Nerds abound at Moogfest

Apr 25, 2014

It’s day three of Moogfest in Asheville.

This afternoon at the Mill Room, Gretta Cohn will be part of a panel called “What Does Play Sound Like?”. Cohn used to play cello for the rock band Cursive, and now she’s a producer with WNYC's Freakonomics Radio. She says she'll talk with sound designer Robin Arnott, who creates video games that use sensory deprivation and audio-only interaction.

Essentially, Cohn says, both she and Arnott are using their musical background to inform the work they do now, "It's about thinking about both video game and radio documentary production as composition," she says.

"There are a lot of elements that you have to think about when you put a piece together, whether it's his format or mine, and how our backgrounds as musicians have shaped the work that we make.”

Another panel this weekend at Moogfest is a group of “Googlers,” as they’re called.

“We think of Robert Moog sort of like a patron saint for the nerdy arts,” says Ryan Germick. He runs the team that makes the Google doodles-- you know, those designs on the Google homepage that commemorate anniversaries, holidays, or other achievements with interactive clicky guitars.

There was even a Moog-related Google doodle that Germick helped build.

“If Robert Moog was around today, we’d probably try to recruit him at Google," Germick says. "He had the kind of inquisitive mind and scientific-hybrid-creative imagination that does really well here."

Germick, along with other members of the Google team, will discuss what it’s like to integrate sound with programming in a panel called “Google and the Future of Audio,” Saturday at noon at Asheville Community Theater.

And then, there’s the seemingly oxymoronic panel “Math of Futurama and the Simpsons,” Sunday at 1:00 at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium.

David X. Cohen, who wrote for The Simpsons and co-created Futurama with Matt Groening, explains: “Years ago, I and other writers with math backgrounds started hiding jokes in The Simpsons, and later Futurama, that were really just for ourselves and our old college buddies. We thought, oh, they’ll see this equation on the chalkboard behind Homer and or Leela and recognize this equation from our grad school days. We didn’t really intend those for a wide audience."

But Simon Singh, who himself has a PhD in particle physics, brought the secret jokes out of the closet when he wrote the book The SImpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets. Singh will moderate the Moogfest panel, talking about the shows with Cohen, Ken Keeler (who’s from Asheville), Jeff Westbrook, and Stuart Burns, all of whom wrote for both The Simpsons and Futurama have advanced degrees in either math, computer science, or electrical engineering.

"What is the intersection between The Simpsons, Futurama, and math? It’s nerdery," Cohen says. "And I think there’s gonna be some of that at Moogfest as well. So it’ll be interesting to see the collision of nerds there."

Cohen says it’s ok if you aren’t a math nerd, though-- just like the rest of Moogfest, all nerds are welcome.