Trumpeter turns ‘Nanotech’ into sounds of science

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Oct. 20, 2004 – John McNeil doesn’t need million-dollar machinery or a state-of-the-art lab to self-assemble little bits into a multi-layered system. His tool is a trumpet, and a small space on stage or in a studio will do quite nicely.

The New York-based musician’s new album on the OmniTone label, “Sleep Won’t Come,”  features a tune called “Nanotech.” So how did the emerging field provide a title and inspiration for the six-minute song?

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Well, he said, it’s short — at least by free jazz standards. And it’s composed of four brief but easily identifiable musical fragments that can be integrated into a larger composition.

McNeil’s simple, sparse melodic circuitry builds the song’s structure. Sonic support comes from pianist Jeff Jenkins and bassist Kent McLagan. “With this particular tune, I provided all of us with these small units of information,” McNeil said.

“In nanotechnology, you have these small units that are independent, strong and can work, as well as be combined in so many ways. “Like a nanoscale machine, there can’t be anything extra — no room for bells and whistles. If you’re going to write a tune based on it, you have to pack a lot of punch with nothing extra, no frills.”

Still, how does molecular-scale manipulation become muse? McNeil said he long has been fascinated by science, particularly the discovery of carbon nanotubes and buckyballs. On a more practical note, the 56-year-old veteran composer needed a new hook.

 “I’m always trying to look for reasons to write a tune,” he said. “I don’t want to write the same tune over and over again.”


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