See Hear

Moog (Plexifilm)
Made in Sheffield: The Birth of Electronic Pop (Plexifilm)

Keep your lousy guitars. Synthesizers are the poison of choice – and they provide an avenue into a maestro's musings on the mysteries of creation – in this pair of documentaries: Moog, Hans Fjellestad's 2004 tribute to Bob Moog, the father of the synthesizer; and Made in Sheffield: The Birth of Electronic Pop, Eve Wood's 2001 foray into the UK scene that spawned the Human League.

One tugs its forelock in reverence to a master, with mixed results, while the other flips an asymmetrical do at a promising subject only to fall short of doing much at all.

In Moog Fjellestad follows the inventor, engineer, and godfather of the analog synthesizer in his travels as he lectures on design in Japan, introduces Keith Emerson at a fest, and chats with players like Money Mark, DJ Spooky, Bernie Worrell, and a manic Rick Wakeman about the uses and quirks of his instruments. Studio owner Walter Sear discusses a time when only commercial studios could afford the original moog, which "cost as much as a house or car," and he's followed by a hilarious high-'70s example of the strenuously groovy sounds and sights an instrument can inspire. Under the avid, somewhat free-form attention of the filmmaker, Moog himself provides plenty of food for thought, waxing philosophical on the invisible connection between man (and woman) and the machine. But one yearns for more connect-the-dots chronology.

Made in Sheffield wonders, why did this bleak industrial town birth groups as varied as ABC, Pulp, and Def Leppard in the late '70s? Wood lavishes plenty of attention on the question as subjects like Martyn Ware discuss the influence of punk and Phil Oakey theorizes that the fact that they didn't even bother to learn guitar, and instead pounded away on one note on a synthesizer, made their bands punkier than most. But the cover art promising much on Heaven 17, ABC, and Pulp is only that: a promise. Wood prefers to concentrate on bands like Cabaret Voltaire and, to her credit, lesser-known artists like Artery, Vice Versa, and I'm So Hollow.

And how does Def Leppard fit into this photograph? Better check VH1 for that. (Kimberly Chun)