Well before and long after Roger’s most familiar work with Mission of Burma, the brothers Miller have been collaborators, producing a strong catalogue of improvisational music. Starting with their first group, Sproton Layer, in 1969, all the way up to their M3 releases (with brother Laurence on drums), the near-psychic connection between the siblings has been tapped to create impromptu compositions with remarkable depth, humor and boundless energy.
Saturday features two solo sets and one set of spontaneous collective improvisation by Roger and Ben, making use of the famed elemental guitar, tabletop prepared guitar and varied electronics. The performance will also incorporate the poetry of the two brothers that in turn corresponds to a number of Roger’s works in frottage (a technique of drawing in which paper is laid over a surface and rubbed with, say, charcoal). Roger graciously answered some of my questions about this wildly talented brotherhood and the wide variety of work they’ve come together to create.
You describe your work in frottage as the organization of chance elements. Has your work in music and writing drawn from the same respect for chance?
The element of chance has been most fully explored by John Cage and, in a slightly different manner, Marcel Duchamp. The idea of “found art” (a Duchamp idea), which extends to “found sounds,” etc., is a very important one, and its influence can be found virtually everywhere.
I have been interested in found art (in late 1968, I traced the reflections from light on a toaster) as a means to reduce my overt ego involvement, which has sometimes been referred to as “taste.” However, as in Cage’s music, no matter how hard one tries to lose one’s self, some “personal element” remains. You can usually identify a Cage composition pretty easily, and my frottage drawings, despite being random in the sense that I only use what happens to be in my immediate environment, have a very specific look that one can immediately recognize as “my style.” It’s quite funny, really. And my brother Ben recently pointed out that my earlier drawings – which I consciously drew – have many of the same characteristics as my frottage drawings. It seems to be in the way I organize the material more than the source of the material itself.
I have done a number of musical compositions that I call “Dream Interpretations.” They use specific dreams to create the form and emotional content. These pieces are not exactly based on chance – after all, dreams have some specific manners in which they unfold, develop, etc. But despite their being extremely personal to me – i.e. something that only I could have dreamed – they are 100 percent out of my conscious control. I find that interesting.
I’m interested in your idea that knowledge of inevitable conclusion influences things to interact in a cohesive manner. How does this idea factor into your process?
As it relates to my frottage work, it can’t be helped. At first I just rub what catches my eye/touch. After a few of these items have been translated onto the paper, I begin to think about form, how things might interact. I think that people have a natural inclination to find meaning in things, and I am amplifying that aspect of being human. Despite the fact that there are no “concrete” images on the paper, they do interact to give some sense of something or other. Different people see different images in my frottages. It is, of course, surrealistic in the truest sense: You put a sewing machine on a dissecting table, and no matter how random the initial act was, a person viewing it will try to make sense out of it. And I don’t think that is incorrect, either. The whole world is in some ways a Rorschach test – you project your inner world onto the outer world, and it feeds back in a loop that hopefully makes life more full.
Ernst makes associative cameos whenever I think of Burma; years later, you’re investigating one of his techniques in your visual art. What is his particular significance to you?
When I first became clearly aware of surrealism, in 1974, I checked out all the main artists. I was drawn to Ernst immediately. I can’t even fully explain why, but he is by far my favorite of them all. He uses all sorts of “found” techniques from collage to frottage and on. Not only was “Max Ernst” on Burma’s first 45, but I have a new song that will likely appear on our upcoming CD that is currently titled “Max Ernst’s Dream.” It is actually about my frottage drawing discovery, how it feels to me, etc. But if you listen to the lyrics, you might never know that!