There was a time -- ancient history in terms of his career -- that it would have been easy to look at J.A. Deane on-stage and determine what instrument he was playing. Standing in the horn section of the Ike & Tina Turner revue, for example, blowing that long brass instrument with the slide on the end, Deane seemed to be a trombone player, most assuredly. And back then, what he was playing probably sounded like a trombone, too, otherwise old Ike Turner might have gone upside his head. Flash forward a few decades to the Nickelsdorf International Jazz Festival, held in an Austrian village on the edge of the Hungarian border. It's a typical European summer avant-garde event, and Deane is on-stage with some of his usual associates, including the superb Vietnamese percussionist Le Quan Ninh and multi-instrumentalist and composer Jim O'Rourke, who later claimed to have been answering his e-mail during the performance. That's one thing that Deane didn't look like he was doing on-stage. He was sometimes blowing into a trombone or moving the slide on the instrument, but nary a burble coming out of the sound system remotely resembled a trombone. In fact, even figuring out who is making what sound at any given time is difficult, and none of it sounds like anything that even an audience of avant-garde fanatics had heard before. All of that is just the way J.A. Deane likes it.
Deane has been described as a creator of dense and complex electronic percussion or the mastermind behind "percussion-activated sounds." Much of what he does is extended and manipulated electronically, but begins with some kind of simple gesture on a so-called normal instrument, sometimes even the trombone. Deane himself builds many of his own electronic and acoustic instruments. His most steady collaborator for more than 20 years has been the dancer and choreographer Colleen Mulvihill, with whom he has created some 40 works in the realm of interactive sound and stage environments. One of the couple's later productions was entitled Sunken Cathedral and was staged in Hong Kong with a cast of 13. In the '80s, Deane was associated with the San Francisco avant-garde scene, working with bands such as the Splatter Trio, Indoor Life and several combinations featuring soprano saxophonist Bruce Ackley. By the early '90s, he had relocated to New Mexico. He has made major contributions to recordings by Butch Morris, Brian Eno, and Jon Hassell, among others. Deane has created sound designs for more than 50 plays including works by Sam Shepard, Joseph Chaikin, Christoph Marthaler, and Benny Ambush.
Deane is also a research associate in the field of bio-acoustics, which uses low-frequency sounds to stimulate self-healing; the best excuse for more bass solos that anyone has ever come up with. In 1997, Deane formed a large-scale project entitled Out of Context, blending both his interest in music, theater, and the inspiration of Butch Morris, an avant-garde jazz trumpeter who invented a style of leading group improvisations with hand signals called "conduction." One of Deane's first performances with this group was done in conjunction with actor Rod Harrison and a ten-piece chamber ensemble featuring both acoustic and electric instruments. Out of Context was also used to create a new, partially improvised music soundtrack to the 1924 silent film version of Peter Pan.