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March 20, 1983 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 1983-03-20

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily
Burmese group
ends its mission

Sunday, March 20, 1983

Page 7

By Rob Weisberg
ARTIN SWOPE and Roger Miller
are local boys, nurtured in the
early 1970s Ann Arbor "Destroy All
Monsters" mini-scene. But they ran
away from home, discouraged, winding
up in Boston - site of a thriving post-
punk scene. And they put together a
band, named it Mission of Burma, put
multi-instrumentalist Miller on guitar,
Clint Conley on bass, Peter Prescott on
drums. Swope? He fiddled around with
tape loops and electronics, adding gut-
level applications of high tech.
They played their first gig on April 1,
1979. By the end of the year they were
being hailed as the "Next Bit Thing."
Miller wasn't happy, though. He recalls
that he felt the band was too stylized.
He was bent on releasing the "primal
energy" and "animalism" of rock and
roll, in distinctive fashion.
They had almost achieved the goal

when they released their debut EP
Signals, Calls, and Marches on Ace of
Hearts records in the Spring of 1981.
And when they released their only
album, Vs., last fall, there was no
longer room for doubt. Mission of Bur-
ma was one of the few musically talen-
ted, unique, and exciting rock and roll
bands in the country.
Tonight at the City Club in Detroit,
Mission of Burma will make their last
area appearance. The band is breaking
up because too much loud music has
left Roger Miller with an incurable
ringing in his ears that can only get
worse the more he plays.
It's sad to see Burma go, especially
considering they were one of the few
bands threatening to break through the
sea of commercial mediocrity. But at
least they'll never have a chance to go
stale the way so many bands do. We'll
be able to romanticize about what
might have been instead of cajoling
them for hanging on.

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Miller
... ends his reign
Endings are also nice because they
create an excuse for looking back. In
those Ann Arbor days Miller played
with his brothers Ben and Larry (who
then played drums), now members of
the up-and-coming local trio Non-
Fiction. Recalls Miller, "Some of the
things we did back then were just as
wild as anything I did with Burma."
Their first original band, with Harold
Kurtchin on trumpet, was called
Sprotin Layer - never was a Miller,
brother to play in a band with an ob-
vious name.
Unfortunately, points out Roger
Miller, "that happened in 1969 and 1970
and it was a little too late to catch the
psychedelic thing."
Dismayed by the turgid state of mid-
'70s rock 'n' roll, Miller says that he
"kind of half lost interest." He attended
music school for a while, getting his
jollies from free jazz and working on
composition and his piano technique.
He was back in Ann Arbor, though, for
the onset of "punk," offered a spot in
Destroy All Monsters along with his
brothers, who acceeded, but he recalls
that the Monsters' basic post-Stooges
metallic punk (this writer's inter-
pretation, not his) "wasn't really my
style." He therefore declined the offer
and instead found himself in a series of
artsy bands that he admits "didn't
gell."
Of course much of the problem had to
do with the Ann Arbor audience, which
prefers its rock'n'roll generic. So he
and Swope fled, and the rest is history.
Another great thing about endings is
that they make new beginnings
possible. Thus we are greeted with Bir-
dsongs of the Mesezoic, and avant-
garde group that Miller says employs
elements of rock, classical, free jazz,
and funk; structured music and im-
provisation. The new group is heavy on
keyboards, with Detroit's Rick Scott on
organ, Eric Lindgren on synthesizer
and rhythm, Miller on piano (and some
guitar) and good old Swope twisting
knobs again.
The all-instrumental band has an EP
due out in April, and they've already
had some success gigging at artsy spots
in Boston and offers to play in avant-
hungry New York. They're a low-
volume ensemble by necessity -
because of the demands of the "genre"
(if that word is applicable) as well as
Miller's ears. Still, Miller says there is
still lots of excitement in what they do
- only instead of going exclusively for
the jugular, as rock'n'roll does, he
suggests that Birdsongs mixes the
Dionysian and the Apollonian. The
animal element may be missing, but
Miller says they're still seeking to con-
jure up the primal.
Primal art? It sounds quite in-
triguing. But for those still in search of
the Burmese animal, tonight is the last
chance.

Reader'
By Ellen Lindquist
IT'S NOT much like an evening at the
theater. The Reader's Theatre Guild
opened William Faulkner's As I lay
Dying Friday night in the R.C.
Auditorium. But if I hadn't been infor-
med that I was watching a finished
production, I would have thought I had
got caught in the middle of a rehearsal.
There's no room for character
development in a production where cast
members do not wear costumes and
keep their eyes rivetted on large
notebook-sized scripts. With no in-
dications for scene changes, the
audience was left struggling to make
transitions between scenes.
Before the play started, the audience
was kindly informed that the Reader's
Theatre Guild, an alternative, indepen-
dent student group affiliated with MSA,
is a "theater of the mind." The "actors
read from scripts without sets, props or
other theatrical conventions," we were
told. Already my insides curdled.
What the Theatre Guild presented,
having paid copyright fees to Random
House Publishing Company, was an
edited version of Faulkner's novel
about a family's struggle to transport
the corpse of their mother, Addie,
across southern America by wagon.
David P. Wahr, brother of Philip A.
Wahr, president of the Theatre Guild,
chose which passages of the novel to
present.
The result was a series of dialogue
scenes interspersed with lengthy
narrations. Changes from scene to
scene were not indicated in any way.
The audience was left to deduce from
the context of the reading where the
scene was taking place. Occasionally
the lighting changed, or the actors
rearranged themselves on stage, but
overall the audience was thrust from

s.Theatr
major scene to major scene without the
courtesy of conventional theatrical
prop or set transitions.
Picture this: a group of people, men
in untucked flannel shirts and jeans,
women in skirts unrealistically short
for the time period portrayed, standing
around on stage reading from their
large black scripts. Instead of being,
immersd in their characters, they self-
consciously read. This is not theater.
It would have been more interesting
if the production had actually been
about a play in the making, but the
Reader's Theatre Guild was serious in
its attempt to re-enact the Faulkner
novel.
The only dramatic presentation (and
the best of the performance), was by
Brian McGraw who while holding his
script without reading it, well por-
trayed a usurious country pharmacist.
His witty characterization was com-
plete with facial expressions, ap-
propriate hand gestures and genuine
feeling. The other actors seemed to
think that getting up on stage and
reading a script can engage the atten-
tion of an audience. It is difficult for an
audience to feel anything for charac-
ters who do not seem alive, who seem to
be lost in the pages of a book being read
by some miscellany of people on stage.
The Reader's Theatre Guild is a good.
idea in essence, although perhaps' a
deplorably retroactive one, resembling
a radio presentation more than a
theatrical one. But a radio show,
through the use of sound effects, better
conveys the images within a story that
the Reader's Theatre Guild did. A radio
show might effect the sound of horse
hooves, while the Reader's Theatre
Guild did nothing more than mention
the presence of a horse on stage, in no
way fueling the imagination of the spec-
tators.
All the Reader's Theatre Guild has

e dies
done istake impromptu type of reading
up on stage and charged admission for it.
Even some of their reading is rough. They
attempt to imitate Southern accents, but
some of them come out sounding like=
glorified valley girl twanges.
The Reader's Theatre Guild is not for
the theater because it is completely
stripped of theatrical conventions such
as costumes, makeup, set designs and
even line memorization. The theater is
a creation of illusions. Completely
stripped of illusions, it is nothing. The
Reader's Theatre Guild has limited it-
self to this nothingness on stage. Actors
do not even vividly gesticulate, many
do not raise their variegated southern
drawls above a whisper, much less put
expression into their speech.
Such a rigid limitation to a rough
reading of the novel can only bring back
memories of reading plays out loud in
the classroom. Then it was fun if you
had a part, but the kids left out of the
reading were bored. So it seemed was
the audience of As I Lay Dying. The
audience sat dying to leave.
A theater production can work only if
it captures the trust and attention of the
audience. But the Reader's Theatre
Guild comes on the stage as if armed
for battle, carrying unsightly, bulky
scripts, imposing themselves on stage
with as much subtly as a staged protest.
Well, the Reader's Theatre Guild is
funded by MSA - student government.
Perhaps there is a connection there.
Just because we have an actor for
President. does not mean all the
political types in the world should try to
jump on stage without undertaking the
discipline, acting, directing and
producing the theater requires. They
should not expect to come up with
anything less than an offense to artistic
sensibilities. Politicians are so
idealistic.

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