Cybotron (Juan Atkins and Rick "3070" Davis) are often credited with inventing Detroit techno, though at the time the duo released the groundbreaking "Alleys of Your Mind" (1981) and "Clear" (1983), their music was not called techno but electro funk—a fusion of American funk and European electro. It wasn't until the mid-'80s that "Detroit techno" became the official name for music primarily made by three friends who first met at Belleville High School: Juan Atkins (Model 500), Kevin Saunderson (Inner City), and Derrick May (Rhythim Is Rhythim).

Though born in Detroit around the same time as the Belleville Three (the early '60s) and established in the mid-'80s as a brilliant DJ on a radio show (hosted by the Electrifying Mojo) that is to techno what Rap Attack is to hiphop, Jeff "The Wizard" Mills is rarely associated with techno's pioneers, but rather with the second wave of artists that was launched in the late '80s by Underground Resistance, a collective that is to techno what Public Enemy is to hiphop. But UR were sonically and politically more radical than PE; Chuck D did not reject big business, but instead wanted corporations like Nike to reinvest in the black community and promote black capitalism. UR were anticorporate to the bone and saw their art as a weapon against the capitalist order.

Because it would take a much longer essay to explain Mills's role in Underground Resistance (he started it with former Parliament bassist "Mad" Mike Banks), and an even longer essay to describe UR's impact on electronic music (Drexciya and Robert "Noise" Hood were major members of the collective), I will focus on Mills's work and the new Blue Potential—Montpellier Philharmonic Orchestra's tribute to the art of the Wizard.

When compared to that of other Detroit techno producers, Mills's music is the most visual and architectural, which may be because his initial aim in life was to become an architect. But the glass and concrete structures, the cityscapes, the interior spaces that are visualized in his music are not seen with biological eyes but with what sci-fi novelist William Gibson calls "mirror shades"—electric eyeballs manufactured seemingly by the same robotics corporation that makes the machine workers in the automated car factories that inspired Juan Atkins to famously say: "Berry Gordy built the Motown sound on the same principles as the conveyor-belt system at Ford. Today their plants don't work that way—they use robots and computers to make the cars. I'm probably more interested in Ford's robots than in Berry Gordy's music."

For example, the rural sunrise that is musically described at the beginning of the second orchestral suite that Maurice Ravel extracted from his ballet Daphne and Chloe, is witnessed with organic eyes, whereas the sun that rises over the cityscape in Mills's "See This Way" is seen synthetically—an image that is composed of pixels.

Mills's music primarily has two modes: one is hard, driven techno, with almost no verticality, harmony, melodies, ornaments, just a percussive progression that is unstoppable. This mode is more infrastructural than architectural, like the nanotech machines that rebuild post-quake Tokyo in Gibson's Idoru. The other mode is far from aggressive and densely ornamented with melodies, large harmonic structures, and soft sounds. This second mode makes up much of the content in his collaboration with Montpellier Philharmonic Orchestra, which was recorded live on July 2, 2005, at Pont du Gard—a Roman aqueduct in the south of France.

"Yes, it's true that the music on Blue Potential mostly comes from recent work," Mills tells me in the lounge of the Soho Grand Hotel in Manhattan. Behind us, Cuba Gooding Jr. is "gesticulating loudly" about something or other to someone who looks like an agent. Hollywood is in town for the Tribeca Film Festival. Mills is 42, slender, and has a white spot on the top of his short black hair. His eyes are alien-like, and his voice is soft. This man who has made some of the most pounding, machine-like music in the world seems incapable of looking or sounding angry.

"But the melodic stuff I'm now making is a result of two things," he says. "First is because every three or so years I change the technology in my studio. The changes in technology mean changes in the sound. Then, on the other hand, the melodic music is really a return to where I left off when Robert [Hood] and I relocated to Berlin. When we got to Europe and heard the direction the Euro DJs were taking techno, we decided to become part of that, and so we dropped the melodic techno and went minimal. But if you listen to the X-102 record [1992's Discovers the Rings of Saturn], which I made with Robert Hood just before we moved to Europe, you see the connection between then and now."

The collaboration with the orchestra is mostly successful, and has surprise successes and surprise failures. For example, "Bells," a masterpiece of minimal techno, has no harmony, only beats and a repeated melody that oscillates like an electric fan between a higher key and lower key, actually turned out better than "Time Machine," which has a soaring, gothic harmony, several key changes, and many little melodic effects. But what we ultimately hear in the orchestra's interpretations is the substance of Mills's ideas, which are liberated from techno's mechanical limits and largely expanded. As musical concepts, do they have a value? Or do the ideas fall apart the minute they are removed from the catchy "four-to-the-floor" beat? The answer: Mills's ideas are strong and can exist on their own, without a beat.

"I'm not a musician," Mills says, leaning toward me, fingers interlocked. "I just make sequences. So it was great to see my work in the hands of people who are musicians." Blue Potential is a great experiment, but one that can only be enjoyed if the listener is familiar with the original tracks, some of which are as beautiful as sunlight.