Roger Clark Miller grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is the son of an icthyologist whose specialty was researching fish that live in isolated springs in the desert and comparing them to their fossil ancestors. Until he was 18, Miller spent part of every summer in the western U.S. deserts on these scientific expeditions. This has had a strong effect on his artistic outlook where the themes of nature, extremes, self-reliance, and a deep sense of time recur in his work. He started piano lessons at age 6, studied French Horn in middle school and picked up guitar at age 13.
In 1969 Miller grasped both improvisation and composition in his founding psychedelic rock band Sproton Layer, formed with his brothers Benjamin and Laurence, and in piano and writing for small chamber ensembles. Miller’s first book, the entire score for Sproton Layer’s album “With Magnetic Fields Disrupted”, was published in 1972 on a Wenner-Gren Anthropological Foundation Grant and was installed in the Library of Congress that year.
After becoming disillusioned with rock music in the mid-’70’s, Miller attended music school as a composition major. A formal introduction to surrealism and music theory still left him wandering, though better prepared for action.
In 1979 he moved to Boston and co-formed Mission of Burma. Since 1980 he has released over 50 albums, ranging from the aggressive avant-punk of Burma to piano-based music of Maximum Electric Piano, The Binary System and Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. Never content with a single genre, Miller has covered much territory between those two extremes in solo and ensemble endeavors. His work explores the edge of music combined with a physical performing style and a hyper-active imagination.
Miller is also a conceptual/sound artist. His first art installation in this direction, “Transmuting the Prosaic”, was at the BMAC in Brattleboro, VT from March 15 – Oct.12, 2020, and at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, NH, in from Dec. 2022 – Jan. 2023. As well, he is a visual artist utilizing Max Ernst’s Frottage technique, and has been in numerous shows selling his work.
Currently Miller is active in Dream Interpretations for Solo Electric Guitar, The Anvil Orchestra, and The Trinary System, and Chamber Music. On Feb.18, 2016, his composition “Scream, Gilgamesh, Scream” (for two voices and chamber group) premiered in Jordan Hall at The New England Conservatory. It was a commission by N.E.C.’s Callithumpian Consort. In Sept. 2018, Tufts University put on a concert entirely of his chamber music. He has been a journalist/blogger for SLATE, The Huffington Post, a book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal, and a record reviewer for The Talk House. Miller is an accomplished sound-track composer whose films have appeared at the Sundance and Telluride Film Festivals. Miller also was guest faculty at the Rhode Island School of Design and visiting artist at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Tufts University (Medford, MA), the Berklee School of Music in Boston, and St. Michael’s College in Burlington, VT.
Hello, Roger. Bryan Papciak at Handcranked Productions suggested that I get in touch with you. I am the organizer of The Documentary Summit – a two day filmmaking conference of panels and networking with a practical bent rather than theoretical. You can check us out at http://www.documentarysummit.com.
We are coming to Boston on October 13-14, 2012 and I wanted to invite you to speak on our composer and animation panel on October 14th. It would last about an hour and we expect 60-70 delegates there. It would be at BU’s Center for Digital Imaging Arts in Waltham.
Please let me know if you’re interested. Thanks for your time.
The Documentary Summit
I’m honored to be asked, but I’ll be on tour w/Alloy Orchestra – on those two dates, Lincoln, NB and Lawrence, KS to be precise. Beautiful midwest plains! Hope it goes well, and tell Bryan hi for me.
Hello, Roger, I have a quick question for you. In the documentary “Not a Photograph,” you made the statement about leaving Ann Arbor, MI, saying that, basically, you were done with it, and could progress no further in that particular place. What series of circumstances or events prompted this thinking?
I had gone to U of M Music school and dropped out. Formed a “band” Red Ants that went through 4 wildly diverse formats (6-piece avant-funk/fusion; free-improv. trio; punk band; sax/piano acoustic duo) and every one of them died for reasons that made no sense to me. Destroy all Monsters was starting up – I played drums till they got a drummer, bass till they got a bassist, etc. My brother Benjamin and Laurence were in the band. But it wasn’t the right band for me. I developed tinnitus at this point (pretty mild!). Even when I was playing piano accompanying dance classes at the U of M – I was offered a full-time position there, moreorless for the rest of my life, which I politely declined – things conspired to make me look incorrect and like I didn’t belong. So I moved to Boston to become a piano technician – at least THAT was something concrete. Of course, I joined Moving Parts within 3 weeks of moving to Boston, and the next band was Burma. Sometimes it’s good to be forced out of somewhere – it finally got me to where I should have been.
Well – that was a long response! Currently outside of Madison w/Burma, heading to Minneapolis shortly….
Thanks for the quick response! I was at your Milwaukee show, actually, and shook hands with Bob afterward, but then ducked out to get food. It was a great time, you guys played really well. I asked the question because I’ve been thinking lately that it may be time for me to (at least temporarily) retire this city.
I just picked up an old Lead II (or III?) copy. Big fan of Japanese guitars, Headstock says Polaris, might have been made by Matsumoko. Plays really well and sounds great to my ears, but it doesn’t have x-1’s, which is probably a huge tonal difference. What type and gauge strings do you like on your guitars? Couldn’t find any mention online.
Didn’t know they made copies of them! My string of choice is Enrie Ball Regular Slinky strings.
I bought the Lead I in 1980 when Burma was getting up to snuff, primarily because it was a brand new guitar and no one else had made a name for themselves with it (unlike Hendrix and the Strat). In retrospect, I seem to have made the correct choice.
Hello Roger, long time fan first time caller. I have a question about something we both share; I have developed tinnitus about three months ago(at the age of 41). Never listened to music loud, worked in a steel mill for a few years-just sprung out of nowhere. Here’s my question if you answer:
What headphones do you recommend? In ear/over the ear? And finally I know you use to wear ear muffs-what brand do you recommend or is there something on the market that’s great for wearing to live shows.?
Thanks for all the great tunes and I’d appreciate any info
I get many of these type of questions and I try to answer them. What I think I’ll do is create a Tinnitus Page, which includes every question anyone’s asked me on this topic, with my response. Your questions will be listed and answered there, in fact, I’m starting the page based on your first questions.
I’ll let you know when I get it set up.
I very much look forward to reading your answers, Roger. As a huge fan of MoB and a life-long professional musician (i’m now 28 – hey, i started early!!) the arrival of my very own T (+ Hyperacusis…) in May last year came with not a little dark irony. It is without doubt the single worst thing that has happened in my life. Having recently lost my mother and come to terms with various other personal upheavals, it often seems like a cruel trick the world has played on me. Why me? I’m sure we all ask the same questions. A few things I’d be interested to know would be: How old were you when it turned up? How do you weather the changes? Does it ever truly stop annoying you? And aside from altering your live set-up, what were the factors in you feeling confident enough to start playing with Burma again? I get the feeling the T wasn’t absolutely the only reason you guys disbanded, but presumably ear-plug technology was fairly hopeless back then. Oh, and how long did it take you to get used to it and be confident making music again? Mine seemed to have calmed down for a while, but a recent “spike” has totally taken me out again. Apologies for the rambling mail. Best wishes from Brighton, England!! XXX
I made this not for children children’s book based around a line from “Birthday” off obliterati. At least I think it’s a line. “I watered everything” But who knows if that’s what you’re saying. Regardless, that song was the kickoff inspiration for it.
If you’re interested I would gladly send you one.
ademuth at gmail dot com
Well, that’s the wonder of words in rock music! The actual lyrics were much more mundane (though admittedly my lyrics are usually not). The lyrics are “I wanted everything.” But I like your version better!
At Burma’s first gig, we did my song Smoldering Fuselage. The lyrics are extremely abstract, and Casey, a singer for Human Sexual Response, told me she loved the song – especially the lyrics. I asked her to recite what she thought they were: 100% different from what I sang! Actually, better! But I forgot to write them down, so her version is lost.
At any rate, if you want to send me a book, great!
I’m hoping you’ll consider doing a quick phone interview with me for a new project I’m launching. It would only take about five minutes and I think you might enjoy it. Is there a way to reach out to you with more info? I’d really appreciate it!
My name is Cat Mooney, and I’m a grad student studying interactive design at Northeastern University. I’m currently working on an online interactive narrative for my thesis on the Boston music scene in the late 70s and early 80s called Boston Then (www.bostonthen.com), specifically covering the punk, post-punk, and new waves scenes.
I’d love to know more about your work in Mission of Burma and, as well as your experience in the early punk scene in the the city. If you’re available, perhaps I could email you some questions or we could set up a brief time to chat? Any information you could share would be appreciated. I can be reached at email@example.com.
Saw your Talkhouse review of The Bad Plus’ version of Rite of Spring. Perhaps you would also like the version I did for big band. Recorded live at it’s premiere in May 2010 and released on the Innova label. “The Re-(w)rite of Spring” by the Mobtown Modern Big Band.
I just wanted to let you know that we miss your (Alloy Orchestra) fall visits to The Detroit Film Theater (DIA). I finally caught one of your performances in Oct.2012 after missing the previous few years, due to circumstances beyond my control. It seemed that the DIA was a regular stop on the group’s fall tours for several years, with an entire weekend of film’s. I think I spoke to you briefly at the merchandise table while purchasing a DVD of “The Man with The Movie Camera”, though I didn’t realize you were a member of the group at the time. We were there to see von Sternberg’s The Last Command, which I believe was a premiere that year. Wonderful film, great perfomance! I just got a copy of The Criterion Collection’s DVD and was thrilled to see they had included The Alloy’s score! Also noticed that you were at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor playing with “Sproton Layer” this summer, and that you are from Ann Arbor yourself. I live in Ann Arbor and would have surely been able to make that show, any chance of future shows? I’ll have to keep my eyes open! As far as the DIA goes, no need to explain the bands absence, the whole Detroit situation is just sad…The DIA being one of the most respected museum’s in the country at one time, hence the Diego Rivera mural in the lobby. I just wanted to say that you, and the guy’s are missed here and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feel’s that way! I realize you are on tour now and I hope it’s going well, good luck to you and ALL your endeavors!
Gary Burton (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Thanks! Yeah, we really miss DIA. No more Sproton Layer gigs planned, I’m afraid!
Ann Arbor was great when I was a kid: I graduated Pioneer High in 1970, and 9th Grade was “the summer of Love”. So I got all the Hippie Revolution, White Panthers, MC5 and so forth. Couldn’t have been better for a teen-ager!
Thanks. We seriously wish we could come back to DIA – always a highlight of our fall tour.
was ‘the big industry’ ever released on cd? it is my favorite work of yours. especially “mechanical dog,” “groping hands,” and that kick ass version of “manic depression.” such a great album.
Yes, it was made a CD. I am working on getting it up on BandCamp (it’s in a long line of things to do) because I also think it is one of my albums that stands out. One of the most complete use of looping techniques from early on.
My life is the Mission of Burma catalog. Every single thing. You’re probably the only living person that would understand. May I tell you?
My life is the Mission of Burma catalog. Every single thing. You’re probably the only living person that would understand. May I tell you?
[…] started his music career with brothers Benjamin and Laurence Miller in Sproton Layer in 1969, Roger Clark Miller is best known for his subsequent co-leadership and vocalist/guitarist role in Boston’s highly […]
My name is Sally Pollak, I’m a reporter at Seven Days newspaper in Vermont. I’m working on a story about kickstarter funding for arts projects in Vermont, and I’m interested in talking with you for the story. My email is email@example.com. I hope to hear from you so we can figure out a time to talk on the phone. thanks, sally
Hi Sally. I’ll respond to you in email.
Hello Roger! I’m a high school senior in Texas currently doing a project on the book The Catcher in the Rye for my English class. I’ve been a huge fan of Mission of Burma and your work for the past few years, and Signals, Calls and Marshes is one of my favorite albums ever. One of the parts of our project is called “Holden Caulfield: A Rock”, where we have to find a song that reminds us of the book or Holden Caulfield, the main character. I’ve noticed “Academy Fight Song” to fit in incredibly well with the theme of the story and the character. Was that intentional?
Hi Thiago. I was living w/Clint when he wrote the song, and think I know what it is about (his current situation at the time). It’s certainly not ABOUT Catcher in the Rye. However, Clint’s graduating thesis paper at U.Rochester was on Moby Dick, so his literary knowledge may have incorporated some aspects of Cather in the Rye into the song. I don’t have the answer, as I am not the writer. Good luck!