Even relative to other local music festivals, Moogfest isn't cheap. Weekend passes sell for $249, about $80 more than the cost of Hopscotch and $30 less than a bonus-heavy VIP pass to the Art of Cool.
But the city and county of Durham combined financial forces to help fund an ambitious agenda of free programming at Moogfest, apart from the pricey ticketed events. In turn, the festival is offering a wide slate of art installations, concerts, and parties open to the public. These nine are among the best gratis bets.
CELEBRATING THE WORK OF DON BUCHLA: FROM THE COLLECTION OF RICHARD SMITH
Among synth aficionados, debate persists about pioneer status. There's Bob Moog, the more publicly hailed figure around which Moogfest is branded. Then there's Don Buchla, whose synthesizers launched after Moog's but whose designs may have been first. In a tribute to Buchla, Moogfest has gathered synths, prototypes, and photos to celebrate the contributions of Moog's contemporary. All the pieces come from the collection of Richard Smith, an electronics technician who's an expert on Buchla's work. He'll perform as a part of a tribute to Buchla on Friday afternoon. (Thursday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–8 p.m., Durham Arts Council Foyer)
Head upstairs, and you'll find what appears to be an old-fashioned telephone relay system. But artist and musician Lori Napoleon, or Antenes, has repurposed these former switchboards into functioning modular synthesizers. Both old phone systems and modular synths rely on cable patching to connect sounds, a common feature Napoleon exploited for this marvelous collection. She performs with these repurposed machines at one p.m. on Saturday. (Thursday-Sunday, noon-6 p.m., The Carrack)
THE GLOBAL SYNTHESIZER PROJECT
This installation on the American Tobacco Campus brings the world to Durham. In late April, Moog issued a call for people across the globe to submit field recordings from their local environments. The brainchild of Yuri Suzuki, the project allows participants to create rich soundscapes from these crowdsourced samples. You can carefully craft something lush and pretty, or shake it all up with as much noise as you can handle. (Thursday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m., Power Plant Gallery)
REALITI: INSIDE THE MUSIC OF GRIMES
Announced last week, this activity merges Microsoft technology with Moogfest headliner Grimes—sort of. Grimes won't be performing, but Microsoft will use its Kinect technology to let people manipulate "Realiti," a cut from her 2015 LP, Art Angels. The lighting and music will change as you move through four different zones of the installation. Take a few loops through with different looks. (Thursday–Sunday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., DCC Plaza)
UNIQUE DISSERTATIONS/COSMIC COMMUNICATIONS
Need to dip out of everyday life for a spell? Drop into this two-hour musical meditation to re-tune yourself.
Taz Arnold, of the neo-soul hip-hop outfit Sa-Ra, leads this session a little outside of downtown at the Nasher. Not quite a lecture, concert, or installation, this meditation station presents a refreshing respite from the typical music festival hustle and bustle. (Friday, 2 p.m., Nasher Museum of Art)
Due to artist travel complications, UNIQUE DISSERTATION$ / COSMIC COMMUNICATIONS with tAz Arnold co-presented with Moogfest and the Nasher Museum has been postponed to Saturday May 21, 2-3pm. They apologize for the delay, but look forward to seeing you tomorrow!
MOOGFEST REGGAE SOUNDSYSTEM PARTY
This late-afternoon fete offers the opportunity to bump, grind, or sway to all stripes of reggae. Bull McCabe's might not be your typical dance club, but its big backyard should make for an easygoing, early-evening hang. David Katz, Angus Taylor, Laurent "Tippy" Alfred, Lister Hewan-Lowe, and Blazer Soundsystem spin deep cuts into the evening. (Saturday, 1 p.m., Bull McCabe's)
ELECTRONIC MUSIC FOR CHILDREN AND EXPERIMENTAL ADULTS WITH DJ LANCE ROCK AND YO GABBA GABBA!
This may delight adults as much as—more than?—kids. Yo Gabba Gabba! is a colorful, quirky Nickelodeon institution that stars a bunch of big, friendly monsters and their DJ friend, Lance Rock. Kids can see their hero in the flesh, while any grown-up can enjoy bright, fun tunes from a host of his non-monster pals. The afternoon concludes with appearances by funk master Bootsy Collins and Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh—master musical forces accustomed to delighting audiences of all ages. (Saturday, noon, American Tobacco Campus)
Underneath the Lucky Strike tower, loop master Reggie Watts will plug in for a free, full-length performance. Watts is an expert, intriguing improviser; his sets are like watching the pieces of an intricate puzzle fall together in real time. Maybe you don't entirely understand how Watts's looping setup works, but you will soon understand that it can keep your attention indefinitely. And his renowned idiosyncratic wit only makes his stunts stronger. (Saturday, 5:30 p.m., American Tobacco Campus)
SCHOOLKIDS RECORDS DAY PARTY
It may not be Moog-approved, but this party at Schoolkids' Durham outpost offers an excellent afternoon of local music. Bombadil drummer James Phillips opens as Sumner James, his heady electronic project. Teardrop Canyon, the punchy new guitar- and synth-driven band of Josh Kimbrough, takes the stage, followed by Raleigh's great Enemy Waves, an astringent, tight, and loud psychedelic syndicate. You might not find many Moog contraptions, but you will find a solid bill. (Saturday, 1 p.m., Schoolkids Records)
This article appeared in print with the headline "Budget Electronics"