Innovative composer and performer Mikel Rouse has been named the first ever Visiting Research Artist for the eDream (Emerging Digital Research and Education in Arts Media) Institute. Mikel and innovative composer and trumpeter Ben Neill will be in residence Jan 13-27 at both NCSA and the Studio Theater at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

From Melissa Merli’s Art Beat:
eDream Institute

I received a news release in October from the eDream Institute. It said eDream had named composer-performer Mikel Rouse its first visiting research artist.

The somewhat unusual “research artist” title was chosen to reflect eDream’s interest in discovering new ways to harness digital technologies to push the boundaries of creative practice and performance.

“Mikel experiments with technology that is highly relevant to the University of Illinois,” eDream director Donna Cox said in the release. “We know he will synergize and really innovate with this opportunity.”

During this academic year, Rouse, eDream (Emerging Digital Research and Education in Arts Media) and Krannert) will work together on “The Demo,” a work inspired by a 90-minute demonstration of computing technology performed by Stanford researcher Douglas C. Engelbart on Dec. 9, 1968.

The demo was the first public appearance of the computer mouse, as well as hypertext, dynamic file linking and shared-screen collaboration.

“These demos are the precursors to things that change the world,” Cox said in the release. She recalled a 1989 demo in which she and colleagues at the UI’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications demonstrated high-speed communication networks that connected scientists with one another and with geographically distant resources like supercomputers.

eDream first worked with Rouse on his opera, “The End of Cinematics,” which debuted at Krannert in 2005, and then on his song cycle “Gravity Radio,” performed there in 2010.


Ben Neill brings his mutantrumpet to Kingston – from Hudson Valley Almanac Weekly

Posted by John Burdick on January 10, 2013 in Events, Music · 1 Comments

Ben Neill, composer, performer, producer and inventor of the mutantrumpet, will perform at BSP in Uptown Kingston on Jan. 11
Ben Neill, composer, performer, producer and inventor of the mutantrumpet, will perform at BSP in Uptown Kingston on Jan. 11

When Miles Davis released On the Corner late in 1972, the affronts and outrages of Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way lay behind him. Thanks to Miles, fusion was established fact, only a few years away from its commercial peak in the late ‘70s. The jazz purists were already implacably pissed and divided; the more adventurous rock kids were already on board. All the great early fusion bands – Miles alums to a man – had released their important first records: Weather Report, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever.

So when On the Corner’s title track hit with its wah-wahed evocations of Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes, it was more status quo than radical – just the new Miles gone funky, after the fashion of the day. But nothing could have prepared the listening audience for what happened next: nothing.

Nothing happens next. The groove dwells, unchanging, undeveloped in any conventional way; the root note doesn’t move; a trumpet squawks, a sax shivers, but no one steps to the fore to solo or to state a melody; 16:23 of the 20-minute track sounds somewhat different from 5:56, but the listener barely notices the change occurring. It happens in glacial time, music modeled after the event tempo of solid matter. It’s a slowly shifting funkscape, easy to mistake for still-life stasis.

Experimental/electronic trumpeter (and Hudson Valley transplant) Ben Neill raised his self-designed hybrid horn, the mutantrumpet, generations after Miles’ historic forays into fusion, but there is no denying that the Miles influence underlies so much of what we now call “illbient” drum ‘n’ bass and avant-garde electronic jazz offshoots. Melody does not drive this bus. Composers like Neill eschew the problem/solution structures of conventional harmony in favor of the dwelling colors and sonorities of non-functional harmony: harmony not driven by diatonic resolutions.

In the absence of conventional compositional forms, the listener’s attention is drawn to drifting textures and to discrete, palpable sonic events. Once you’ve given over to this alternative model of musical development, you begin to see the music as much as to hear it, to handle the sounds in the palm of your mind. These principles have existed in Minimalist and academic experimental music for years, but Neill, like Miles before him, takes it to the dancefloor.

Now, no one but Miles had the balls to play so little so unapologetically. On 2009’s excellent Night Science, Ben Neill’s ambient groovescapes are quite eventful and action-packed journeys by comparison. Skewed beats skitter, reverse, melt down. Analogue bass blobs blossom and quiver. Pad sounds morph from gauzy-ethereal to queasy-ethereal. The chameleonic mutantrumpet – a kind of composite, grafted multi-brass instrument with full digital outfitting – well, it is hard to say how many of these sounds the mutantrumpet accounts for.

Maybe that’s why we should all go see Ben Neill live at Backstage Studio Productions (BSP) in Kingston on Friday, January 11: to see exactly what the mutantrumpet does when it is not doing trumpet. Neill will be performing before the New Zion Trio, a piano trio of downtown jazz heavies playing a curious and striking kind of dub-ified jazz very much deserving of its own future feature.

For more information on Ben Neill’s storied career, visit For more on the New Zion Trio, visit

New Zion Trio & Ben Neill, Friday, January 11, 9 p.m., $12/$9 in advance, 18 and over, BSP, 323 Wall Street, Kingston; (845) 481-5158,

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On Friday I’ll be performing a set of all new material for the first time at BSP Lounge in Kingston, NY. This will be my first performance in over six months, which is a long time for me to go without playing live. The reason I took this break was partially to write new material, but also because of some technical issues that I encountered after updating my performance computer to OS 10.6.8, a seemingly innocuous software update. The update created instabilities and glitches in my system that forced me to begin using a second laptop for my live performances as opposed to the single computer setup I had been using for several years. At the same time, I reconfigured the interactive switches on the mutantrumpet and began working with a new video program, Resolume. A couple of months was spent sorting out connections between the various hardware and software and developing new performance techniques.

As I was working on stabilizing the system I started creating some simple, open-ended presets to test it out. I didn’t really have a sense of a shape for a new project, but I was interested in taking a more improvisatory approach. (see the essay Inevitable Improvisations in the “writings” section for more details on that idea) While in the past Logic has always been my go-to software for music creation, I shifted my focus to Ableton Live, which previously I had only used for performing the music that I created in Logic. Ableton’s Session mode enables a non-linear approach to creating music, which appealed to me. I was interested in getting away from the timeline based structure of Logic.

For video, I decided to use still images as source material, something that goes back to my work in the 1990’s with Jim Conti on Downwind and Conti/Chrysanne Stathacos on Green Machine, both of which used interactive MIDI-controlled slide projections. While triggering and manipulating moving video is exciting, my hope with returning to animating still images was to make the connection between sound and image clearer. One of the big issues with interactive audio/visual performance is challenging the expectations of cinema. As Michel Chion points out in his book Audio Vision, “Cinema is ‘a place of images, plus sounds.’ We classify sounds in relation to what we see.” When combined with visual imagery, sound recedes to a secondary, accompanimental role. This powerful archetype which informs the interface of time based visual media with sound is a challenge to audio/visual performance, which inherently relies on a more equal balance between sound and image. Instead of narrative elements, synchresis is frequently used, “the spontaneous and irresistible mental fusion, completely free of any logic, that happens between a sound and a visual when these occur at exactly the same time.” Chion

A few years ago I had seen an exhibition of paintings by my old friend Andy Moses, a painter who lives in Los Angeles now. We used to be neighbors in SoHo back in the ’90’s. I found the paintings very compelling, a great balance of reductionism and dynamics; the slightly curved canvases create a very subtle three dimensional effect, and the use of limited color palettes connected with the timbral structures in my music. “Monochromatic” from Night Science was titled after my reaction to one of the all-white paintings, such as this one:

As I worked with the new system I was attracted not only by the idea of using still images, but also by keeping the visual vocabulary very simple to try and create a balance with the music rather than following a cinematic formula. This led me to develop the series of 7 compositions that I’ll perform on Friday, each which uses two of Moses’s paintings, dynamically animated by the sound and MIDI controls of the mutantrumpet. Each piece grew organically from a series of improvisations, gradually some beats and sub bass lines made their way into the mix, but the music is predominantly created by the live sampling, processing and triggering of the mutantrumpet. The project is as yet untitled, but I am excited to have opportunities to perform it in several different venues over the next few months. It will be interesting to see how it evolves in various performance settings.


Last year I think books on music and technology stood out more than music releases for me. My first published book review of Will Hermes’ outstanding Love Goes to Buildings on Fire will appear in the forthcoming MEIEA (Music and Entertainment Industry Education Association) journal. Several biographies also stood out, the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, Keith Richards’ autobiography Life, and Neil Young’s Waging Heavy Peace. Another book I particularly enjoyed was The Music Instinct by Philip Ball, which analyzes music making, listening and perception from a scientific point of view across a broad range of musical styles and is very impressive in its depth. And finally, David Byrne’s How Music Works is a brilliant overview of music from the perspective of one the most influential artists of our time. The book encompasses biography, music business, technology, and ideas about the importance of context in defining musical expression. Like Ball, Byrne cuts across broad swaths of music from a wide variety of cultures, genres and styles to make some fascinating statements about underlying and overarching aspects of musical expression.


Here is a sample of a new project I’m working on – interactive music and video with images by Andy Moses