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Ben Neill (b. Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 1957) is an American composer, trumpeter, producer, and inventor of the "mutantrumpet", a hybrid electro-acoustic instrument. Neill's music has been recorded on the Universal/Verve, Astralwerks, Thirsty Ear, Six Degrees, Ramseur, New Tone and Ear-Rational labels. A former student of La Monte Young, Neill spent seven years as the music curator for The Kitchen in New York. He has collaborated with DJ Spooky, David Wojnarowicz, Page Hamilton, Mimi Goese and Nicolas Collins, and performed on albums by David Behrman, John Cale and Rhys Chatham.
Neill invented the "mutantrumpet", which is a trumpet equipped with extra bells and valves, and electrical modifications that allow him to control computer variables with his playing. The first mutantrumpet had three bells, six valves, a trombone slide and an analog processing system. At the STEIM Studios in Amsterdam, he then developed a MIDI-capable mutantrumpet, which contained more switches, knobs and pressure-sensitive pads so as to allow greater control over the sound and visuals of his sound installations. Robert Moog designed its original electronic processing system and David Behrman designed a computer program to facilitate live performance. In 2008, Neill completed a new version of his instrument during another residency at STEIM. In 2014, he returned to Amsterdam to design another updated version of the mutantrumpet.
In 2010, his music theater work Persephone, a collaboration with Goese, Warren Leight and Ridge Theater featuring Julia Stiles, was presented at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival. The music from the production was released as a CD titled Songs for Persephone on Ramseur Records in 2011. "The Demo", an electronic opera co-created with composer Mikel Rouse and based on Douglas Engelbart's 1968 demonstration of early computer technology (called "The Mother of All Demos"), was premiered in 2015 at the Bing Concert Hall at Stanford University.
Neill has performed his music extensively in a wide variety of international settings including the NIME conference (in 2005, 2006 and 2010) and Cité de la Musique in France, the Berlin Love Parade in Germany, the Festival dei Due Mondi and Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy, the Bang on a Can festival in New York, the Istanbul Jazz Festival in Turkey, and the Institute of Contemporary Arts and Edinburgh Festival in the UK. The Sci-Fi Lounge, his collaboration with DJ Spooky and Emergency Broadcast Network, toured America and Europe in 1997. His 2002 album Automotive (Six Degrees) was an early example of the convergence of content and commerce; the album is composed entirely of extended versions of music he originally wrote for Volkswagen TV and Internet commercials.
In 2005, Neill premiered a collaboration with visual artist Bill Jones titled Palladio, an interactive movie based on Jonathan Dee’s 2002 novel of the same name. Palladio was premiered at the New Territories Festival in Glasgow, Scotland, and at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space in New York City.
In 1996, Neill contributed to the AIDS benefit album Offbeat: A Red Hot Soundtrip produced by the Red Hot Organization. In 1999, he was included in the Wired magazine compilation Music Futurists along with Steve Reich, Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson, Todd Rundgren, Devo, Sonic Youth and DJ Spooky.
Neill is also active as a sound and installation artist. His collaborative works with Bill Jones have been exhibited in museums and galleries including Exit Art, the American Museum of Natural History and the Sandra Gering Gallery in New York, and the Wellcome Gallery in London. Neill’s installation/performance "Green Machine" was shown at the Paula Cooper Gallery in 1994. "ITSOFOMO", his major collaborative piece with the late artist David Wojnarowicz, has been exhibited in venues such as the New Museum and PPOW Gallery in New York, and was featured in the PBS documentary Imagining America.
- Kyle VanHemert (March 30, 2015). "The Most Epic Demo in Computer History is Now an Opera". Wired. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
- John Markoff (March 25, 2015). "The Musical 'The Demo' at Stanford Recreates the Dawn of the Digital Age". The New York Times. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
- Benjamin Sorensen (April 5, 2015). "World premiere of 'The Demo' is beautiful, but misses the mark". The Stanford Daily. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
- Taylor, Timothy (2012). The Sounds of Capitalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 368. ISBN 0226791157.