Revolutionizing the horn

If you’ve never played trumpet, you likely don’t realize that beneath the instrument’s gleaming brass lurks a treacherous beast. The humdrum job of hitting a high “C”—which pianists accomplish with a shrug and a keystroke—is a beginning player’s nightmare. Running through a simple scale without blowing sharp or flat takes years of practice. Even master players can flail.

In 1975, Dave Monette—then a trumpet player in a dance band in Kalamazoo, Michigan—got so frustrated with this diabolical instrument that he quit the band and went to work in a JC Penney. “It drove me nuts,” he recalls. An obsessive tinkerer, Monette asked himself: could he build a better horn?

The trumpet’s basic design hadn’t changed much since the piston valve became popular more than a century ago. Originally tempered for the key of A, the horn was modified to play the more popular key of B-flat. This innocent alteration meant endless headaches for generations of players who would be flummoxed by how sound resonates within the instrument—high notes often sound flat, low notes sharp. Veteran players learn to compensate, but Monette didn’t see why they should have to. “The modern trumpet is very young on the evolutionary scale,” he says. “I wanted to sound better when I played without having to work so hard.” 

Monette got a job as an instrument repairman in Wills Music Store in Salem, Oregon. After rebuilding hundreds of trumpets (each one typically has over 150 components), he zeroed in on the most troublesome element: the mouthpiece.

Bringing an eccentric skill set to the task—he is both a ham radio operator and a practitioner of kundalini yoga—Monette merged an engineer’s approach to soundwave dynamics with a guru’s reverence for mystical good vibrations. After two years of work, he developed a mouthpiece that was heavier and larger than previous versions. The Monette mouthpiece was (cue fanfare) an instant sensation. Meanwhile, he began to squeeze and stretch the trumpet’s inner chambers to produce richer and more resonant sounds.

Before long, top players from around the world were flying in to visit his shop in Northeast Portland. Now he turns out trumpets for the likes of Wynton Marsalis, who calls him “the greatest trumpet maker in the world.” The average waiting time for a new horn is 12 to 14 months, but the 56-year-old Monette refuses to hurry. “I’m not anti-mass production,” he says. “But I’d rather make a few instruments that sound great than a lot that sound goofy.”

His sleek, bullet-train-like trumpets don’t come cheap—an entry-level model costs $10,000—but when you listen to Marsalis swing a tune like “After You’ve Gone,” you understand the price tag. “That’s why we’re here,” Monette says. “My motto is more music, less work.” 

—Chris Lydgate


Andy Frichtl
Andy Frichtl


Portland’s green engineering mind

For an insight into how Andy Frichtl thinks about sustainability, visit his land 30 feet from the edge of the Lower Columbia when a spring storm piles fallen cedar trees on the riverbank. Frichtl reels in these fallen giants with a homemade winch and mills them into beautiful board-and-batten siding. He gives the salvaged wood a new permanent home, nailing it to one of five buildings he’s restoring on the property.

This arm’s-length search for efficiency epitomizes the work of the 46-year-old leader of Interface Engineering, a firm that employs 200, bills $30 million a year, and has become one of the catalytic forces taking Portland’s green-building industry to the larger world. Frichtl has designed mechanical systems—typically heating, cooling, and water—for many of the region’s landmark sustainable projects, and his portfolio is rapidly growing to encompass China and the Middle East. His first move, Frichtl says, is always “figuring out the best resource that’s sitting right in front of you.” 

Consider a recent Interface project: the San Ysidro US Port of Entry between Tijuana and San Diego, currently under construction. With few cold days, heating needs at the world’s busiest land port can be met by a simple bioreactor that processes all waste on-site. Double-sided photovoltaic panels will capture both the direct rays from the nearly cloudless sky and solar energy that bounces off the pavement below. Water left over from the bioreactor’s sewage treatment will cool those photovoltaics, which operate more efficiently at lower temperatures.

“The extra costs everyone throws out for building more sustainably are all a bunch of garbage,” says the 1990 PSU grad. “We should be designing every building for at least net-zero energy use right now. You only get one chance at these buildings. Like my cabin, they’re going to be around for 50 years.” 

—Randy Gragg

Colleen Flanigan
Colleen Flanigan


The underwater artist of coral

Many artists take inspiration from nature. “I prefer to collaborate with it,” says Colleen Flanigan. This alliance can take many forms, at many scales. Consider Miss Snail Pail, the 41-year-old Portland artist’s yarn-haired, shell-encrusted performance persona: a “snail abatement specialist” who, for about $20, teaches people how to turn the plant-munching pests into iron-rich gourmet meals. Or “Project Snip,” in which Flanigan invited colleagues at a recent TED global conference to give her a “crowd-sourced haircut.” Each barber’s perception of this intimate experience joined samples from the harvest in Flanigan’s journal.

Now beam to a much grander canvas in this eclectic creative force’s oeuvre: the ocean, and Flanigan’s “collaboration” with coral to build underwater sculptures-cum-reefs. Using a combination of steel, titanium, and electricity, Flanigan rehabilitates endangered habitat while raising awareness about coral’s ecological importance and aesthetic beauty.

“There is a pandemic going on among corals,” Flanigan says. Pollution—particularly acidification—and dynamite fishing are damaging much of the world’s reef habitat. “My hope is that my caring for them grows new solutions.”

With a design degree from UCLA and training as a metalsmith and jeweler, Flanigan has long regarded any material, from marshmallows to yarn tufts, as fair game. Coral joined her palette at a sustainable architecture conference in 2003, where she learned about Biorock, a system that stimulates metals submerged in seawater with low-voltage electrical charges, causing a limestone skin to form over the metals’ surface. The resulting alkaline-rich stone attracts ocean life and becomes a fertile new habitat for coral-reef species. As the first visual artist to be certified in Biorock creation, Flanigan built three coral sculptures: One in Cancun, inspired by a DNA helix, awaits the arduous contracting process required to install anything in sensitive reef areas. The other works are in the world’s largest Biorock park in Pemuteran, Bali. 

“They’re like topiaries—they lose a lot of their form as they are grown over,” says Flanigan of the undersea installations. “I’m influenced by surrealism: the unexpected coming together and finding ways to convey deep truth.” —RG


Intel’s social and cultural thinker

When Genevieve Bell first joined Intel in 1998, she was one of the oddest hires in the company’s history. “I came out of academia,” Bell, a trained anthropologist, recalls. “I was female. I was full of noise and enthusiasm.” For months, she struggled just to understand what her new colleagues were talking about. Fourteen years later, however, Bell has become one of the world’s foremost thinkers on how people use the arsenal of personal technology that now surrounds us. She leads a team of 90 social scientists, designers, and engineers who apply insights from observing everyday life to Intel’s work. The team has shaped products from silicon wafers to the low-cost Classmate PC—but Bell maintains that its real contribution is cultural.

“Products come and go,” she says. “The real measure of our work is, does Intel understand what people want? I don’t think they did 10 years ago. I think we’re starting to now.”  

Bell almost missed this unusual calling. Born in Australia to an anthropologist mother and an engineer father, she describes herself as growing up “feral”—hunting for food and sleeping outside—on far-flung research sites. After relocating to the United States for an undergraduate degree at Bryn Mawr and an anthropology doctorate at Stanford, a long academic career beckoned. A chance meeting in the Bay Area redirected her toward the tech industry. 

At the time, Intel was looking to add social scientists to its Hillsboro milieu in hopes of echoing the successful use of anthropological insight at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center in the late ’70s. The courtship took six months. “I kept asking, ‘But what will I do?’” Bell recalls. “They kept saying, ‘Well, you seem interesting.’ And I had to find my nerve. I had a tenure-track job and knew exactly what the next seven years would look like, down to the quarter. Intel couldn’t tell me what I’d do on Day Two.”

To a degree, Bell functions as an in-house agitator—she calls herself a “tremendous irritant”—for the importance of social and cultural observation. (She is one of only three women among the company’s “fellows,” a title reserved for its highest technical achievers and thinkers.) One of her key early insights was that most people in the world experience computing via cheap mobile phones, not pricey laptops. More recently, she’s argued that women, not men, truly drive the spread of technology. “Franklin and Tesla might have harnessed electricity,” she says, “but my grandmother in Australia had to work out how to manage it in the home.” In the future, she aims to guide designers toward simpler, easier-to-use technology.

“I realized we’d made an impact when Paul Otellini, the CEO, stood up at our biggest company event and said, ‘The future of computing is about experiences,’” Bell says. “Every year before that, he’d hold up silicon wafers.” —Taylor Clark