The synth innovator at work, as pictured in a photo from the collections of the Bob Moog Foundation.

The synth innovator at work, as pictured in a photo from the collections of the Bob Moog Foundation.

This story has been updated based on an FAQ and official response to CDM from the Cornell University Library, responding to some of the concerns.

The not-for-profit Bob Moog Foundation has been working since the synth pioneer’s death to restore and make accessible his archives, undertaking preservation efforts, mounting exhibitions, and recently acquiring a space to house them. They were therefore surprised last week, they said, to learn these archives were instead being donated to Cornell University, Moog’s alma mater. The announcement has quickly inspired an outcry from the music technology community, with critics arguing the move would cripple years of work by the Foundation and limit accessibility.

According to observers who have worked with the Foundation, the move could have the impact of restricting access to these materials to those able to physically travel to Cornell in upstate New York. It could delay efforts to digitize materials by years or decades, they say, squandering countless volunteer hours and donations made to the Foundation since Moog’s death. (Whether there’s an opportunity for Cornell and the Foundation to work together remains to be seen.)

Update: CDM has been able to reach staff at Cornell University. We’ve made them aware of specific concerns about accessibility and will share if we get an additional response. For now, they’ve posted an FAQ today responding to some concerns. In it, they argue they have specific and extensive experience in handling these materials, including “an expert staff of archivists and maintains state-of-the-art facilities, an extensive digitization program, and active public programming.”

Katherine Reagan, Curator of Rare Books & Manuscripts at Cornell University Library, tells CDM:

The Moog Archive has not yet arrived at Cornell, but once it does we will quickly open the collection for research. Anyone will be most welcome to view or study it.

You may be interested to see the FAQ just posted today by Cornell about the Moog Archive:

We look forward to seeing you at Cornell once the collection has arrived.

The news came at the end of last week, carried by Moog Music, the manufacturer founded by Bob Moog (and unaffiliated with the Bob Moog Foundation):

Bob Moog’s Archives Donated to World-Class Facility at Cornell University [Moog Music]

According to Moog Music, the decision will move Bob Moog’s “personal archive of notes, plans, drawings, recordings” to the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections at the Sidney Cox Library of Music & Dance, via a donation by Dr. Moog’s widow, Dr. Ileana Grams-Moog.

For its part, that library does have a long history of preservation and a specific focus on keyboard instruments (whether that is relevant to the synthesizer being a separate discussion). But the Foundation argues that it can already provide what Cornell’s library can, and that it has already begun the work of “re-housing the collection in archival quality storage materials, securing climate controlled storage, cataloging thousands of items, cleaning and restoring a breadth of materials including almost 100 reel-to-reel tapes in the collection, and most recently securing state-of-the-art archival storage and processing facilities” which would provide access to international researchers.

Cornell and The Bob Moog Foundation essentially each argue that they’re better equipped for preservation, archiving, and public access.

Michelle Moog-Koussa, Executive Director of the Moog Foundation and Bob Moog’s daughter, argues that the decision would actually restrict access, relative to the Foundation’s plans, and goes on to say that she feels the move from Asheville, North Carolina is contrary to her father’s wishes and to the wishes of the Moog Family:

A Personal Statement from Michelle on the Transfer of Bob Moog’s Archives [Bob Moog Foundation]

To be clear, these materials do not represent the totality of the Bob Moog Foundation’s entire collection; in the same letter, Moog-Koussa stresses that they have a repository of donated and acquired historical materials surrounding electronic music in general. But this would divide that collection, moving part of it to New York.

Many backers have already signed a petition opposing the move on these grounds:
Keep Bob Moog’s Archives in Asheville with the BMF!

With Herb Deustch, in 1963, also from the Bob Moog Foundation.

With Herb Deustch, in 1963, also from the Bob Moog Foundation.

Keyboard Magazine editor Stephen Fortner weighs in on the issue:
Transfer of Bob Moog Archives Leads to Controversy []

Keyboard says it hasn’t yet taken a position, awaiting more information, though it does applaud the work of the Foundation (and of Moog Music).

Journalist Geary Yelton, a critic of the move, has agreed to have his comments reprinted on CDM. Yelton argues that keeping the archives with the Foundation would broaden access:

As a friend of the late Bob Moog and members of his family (and as former senior editor of the magazine Electronic Musician), I’d like to comment on the recent controversy caused by Moog Music’s announcement that his widow, Ileana Grams-Moog, plans to remove his collected archives from Asheville and donate them to Cornell University. I’m convinced that the Bob Moog Foundation, which currently curates most of his collection, would do a better job of making it accessible to a wider audience.

For each collection that’s currently stored in Cornell’s archives, you’ll find limited online access to only a fraction of the materials in the public domain. From what I can see of Cornell’s policies, to view copyrighted materials or examine technical prototypes, you need to make an appointment with Cornell’s archivist for a supervised visit. According to Cornell’s website, they’ll scan and process the materials only as time and funding allow, so the process could potentially take decades. 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 would simply be put into permanent 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 many of these materials from rot, damp, mold, mouse droppings, heat, cold, and other perils. They hired and consulted with professional archivists and spent thousands of hours and approximately $150,000 bringing the materials up to a point where they’ve been cleaned and restored, and they’re 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, made it clear that she was only loaning the archival collection to the Foundation. Nonetheless, she verbally assured them that when the time was right, she would transfer ownership of the materials to them. 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 Western Office of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources’ Office of Archives and History 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 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 eventually 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 visitors 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 apparently 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

We will certainly update you if we hear more from the parties involved.

Gallery: Vintage Moog Ads, Vintage Bob Moog, from the Bob Moog Foundation Archives

Updated: Cornell FAQ

Following these concerns from the music technology community, Cornell has posted an article specifically addressing the acquisition, and describing their facilities and programs for access, research, digitization, and exhibitions:

They promise that, like other assets, digitization will be part of their plans for the archives, and specifically promise access:

When permitted by copyright and other laws, CUL makes its digital assets available for use by anyone, free of charge. Cornell’s position on removing restrictions on the use of digitized materials places it in the forefront of institutions promoting broad access.

There isn’t a timeline for digitization, though, at this point, which was one of the concerns Geary Yelton (among others) expressed to CDM.

The Library also stresses that “anyone” may access the library, though this of course means that the collection would be in Ithaca, New York, and not in Asheville, North Carolina, in the home of Moog Music and the remaining archives and collections of the Bob Moog Foundation. (Though loans would potentially alleviate that; see below.)

The Library FAQ does, however, offer an answer to claims that the move of the collection will limit public access, by arguing that it will be available through online and in-person access to exhibitions:

RMC stages two major and several smaller exhibits every year. Exhibits are also accessible online. We lend items for exhibits elsewhere, and Dr. Ileana Grams-Moog specifically requested that we make materials available for loan for exhibitions in Asheville, which we will absolutely do.

What the FAQ does not do is mention the Bob Moog Foundation by name. It says only this:

[Question] Didn’t the archives already have a home?

The choice of what to do with the archives belongs to Dr. Ileana Grams-Moog. She described her reasons for choosing the Library in the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Here’s what Dr. Grams-Moog told the Asheville Citizen-Times:

The foundation is very small, and its resources are limited. They have no experience preserving and providing broad access to material of this caliber.

(The answer from The Bob Moog Foundation would, presumably, be to point to their record of providing public access and to the new facility for archiving, and therein lies the stalemate in this discussion.)

Dr. Grams-Moog also told the Citizen-Times that there had been no capital campaign in support of the tourism grant for the Moog museum, the project Geary mentions in his quotes above. Michelle Moog-Koussa responds that the Foundation had shifted goals in response to economic climate.

The full article:

Moog archives selection prompts dispute [Asheville Citizen-Times]

If the library at Cornell provides us with additional information, we will update the story. Thanks to everyone who brought this to our attention and expressed interest in Dr. Moog’s legacy.

I want to clarify unequivocally: The question of where this archive goes is a matter for those charged with the decision. It’s simply not a matter I personally feel I can weigh in on, and it’s not a matter for the site at this time. But this is a vital legacy – that can’t be overstated. So, I think it is worth reporting on legitimate concerns about preservation and access, and listening to what people close to the matter have to say.

I’m in touch with the Moog Foundation and Cornell (and Moog Music, who have been helpful researching history, as well, as they were when I detailed the history of the Minimoog for Keyboard). I happily support the work of anyone promoting research into the history of electronic music. Part of this question of “public accessibility” and online accessibility, free of geography, is something that also fits in the charter of this site. So, I’ll continue to do our best to support those working in this area – which means, in this case, supporting both the Moog Foundation and Cornell.