This blog post includes a review of the performance of The Second Dream of the High Tension Stepdown Line Transformer at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival this past November.
Horizonal is the #1 record this week on WRCT, Carnegie Mellon University radio in Pittsburgh
This Spotify playlist is a mix of influencers and collaborators that have helped shape my development of the mutantrumpet and the music I create for it. Following the list is a track by track breakdown of my relationship to each.
1. Empire i – Jon Hassell
Jon Hassell occupies a very important place in my development as an artist. I met him shortly after coming to New York City in 1984 when the mutantrumpet was in its fledgling stages. I had started playing it in several punk/new wave bands in Northeast Ohio in 1980 and was just starting to write music specifically for it. Robert Moog was working with me to design an electronic processing system, but I was still in the middle of shifting from being a performer to a composer. Even though he didn’t accept formal students, Hassell gave me tremendous encouragement to pursue a creative path and his ideas of how to approach composing and improvising were fundamental to everything I have done since. He also introduced me to many of the people I would work with for the next decade including La Monte Young and Rhys Chatham. Without our interaction I think my trajectory would have likely been very different.
2. Tutu – Miles Davis
It’s no surprise to find two tracks by Miles Davis on this playlist. Davis explored the idea of expanding the trumpet’s sonic vocabulary starting back in the 1960’s and certainly influenced Jon Hassell as well. I have always felt that Miles’ albums from the 1980’s were severely underrated. Maligned by the jazz establishment, their approaches to groove, space, loops and sonics foreshadowed much of trip hop and downtempo music of the 90’s. Miles for the most part left behind the idea of soloing and focused on simple, repetitive structures incorporating the most current technologies of the time. Another direct connection to “Tutu” is that my long time production partner Eric Calvi was an engineer on it. He worked on the Tutu, and Amandla albums and brings his experiences working on those records to every one of my recordings since Triptycal (1996).
3. Open Beauty – Don Ellis
While I knew of Don Ellis before building the first mutantrumpet in the early 1980’s, I did not hear his music until much later. His approach to augmenting the trumpet with electronics and his expansive compositional ideas resonate very strongly with the mutantrumpet my music. The way he used quartertones has been the most direct influence on my own playing. He was truly a pioneer in many ways who also worked as a soundtrack composer, winning an Grammy for his soundtrack to The French Connection.
4. Afterimage – Ben Neill
This track incorporates samples of Alexander Scriabin’s piano piece Vers la Flamme from 1914.
5. Yarada Lij – Mikael Seifu
Mikael Seifu is a young electronic artist based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia whose music has been creating big waves since his first release about a year ago. He is a former student of mine and has been very generous in recognizing my influence during interviews with Pitchfork, The Fader, Fact Mag and others. This track’s use of ambience, affected sax and electro-organic grooves is strongly connected with my music. We are planning a collaboration in the near future.
6. DJ Spooky – The Terran Invasion of Alpha Centauri
DJ Spooky aka Paul Miller and I collaborated extensively in the early/mid 1990’s. He was my roommate in Soho Manhattan for over a year and we toured the US and Europe with Gardner Post from Emergency Broadcast Network. DJ Spooky’s first release was a remix of my song “Sistrum” from the 1995 Green Machine album, soon to be re-released. Some of our highlight performances included Montreal Jazz Festival, Avery Fisher Hall/Bang On a Can NYC, The Jazz Cafe London, Club Metro Chicago, The Opera House Toronto, and the Rotterdam Film Festival.
7. Minnie – Miles Davis
Another track from Miles Davis, this one puts timbral shifts at the forefront, pushing melody to a secondary role. The focus on timbre and exploration of the sonic colors between trumpet and electronics is fundamental to the mutantrumpet’s concept. The acoustic sounds of the mutantrumpet often resemble electronic effects, and when coupled with actual electronics create a complex sonic system whose results are only partially predicable. Miles anticipated this idea, using a wah wah pedal and mutes to create a smoothly shifting sonic continuum.
8. Be – Adam Kroll
This track by Cologne, Germany based producer Adam Kroll has a deep dubby vibe and nice use of trumpet with female vocal samples. “Be” was on repeat play for quite a while back in 2008 when I was working on Night Science.
9. Angels in the Rain (Instrumental mix) – Pinch
I met DJ Pinch from Bristol, UK at the Dubwar party in New York City in the late 2000’s. DJ Mary Anne Hobbs had introduced us and Pinch remixed my track “Afterimage” from the 2009 album Night Science. We recently reconnected in Berlin at Club Tresor which was a great time.
10. Ali Click – Brian Eno
I began listening to Brian Eno’s albums in the early 1970’s and his influence on me has been tremendous, as it has been for scores of other musicians. His work with Jon Hassell was a direct connection, but his merging of popular music sensibilities with ideas from contemporary composers like Cage, La Monte Young, Cornelius Cardew and Philip Glass has always been a model for my own approach to making music. I was always naturally drawn to music that used drones and harmonics. Along with my study and performance with La Monte Young (who Eno called “the daddy of us all”), Eno’s ambient music greatly influenced me. Nerve Net was a particular favorite from the 1990’s that is more groove focused; I love the organic feel, and the tempo is also close to a lot of the recent music I’ve been making. Some great remixes are out there too…
11. Red Shift – Ben Neill
This is a new track from my album Horizonal, released on September 15 on Audiokult Recordings, Vienna, Austria. This track has received a lot of attention through a demonstration video of the mutantrumpet on Facebook that has 190,000 views.
12. Unforeseen Events – David Berhman
I collaborated extensively with David Behrman in the 1980’s. As one of the pioneering composers of interactive computer music going back to the 1970’s he had a huge influence on my development of the mutantrumpet. Some of my early pieces used a version of his software that he customized for me. The Unforeseen Events album is entirely made up of interactive music that he wrote with the mutantrumpet in mind. As I play, my notes and dynamics trigger the computer’s responses, blending composition and improvisation through his unique technology. My work with Behrman and his sensitive approach to integrating instruments and computers has continued to influence me throughout my career.
13. Stimmung – Karlheinz Stockhausen
Stockhausen’s writings were formative on my idea to create the mutantrumpet. In a 1974 interview with Jonathan Cott he said:
Musicians who play new instruments could demonstrate unaccustomed instrumental possibilities and also novel uses of mikes and contact mikes and transformation devices which modulate and change the instrumental timbres.
His writing for trumpet utilizing extensive timbral effects with mutes and electronics in pieces such as Sternklang and later Michael’s Reise was hugely influential. Stimmung, while composed for voices, is largely concerned with timbre and was also influenced by my long time teacher and mentor, La Monte Young. My work with Young can be sampled below. Currently I am performing this piece again with an international ensemble of trumpet players.
According to artist Stephen Talasnik, his piece Sanctuary at Manitoga ”is about process; both in how it is made, and how it is viewed; like a drawing, one deciphers the piece through the examination of line. How something is made is almost as important as what it looks like in the end. The linear nature enables the viewer to participate in the act of making since all line is exposed.” Talasnik is also concerned with a harmonious connection between his art and the natural environment, allowing his works to decay with the impact of the elements.
The musical program to be presented at Manitoga on September 26 reflects Talasnik’s concern with process and the rhythms of the natural world. Terry Riley’s In C is one of the earliest works to define the musical style that came to be known as minimalism. An important feature of minimalist music is that its processes unfold gradually so they are clearly perceptible to the listener. In Riley’s work the players all cycle through the same set of material, but each musician has freedom in terms of their entrances, repetitions and silences. This kind of loose organization could be likened to the structures of sounds in nature, where repetitive patterns overlap and intersect in chaotic ways. John Cage, whose compositional process was strongly related to the natural environment, takes a similar approach in his work Five. In this late piece by Cage the performers are given pitches to play within defined time intervals, but also are allowed freedom to make choices within those constraints. Five will be performed by a group of musicians surrounding the Quarry Pond, incorporating the sounds of Manitoga’s natural environment in its presentation. This harmonious combination of art and nature strongly echoes the ideas of Russel Wright.
The twisting wooden strands that make up Sanctuary evoked strings for me, and along with Talasnik’s creative ideas prompted me to invite our special guest composer/violinist Todd Reynolds to perform at Manitoga. Describing his work as “present music”, Reynolds employs both gradual process and a mix of structure and freedom in his pieces, combining composition and improvisation. He makes use of leading edge computer technology to sculpt and layer his acoustic violin sounds in real time, creating rich sonic tapestries that integrate minimalist, pop, Jazz, Indian, African, Celtic and indigenous folk musics. This approach strongly resonates with Talasnik’s work and the overall spirit of Manitoga. Reynolds will perform a new piece specifically created for this event and the site.
New Ben Neill Album Horizonal Released September 15 on Audiokult Recordings, Vienna, Austria
Horizonal is a new album by electronic music innovator Ben Neill featuring his self-designed computer interactive mutantrumpet. The recording is an ambient journey that blends Neill’s richly timbral melodies and textures with glitchy, minimal beats and deep sub bass lines. Using the unique palette of sounds generated by his instrument, Neill incorporates elements of future garage and deep house while keeping an ambient, reflective vibe with jazzy overtones. Guest artists appearing on the record are guitar wizard Gary Lucas, (Future Sound of London, Captain Beefheart) and saxophonist/sonic ecologist David Rothenberg. In addition to 5 original songs, the album includes a cover version of Sweetness and Light, written and recorded by the 1990’s shoegaze band Lush.
Neill has been an active figure as a composer/performer in New York City since the mid 1980’s when he worked with synthesizer pioneer Robert Moog to develop the first version of his instrument. He has previously released 9 albums on labels including Astralwerks, Verve, Six Degrees and Thirsty Ear. Horizonal is his first release since the 2011 Songs for Persephone, a collaboration with vocalist Mimi Goese performed at the BAM Next Wave Festival and released on Ramseur Records. Neill has performed his music in wide ranging venues, from concert halls and jazz festivals to experimental art spaces and dance clubs. He has been called “a creative composer and genius performer” (Time Out NY),”the mad scientist of dancefloor jazz” (CMJ), and “a musical powerhouse, a serious and individual talent” (Time Out London). The Demo, his recent electronic opera created with composer/performer Mikel Rouse, was premiered in April at the Bing Concert Hall at Stanford University. Neill is also leading performances of The Second Dream by La Monte Young in New York, Warsaw, Paris and Huddersfield in 2015. He curated music at The Kitchen from 1992-98 and has also curated shows for River to River Festival at World Financial Center with artists such as FourTet, Kode 9, Ulrich Schnauss, Ryuichi Sakamoto/Fennesz, and Anthony Gonzalez of M83. .
Neill performs the music from Horizonal live in a variety of configurations including solo, with drums, guitar, and/or sax. The show also can include interactive digital video created from paintings by Los Angeles-based painter Andy Moses’ art, controlled live by Neill’s mutantrumpet.
For more information contact Audiokult Recordings: firstname.lastname@example.org
Label website: http://www.audiokult.at/
Ben Neill email: email@example.com
MANITOGA is a new outdoor work commissioned through a New York State Council on the Arts Individual Artists grant by the Russel Wright Center in Garrison, NY for a unique brass quintet with live computer controlled processing. The piece is for Neill’s self-designed mutantrumpet along with 4 players of
Last week’s performance by Glenn Branca and his ensemble which closed the Bang On A Can Marathon was a spectacular musical event that has been continuing to resonate with me for the past week. Titled Ascension 3, the work performed was an American premiere played by 5 guitarists and a drummer, conducted by the composer. There were five movements, each distinctly different harmonically and rhythmically. “German Expressionism” was atonal and rather delicate for Branca, with a pointillistic counterpoint that developed gradually. “The Smoke” featured a virtuoso solo part played by Arad Evans, who also performed in my group in the early 1990’s and appears on my 1992 Torchtower CD. “Cold Thing” was comprised of ascending melodic lines played in tremolo style, a very characteristic sound in both Branca and Rhys Chatham’s music. In the closing “Twisting in Space” Branca elicited massive swelling crescendos from the ensemble that literally felt like they were shaking the foundations of the building. Throughout the piece drummer Owen Weaver played pounding, visceral 4/4 beats with creative fills and variations. Branca’s conducting style used to be more animated and reminiscent of punk rock dancing; in this performance he staggered at first, seemingly about to fall off of the stage, but then settled down to a vocabulary that ranged from punching and stabbing the air to more expressive gestures. Branca reinvents the role of the conductor from that of a formalist monarch ruling the orchestra like a stately king to a wild, shamanistic leader of a Dionysian ritual who incites the participants to intense ecstatic states.
It’s been a few years since I’ve heard Branca’s ensemble live, I believe the last time was at the Brooklyn Anchorage in 2000. That show was also an amazing musical event that I never forgot. In a world flooded with musical content and ideas that makes it very difficult for anything to distinguish itself, Branca’s music reaches out and grabs you physically, and then proceeds to make connections with wide ranging musical ideas. The oversized romanticism of Berlioz and Wagner is in effect here along with a contemporary atonal harmonic vocabulary and a strong dose of La Monte Young-style minimalism. However, the viscerality of this music is what makes it feel so absolutely contemporary. It was in stark contrast to the other works I heard at the BOAC Marathon in that regard.
I have known Glenn Branca for over 20 years, his studio used to be a half a block away from my SoHo loft and we occasionally talked on the street or at the bar of The Cooler back in the 1990’s. I presented his ensemble for 5 nights at The Kitchen in 1994 when I was Music Curator there. When I first arrived in New York in the early 1980’s I met Rhys Chatham through my mentor Jon Hassell and began playing in his guitar and brass ensembles. I was aware of Branca’s work as well, but didn’t get a chance to hear it until a few years later. Chatham and Branca were both exploring the intersection of punk rock energy with contemporary classical ideas at that time, and I followed a similar path in my own work using a slightly different set of materials. It seemed to me inevitable that this would be the future of what we knew as contemporary classical music, “downtown” music, or “new music”. However, it seems as though the breakdown of high and low musical forms did not take place as quickly as I might have thought it would 30 years ago. It turns out the old divisions of genre and style die hard, particularly in institutions with long histories invested in traditional modes of expression and presentation.
I remember thinking when I heard Branca’s group in the Anchorage 15 years ago that if this could be called classical music, it was the only thing I’d heard in years that made that term come alive and be meaningful. That sentiment hit me again last week, and it added to the impact of Branca’s performance. The merging of the viscerality of popular music with more intellectually focused art musical ideas can be found in plenty of popular culture genres and venues, but in classical music it is still something that is not widely accepted. If classical music is to have any kind of meaningful future I think it needs to start with Glenn Branca. Bravo to Bang On A Can for programming him, but understandably as the closing act of the day long marathon concert. He’s a tough act to follow…
Posthorn is a live performance piece that I developed for the mutantrumpet/interactive computer system in the 2000s. The work is titled after and based on the “Posthorn solo”, a section of the third movement of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, originally composed in 1898. The Posthorn solo in the symphony is a pastorale trumpet call meant to sound from afar, played from offstage. The melody from the Mahler piece is used as an outline, but is varied greatly through timbral variations and live sampling. The time scales of the original theme are extended in both directions using ratiometric overtone structures which are implemented in real time through digital software. The dialogue between the acoustic instrument and interactive system guides the work into unforeseen areas each time it is performed. The recording is a live performance with no editing, done in one take.
This structure resembles the process that is used in my new work MANITOGA; a mobile structure based on the relationships of overtones along with the theme of brass in nature. MANITOGA will explore the techniques developed in Posthorn with an ensemble of brass players, something I have been interested in pursuing for many years.