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Mutant Trumpets, Honoring the Past With Futuristic Tech, and Much More w/ Ben Neill!

Published on: 22nd March, 2021

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Composer/performer Ben Neill is the inventor of the Mutantrumpet, a hybrid electro-acoustic instrument, and is widely recognized as a musical innovator through his recordings, performances and installations. Neill’s music blends influences from electronic, jazz, and minimalist music, blurring the lines between digital media and acoustic instrument performance.

Neill has recorded eleven albums of his music on labels including Universal/Verve, Thirsty Ear, Astralwerks, and Six Degrees. Currently he is an Artist in Residence at Nokia Bell Labs where he is exploring new modes of emotion transfer and communication between people using music, visual media, and hybrid instruments. Performances include BAM Next Wave Festival, Big Ears Festival, Lincoln Center, Whitney Museum of American Art, Bing Concert Hall at Stanford, Getty Museum, Cite de la Musique Paris, Moogfest, Spoleto Festival, Umbria Jazz, Bang On A Can Festival, ICA London, Istanbul Jazz Festival, Vienna Jazz Festival, and the Edinburgh Festival, among many others. Neill has worked closely with many musical innovators including La Monte Young, John Cage, John Cale, Pauline Oliveros, Rhys Chatham, DJ Spooky, David Berhman, Mimi Goese, King Britt, and Nicolas Collins. Neill also leads concerts of La Monte Young’s The Second Dream of the High Tension Stepdown Line Transformer with an international brass ensemble; performances have recently been presented in New York, Amsterdam, Paris, Amsterdam, Huddersfield, Den Bosch, Oslo, Krems, Koln, Los Angeles, and Warsaw.

Neill began developing the Mutantrumpet in the early 1980s. Initially an acoustic instrument (a combination of 3 trumpets and a trombone combined into one), he collaborated with synthesizer Robert Moog to integrate electronics. In 1992, while in residency at the STEIM research and development lab for new instruments in Amsterdam, Neill made the mutantrumpet fully computer interactive. In 2008 he created a new version of his instrument at STEIM, and returned there in 2016-17 to design Version 4.0 which made its debut 2019. See a more detailed history of the instrument here.

Other current projects include a collaboration with vocalist/composer Mimi Goese that explores the musical and poetic qualities of mathematics and science through collaborations with chaos mathematician Ralph Abraham and the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries. The new songs combine the interplay of Goese’s captivating vocals and the electroacoustic explorations of Neill’s self-designed mutantrumpet with sounds created from fractal mathematics and Hudson River environmental data.

A native of North Carolina, Neill holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree from Manhattan School of Music. He studied composition with La Monte Young and was also mentored by composer/performer Jon Hassell in the early 1980’s. Since 2008 he has been a music professor at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

BEN NEILL PRESS QUOTES

“Ben Neill is using a schizophrenic trumpet to create art music for the people.”

Wired Magazine

“Ben Neill performs the Mutantrumpet, a super-instrument of his own design that he also uses to control lights and other elements in the show. The music is a dense, continously-shifting tapestry of electronic beats.”

Wired Magazine

“The avant-garde and EDM come together in music by Ben Neill & his mutantrumpet.”

WNYC New Sounds/John Schaefer

“A creative composer, genius performer, and inventor of the mutantrumpet.” Time Out NY

“Ben Neill is a musical powerhouse, a serious and individual talent.”

Time Out London

“9 out of 10 rating…Ben Neill is a mad scientist, and he has discovered the formula that breaks musical barriers.” Mixmag

“Masterfully blurs the lines between electronic dance music and jazz sounds”

Billboard

A great sonic alchemist…luscious, seductive and quite addictive.

All About Jazz

“Neill’s astonishing mutantrumpet blends brass and computer with wit, beauty and solid musicianship.” Village Voice

“The opera offers hints of the era through sounds of protests and musical allusions to 1960s psychedelia and West Coast jazz. But the heavy beats are more reminiscent of Electronic Dance Music, transplanting ‘The Demo’ to the present day.” London Daily Mail

“Night Science is certainly as nocturnal as its title, but this isn’t background music. It’s forward-sounding and wildly beat-conscious; it’s a creation that looks at rhythm, jazz, African funk, grime, and dubstep with fresh ears and a bold compositional sensibility that extends both soundworld science and electronic music to a horizon that extends as far as the ear — and the imagination — can hear.”

All Music Guide

“Ben Neill plays an instrument he designed called the mutantrumpet, a three-belled trumpet that allows him to shift sonorities instantaneously, from muted to open, clear to froggy.” New York Times

“Neill works with harmonies based on numerical relationships that produce spiritually powerful resonances. The result is trippy, otherworldly and seamlessly groovy.” Interview Magazine

“Ben Neill is the mad scientist of dancefloor jazz…an inventive and stimulating voyage.” CMJ Monthly

“Calling Ben Neill a trumpeter is like calling Mr. Spock a frequent flyer…as vibrant as the galaxies beyond, both adventurous and artful.” Boston Phoenix

“If he were around today, Miles would unequivocally be picking up on what Ben Neill’s is laying down.”

All About Jazz

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About the Podcast

Trumpet Dynamics
The Story of the Trumpet, In the Words of Those Who Play It
Young or old. Professional or amateur.

You never miss a day of practice... or you're coming back to rediscover the joy you once knew playing your horn.

For those who love and are fascinated with this crazy mass of metal tubing that no one can seem to master -- or is wise enough to not admit it if they have.

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About your host

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James Newcomb

James Newcomb is a former/current/former/current trumpeter and founder of Committed Media, LLC. He currently resides near Hanoi, Vietnam with his wife, and is eagerly awaiting returning to his home in Virginia to live near his 7-year old son.