Slide Trombone Zen

Posted By samantha copeland on July 17, 2007

The following is a reprint of an article featured in the Vanderbilt Engineering newsletter.

Written by Joanne L. Beckham

Slide Trombone Zen

A.B. Bonds doesn't blow his own horn-except when he's playing with the Nashville Community Concert Band. Then he lets loose with his slide trombone at concerts in parks, churches and synagogues. "Ensemble playing is really a gas" says Bonds. "It's very Zen. You are totally focused on the music, and all the things you were worrying about disappear. It's my therapy."

By day, Bonds teaches circuits, digital logic and microprocessors as professor of electrical engineering, computer engineering and biomedical engineering. A 26-year veteran of the Vanderbilt engineering faculty, he also serves as associate chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and director of undergraduate studies in computer engineering.

Music, Collections and Cars

After playing in bands from junior high through graduate school, Bonds put down his horn to concentrate on establishing his academic career. Then in 1991 during a "midlife crisis," he picked up the trombone again and hooked up with the Nashville Community Band. They play classical music, jazz, show tunes and martial airs, often teaming up with military and university ensembles, including the Vanderbilt Community Concert Band.

But performance isn't Bonds' only groove. He collects early recording devices, like an Edison cylinder patented in 1878, and vintage recordings such as Caruso singing an aria from Pagliacci. He has shared his collection with alumni at Reunion and in an engineering freshman seminar titled "Audio Reproduction." Bonds also collects and restores antique cars, including a 1930 Rolls Royce, a 1952 MG and a 1973 MGB. "As an engineer I like fixing things," he says with a smile. "I like to see old machinery doing its job."

Brain-Cell Teamwork

An early interest in radios, which continues to this day, steered Bonds to a career in electrical engineering. "I built my first radio when I was 11," he says. "By the time I was 13, I was doing some fairly sophisticated designs." He also took courses in biomedical engineering while earning a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Northwestern University. Today, as a member of the Vanderbilt Vision Center and the Center for Integrative and Cognitive Neuroscience, Bonds studies the brain's visual system from an engineering perspective. His recent discovery that teamwork among nerve cells improves their ability to discriminate between visual patterns has opened up a revolutionary new way of looking at how the brain functions. "One of the most immediate applications of this knowledge will be to help us build much more efficient systems of robot vision." he says. Bonds says his greatest satisfaction as a teacher comes when an alumnus returns to campus and tells him, "I really hated it when you taught such-and-such a course, but I have used it a lot in my career."

Categories: Human Interest