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Neill: Torchtower

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Album Review

Despite seeing a wider release in 2000, Ben Neill's Torchtower was recorded in 1994. It features five compositions for his self-invented "mutantrumpet," which includes three bells and a trombone slide, and is wired for interactive electronics. The pieces here reflect Neill's obsession with computer processed and generated sound, loops, and samples. None of them, however, reveal the depth of influence of the late-'90s electronica sound that became a hallmark of his work. The longer works — "Money Talk," and "Abblasen House," seem to fare best here because they create within them numerous dislocations where the listener is taken out of the realm of the repetitive loops, and into an entirely new musical and dynamic space. On the former, an auctioneer's voice is sampled in the heat of his delivery, as a reportedly baroque bass patter is fragmented, reworked, dislocated, and warped in general to create a series of patterns that coincide harmonically and rhythmically with the sampled voice. Trumpets, guitars, and percussion are spindled throughout, winding themselves around the word that becomes the sound of Babel: not language, and therefore not music. "Torchtower" is basically a rock piece for electric guitars, percussion, mutant trumpet, and trombone. It feels like a long, slow improv, death metal track. "Abblasen House," with its droning guitar patterns, and slow, narcotically evolving brass patters — two trombones (one of them bass) and mutant trumpet create a slow, insistent, brooding feel with occasional bursts of Handel-like melodic phrases in the midst of the swelling mass. Ultimately, this is an interesting listen, if not a compelling one. Neill was still very academic with these compositions and trying to pack in as much as he could. It's maximal, a little dull, but still worth paying attention to.


Born: 14 November 1957 in North Carolina

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

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...
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Neill: Torchtower, Ben Neill
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