013

> From Ileana's point of view, Cornell is certainly the stronger option. Via Guidestar, the foundation had $200,000 cash as of the end of 2011 (2012 report not yet filed). In the scheme of things that's not much for an outfit looking to build a $3 million museum and then to operate it.

The priority of the Foundation is to open and operate that museum and focus on Moog, and just Moog. The priorities of Cornell (or any large university) are, suffice it to say, diverse and competing. The priorities and resources of a just the university library are diverse. Any particular initiative is dependent on sustained prioritization and budget support from multiple levels of university leadership.

A university also has the advantage of a professional team of fundraisers dedicated to cultivating their alumni (and spouses of, etc) for large gifts. Good job by Cornell's fundraisers, and perhaps Cornell is best equipped for physically maintaining the archives, but I hope that they can coordinate with the Moog Foundation on preserving Moog's legacy.

/I work in a division of a university fundraising office.
posted by desuetude at 10:53 AM on July 20, 2013

I wrote Moog's obituary for the UNCA Blue Banner. There has been animosity in this family for a long while. I met both Bob and Michelle before Bob's death; at that time she did not even pronounce 'Moog' in the same way as Robert. I have friends that currently work for Moog Music but I have not kept up with the Moogs since I left Asheville many years ago. Dr. Moog himself only regained the rights to his name in 2002. Anyone interested in this topic should research the histories of the R. A. Moog Co. and Big Briar, the company that is now Moog Music, Inc. I have my personal opinions which I believe are too unfounded to share with the general public but I think the transfer to Cornell will be a far greater custodial decision in the long run. I think UNCA perhaps would be a more appropriate permanent home but that has never been an option as far as I'm aware.
posted by headless at 11:23 AM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Bob was born in NYC. He attended the Bronx High School of Science. Bob's work for Raymond Scott was in NY. Most of Bob's integration of decades of EM technology development was done in NY. The first Moog concerts (Herb Deutsch): in NYC. Carlos Switched-On Bach recorded in NYC with help from Bob. His factory .. in Trumansburg, NY. His physics PhD was from Cornell.

Not much North Carolina involved in any of that.
posted by Twang at 12:53 PM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not much North Carolina involved in any of that.

I could reply in a NYC style, but instead I'll just suggest that you not contribute to the pissing contest. Bob Moog moved to WNC in 1978, after walking away from the wretched corporate politics that had wrecked the company in New York bearing his name.

Asheville's a small town, and Bob was well-known, not just for Big Briar, but for his work at UNCA and elsewhere: it doesn't surprise me that those commenting above who live (or have lived) in Asheville are being the most circumspect about this, and I'll join them.
posted by holgate at 10:50 PM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Wow, holgate, that synthmuseum bio of Moog is fantastic. Thanks.
posted by spitbull at 10:18 AM on July 21, 2013

As a guy who spends a lot of his time right now rescuing computer history materials, I will tell you that two archives clamoring with each other over the preservation of materials and offering welcoming homes to it is the best of all possible outcomes.
posted by jscott at 6:47 AM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's a very interesting thread on this at Moog Music's forum. (Not affiliated with the BMF.)

My husband, who has been restoring vintage analog synths for a couple decades, worked with Bob Moog a few times. This is part of what he said on the MMF thread:

Fwiw, I once worked for Bob at a Namm show. (2003 winter namm, I think.)
I asked Bob if his children would carry on his legacy and he laughed.
He said none cared about synths and knew little about them.

So, while I think the BMF may have good intentions, they're being poorly executed. IMHO, part of the problem is that Michelle didn't know the vintage analog synth community at all when she started the BMF. I've been part of the community via my husband for 16+ years and have long since figured out who the assets to the community are vs the egotistical asshats.
posted by luckynerd at 2:15 PM on July 23, 2013

Update from Bryan Bell, president of the Bob Moog Foundation. For all the calls for supporters to remain above the fray, it's sure lookin' to git ugly.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:49 PM on August 9, 2013

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