Trumpeter Ben Neill successfully bridged the gap between ambient music and the avant-garde, further blurring aesthetic boundaries with the development of his mutantrumpet, a revolutionary electro-acoustic hybrid of conventional trumpet and synthesized sound. A native of North Carolina and a product of classical training, Neill relocated to New York City during the mid-'80s, immersing himself in the downtown experimental music scene; increasingly fascinated with minimalism, he studied under the legendary La Monte Young, and with the aid of the synthesizer pioneer Robert Moog designed the first mutantrumpet, an instrument fit with three bells, six valves, a trombone slide and an analog processing system which allowed him to create any number of open, muted and electronic sounds.
In 1984, Neill completed Orbs, his first major composition for mutantrumpet, percussion, and audiovisual projections; pieces including 1985's Mainspring, 1987's Money Talk, and 1988's Abblasen House followed prior to his breakthrough work ITSOFOMO (In the Shadow of Forward Motion), a 1989 collaboration with visual artist David Wojnarowicz. A year later Neill traveled to Amsterdam's Steim Studios to develop a new, MIDI-capable mutantrumpet; the upgrade resulted in the addition of a number of switches, knobs, and pressure-sensitive pads allowing the player to trigger and modify a variety of sounds and sequences, as well as lights and projections, all in real time. After Haydn, a collaboration with electronic composer Nicolas Collins, followed in 1991.
Neill then began a six-year stint as curator of the downtown N.Y.C. performance space The Kitchen, a position which served as his gateway into the burgeoning electronic music scene. Presenting performances by everyone from John Cage to Jim O'Rourke to Future Sound of London, he began increasingly absorbing electronic influences into his work and was particularly fascinated by the local "illbient" movement; originally created as an installation/performance piece, Neill's 1995 album Green Machine instead evolved into a full-blown dance music project, complete with 12" remixes from the likes of Single Cell Orchestra and DJ Spooky. The latter resurfaced on 1996's Triptycal, and Neill also spent the better part of 1997 appearing with Spooky and on the "Sci-Fi Lounge" tour of video-sampling innovator Gardner Post. After the appearance of Goldbug in 1998, Neill was relatively silent until 2002, when a series of productions done for Volkswagen advertisements was turned into a full LP, Automotive. After that, Neill composed for television, film, and stage productions as well as installations in galleries and museums. He began a redesign of the mutantrumpet in 2004 that was completed in 2008; he also started collaborating with LEMUR (the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots) in 2008. Those two developments led to Night Science, released in September 2009. Neill also branched into teaching, and was co-billed with Mimi Goese on 2011's Songs for Persephone. ~ Jason Ankeny