Ben Neill‘s Tripycal is one of those albums that looms large in my personal soundscape. Back in my publishing days, I used to wrestle with 300 page manuscripts and marathon voice recording sessions. My head was so often jammed with words and speech, that I’d escape to my office and put on Neill’s record, with it’s ambient, dub-oriented jazz that seemed to knock the text-based stress right out. And on weekend chill-out nights, I’d sometimes hear those sophisticated bass lines and spacey horn notes floating through The Cooler, that old metal dungeon of a nightclub on far West 14th street.
More than 10 years later, I have the pleasure of seeing innovative trumpeter and composer, Ben Neill perform this week at the MMiX Festival on Sunday night. Neill invented the mutantrumpet, a trumpet that’s been tricked out with extra valves, knobs, switches and electronics so that he can use the it to control audio and video components in live performance. He first introduced the instrument in the ’80s, working with synthesizer pioneer Robert Moog to create the electronic interface, and he further developed its computer capabilities during a residency in Amsterdam during the ’90s. The result is several albums’ worth of uniquely trippy, adventurous music flavored with jazz improvisation and dance-floor grooves, plus a career that includes many collaborators such as Mimi Goese, DJ Spooky, DJ Olive, John Cale, Page Hamilton from Helmet and the late artist David Wojnarowicz.
A few years ago, Ben Neill began working with photographer and visual artist Bill Jones, with whom he created Palladio, an interactive, playable movie based on the novel by Jonathan Dee. In their performances together, both VJ and trumpeter control music and video as a single hybrid form – a truly interactive, live duet of images and sound.
Ben Neill’s latest album is Night Science, available on Thirsty Ear Recordings. Ben Neill and Bill Jones will perform at the MMiX Festival on Sunday, October 11th at Theaterlab.