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Music Post: Ben Neill and XIX



I’ve been listening to Ben Neill’s music for a few years. A composer, performer, and creator of a unique musical instrument, the mutantrumpet, much of his previous work has been in the electronica and nu-jazz genres. His new project, XIX, with Mimi Goese, John Conte and Jim Mussen, is much, much different. The band is currently finishing up a recording with producer Peter Katis (Interpol, Mercury Rev, The National).

Ben has designed a new version of his unique electro-acoustic instrument, the mutantrumpet, which has just been completed. Working with engineers and designers in New York and Amsterdam, Neill has greatly updated the electronic capabilities of his instrument. The mutantrumpet has been evolving since the mid-1980’s when Neill originally worked with synthesizer pioneer Robert Moog to design its first electronic interface. In 1992 Neill made the instrument fully computer interactive through a residency at the Steim studios in Amsterdam, a research and development lab for new instruments. The new mutantrumpet uses technologies from Steim as well as a new ergonomic design which now includes 8 continuous MIDI controllers and 8 momentary MIDI controllers in addition to the acoustic note and volume control from the instrument’s natural sound. The instrument connects directly to the computer via USB.

Neill will debut the new instrument later this year with his group XIX at Joe’s Pub [October 26, don’t miss it!—The New Centrist] and Teatro Manzoni, Milan, Italy.

The following description is from their website:

XIX is a collaboration by vocalist Mimi Goese and mutantrumpeter Ben Neill, with bassist John Conte and drummer Jim Mussen. Ambient electronic textures sampled from 19th century classical music are combined with Mimi’s hauntingly beautiful voice and the futuristic sounds of Neill’s self-designed mutantrumpet. Conte and Mussen add deep live grooves to the mix of electronica, space rock and classical music.


Israeli and Palestinian Transport Unions Forge Cooperation


Israeli and Palestinian transport unions have forged a groundbreaking cooperation agreement at a special meeting held under the auspices of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).

Around 20 Israeli and Palestinian transport union representatives met together in Limassol, Cyprus on 31 July – 1 August as guests of the ITF’s Cypriot affiliate the Federation of Transport, Petroleum and Agricultural Workers. There they discussed common issues such as collective bargaining, delayed payment of wages, loss of union membership and the increasing outsourcing of work to contractors.

They agreed to establish a joint liaison committee to provide a mechanism for dealing with practical problems faced by transport workers in the region and for building trust between Israeli and Palestinian transport unions. In particular the committee aims to deal with the difficult and sensitive issue of the problems faced by Palestinian transport workers at military checkpoints. This is a major concern for Palestinian drivers who complain of too many checkpoints and unnecessary delays.

The Israeli Histadrut transport union says it is committed to trying to help where it can play a positive role. The committee intends to set up a process for dealing with incidents on a case by case basis and the Palestinian union will set up a telephone “hot line” for drivers. Relevant cases will be handled in coordination with the Israeli union. It was agreed that the Israeli union would request the Israeli security services to participate in the committee’s work when issues such as checkpoints and barriers are under discussion.

This agreement was set out in a joint declaration signed by Avi Edri Chairman of the Histadrut Transportation Workers’ Union; Naser Yunes, President of the Palestinian General Federation of Transport Workers Unions and David Cockroft, ITF General Secretary.

According to ITF President Randall Howard who chaired the meeting: “The participants were remarkable for their commitment to getting a job done which they believe will not only bring real benefits for transport workers, but in a small way set a direction for building wider trust and cooperation. People did not agree about everything, there were some raw and difficult moments, but they agreed to respect each other and try to work together. This joint declaration is, in my view, a remarkable achievement and a dramatic leap forward in defending and advancing the interests of Palestinian and Israeli transport workers.”

During the meeting Naser Yunes welcomed the declaration. He said: “The priority was to deal with transport workers’ problems. We have to show our members that such initiatives can work. I believe that by working together we can really bring real and practical improvements for trade union members.”

Avi Edri added: “We are very serious about this cooperation. I believe we can make a real difference working together.” Both union leaders called on the ITF to maintain its role in supporting this initiative. Meanwhile David Cockroft committed himself to visiting both unions during the next 12 months. The declaration commits both unions to regular meetings of the joint liaison committee.

R Related documents

Podcast/Audio Selection: WNYC’s Radiolab on Time


In this era of YouTube, Podcasts, TiVo and all the other forms of media on demand, the last place many folks go for information or entertainment is the radio. Recognizing this shift, many radio staions and individual producers are increasingly making their matieral available on the Internet via podcasts and streaming audio. This is great news whether you can’t get a big enough fix or if you who live in a community outside the broadcasting range. I’ll be linking to podcasts, Internet radio stations, and other auditory morsels for your enjoyment in the weeks ahead. This week is an archived program on time from Radiolab, the brainchild of Jad Abumrad. Radiolabexplores big ideas in science (and beyond) through conversation, storytelling and sound.” Past programs have explored memory, fear, and sleep.


Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire,” and it’s as close a definition as we have. But maybe if we slow time down enough, or speed it up enough, we can unlock its secrets. On this week’s Radio Lab, we’re using our hour to try and do just that. 

Listen to the whole show  

Download MP3

Unlocking The Secrets of Time

Neurologist Oliver Sacks tells us about his fascination with time. As his soon-to-be-published essay in the New Yorker will tell you, he’s been fascinated by time and has used photography to get inside it since he was a little boy. We’ll hear a recording of a baby becoming a young woman, in “Nancy Grows Up.” How did we get from a sundial – using the sun to tell us about the passing of time – to standarized time?

Radio Lab takes a spin through the history of time, making a stop at the way the railroads changed our experience of time and Rebecca Solnit, author of River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West joins us to describe how a photographs stopped time to create a horse floating in the air.Plus Jay Griffiths, author of A Sideways Look at Time, introduces us to the variety of clocks – spice clocks, flower clocks, potato clocks – that predated the wristwatch.

It’s All Relative

Both physicist Brian Greene and neurologist Oliver Sacks explain the very strange, very subjective nature of time.The elasticity of experience is expressed by sound artist Ben Rubin in a piece he produced for The Next Big Thing. We include an excerpt on being in “the zone.” His story features track stars: Shawn Crawford, Amy Acuff, Brendon Couts, Jason Pyrah, Derrek Atkins, Jon Drummond, and Larry Wade.

And much, much more!

4th of July Thoughts on the Tension Between Classical and Social Liberalism



[4th of July Fireworks from Park Slope, Brooklyn: Photograph by The New Centrist] 

Today is Independence Day in the United States. The American Revolution, anti-imperialist, bourgeois, individualistic, while not as radical as the French or bloody as the Haitian, nevertheless was of paramount importance. The American Revolution was the first example of colonists successfully rebelling against a royal government, developing a liberal society based on individual rights and a separation of church and state. At least that’s the story I grew up with.  

This perspective is ably articulated by Louis Hartz’ influential The Liberal Tradition in America. Written in the 1950s, The Liberal Tradition remains an eloquent and convincing account of the intellectual and political history of the United States. And while Louis Hartz has accumulated plenty of critics over the past half century, his perspective continues to influence the way many Americans think about the United States and its historical development. For example, spokespeople for the political right and left continually refer to Hartz’ supposition that Lockean notions of individualism and property rights are the apotheosis of American political culture. 

Hartz also viewed the development of the American state through a liberal lens, a popular government of limited powers that is controlled ultimately by citizens through the institution of universal suffrage. Yet can a slave society that denies citizenship to a substantial percentage of the populace living within its environs based on ascriptive characteristics (women, Africans, Asians, Indigenous tribes, etc.) be deemed liberal? Can a society that bases the entire notion of liberty on the ability to procure property consider itself liberal when human beings are considered chattel in that very system?  

Rogers Smith provides a counter narrative. Smith’s, Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in United States History, examines political struggles over citizenship laws from the colonial period through the Progressive era showing a consistent and disturbing pattern. Most adults were legally denied access to full citizenship, including political rights, solely because of their race, ethnicity, or gender. Smith argues that conflicts over these denials, rather than the march of liberalism, have driven American political development. Further, “these conflicts are what truly define U.S. civic identity up to this day.”  

Whether you agree with all of Smith’s findings or not, he certainly makes a strong case. Jeremy Rabkin, who wrote a critical review of Civic Ideals in Public Interest, nonetheless recognized the scope and depth of Smith’s scholarship:

Smith has to be honored for the immense scholarly industry displayed in this work. It does not simply raise intriguing questions with quick sketches of abstract issues. It takes us, decade by decade, through the precise disputes about every issue it covers, describing court battles, legislative debates, and broader political controversies in relentless detail. The table of covered court cases, provided as a separate index at the end of the volume, extends through 25 double-column pages. After 500 pages of text, this history only gets up to 1912, promising to take up the rest of the story in a separate volume. Civic Ideals is a work of scholarly ambition on a Victorian scale.

By illuminating contradictions between the tenets of classical liberalism and the economic, social, legal and political practices of classical liberals, he forces readers to come to terms with some very unsavory aspects of American history. I think the social liberalism of the abolitionists, suffragettes, trade unions, and other reformists developed as a result of, or in response to, these contradictions. More on that later. And if I didn’t make my case clear, you really should read both of these books.


[4th of July Fireworks from Park Slope, Brooklyn: Photograph by The New Centrist]