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April 21, 1987 - Image 8

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Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1987-04-21

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily

Tuesday, April 21, 1987

Page 8

NMerti
By Beth Fertig
At first it's hard to believe
Birdsongs of the Mesozoic has
anything to do with Mission of
Burma. Burma, that tremendous,
explosive, post-punk fury of a
band, was surely one of the meanest
sounds to come out of the late '70s-
early '80s. Birdsongs, on the other
hand, is a much more quiet sort of
brew - an experimental, keyboard-
oriented, instrumental group which
in addition to sharing the same
record label as M.O.B., also has
two of its former players.
But Birdsongs is not entirely an
unlikely descendent of punk rock.
The group has that same sort of
alarming quality, spurred by a true
love for dissonance. They're as at
home doing quirky covers of the
theme from Bullwinkle and Rocky
as they are creating minimalist
sonic landscapes, where various
types of keyboard instruments can
combine with tribal- sounding
percussion tracks to create a dense,

ies high
at times chilling atmosphere.
Taking a cue from modern
composers, Birdsongs incorporated
themes from Stravinsky's Rite of
Spring with their own music on
their 1984 LP Magnetic Flip, and
also paid homage to one of the
fathers of minimalism with the
piece, "Terry Riley's House."
At the heart of Birdsongs of the
Mesozoic lies Roger Miller, former
Mission of Burma guitarist, and an
Ann Arbor native, too. Miller's
musical roots developed in this area
long before he moved to Boston
where he formed both M.O.B. and
his most recent outfit.
"[I] covered a lot of territory
starting in 1969 when I was in 11th
grade and I had my first rock band
[Sprotom Layer] that did all
originals - and that was with my
two brothers," Miller told the
Daily. Of course, his two brothers
are local musicians Ben and Larry
Miller, the latter of which is best
known as the bassist for Destroy
All Monsters. "Very early on I
played drums in Destroy All
Monsters," says Roger Miller, "I
can't even begin to explain the
amount of bands I had... [They]
ranged from freeform jazz to
psychedelic rock to baroque folk
stuff..." He also attended the
University Music School for a brief
stint in 1976, but explains, looking

with Birdsongs of the Mesozoic

back, "It was not for me."
Incidentally, Miller's father is an
ichthyology professor at the
University.
Looking back on the Ann Arbor
of the '70s, Miller says, "My ideas
were always a little too far out field
to make it in a regular mainstream.
And Ann Arbor just wasn't big
enough. As far as I'm concerned it
was pretty conservative musically
by the end of the '70s." Miller
moved to Boston in early 1978.
"Within a year I was in Mission of
Burma, so obviously it was a pretty
good move."
Birdsongs of the Mesozoic began
as Miller's own side project. "After
I'd played in Burma for a year,
played in a rock band, I started
getting an itching to play piano
again," he explained, "and I came
up with some new-styled piano
stuff. And then Erik Lindgren
offered me the use of his studio, so
we recorded two of my songs...
gradually, Birdsongs kind of fell
into being."
Two more players were added to
Birdsongs in time for its Boston
debut. "I figured it would be just
one live performance," said Miller,
"but people liked it enough so we
played again." Enthusiasm was met
by an offer from Rick Harte, of Ace
of Hearts Records, to record an EP
for the label.

I

I

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic plays at the Blind Pig tonight at 10 p.m.

girvice/

524
LSA Building
764-9216

INSTANT:
Passport - Visa-
40 p'catioi, Photos
while U wait
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Reminder To Our Readers
Wednesday, April 22 will be the last
date of publication for The Michigan Daily.
Have a great summer!

Birdsongs' heavy keyboard sound
is not like anything currently
spilling out of that enormous and
overwhelming genre known as
synthesizer music, or even synth-
pop, for that matter. Instead, it
consists largely of sounds created
by Miller's electric piano, a
Yamaha CP70 electric baby grand.
"It's got strings," he says, "It's just
like an electric guitar is to an
acoustic guitar, this is to an
acoustic piano. It's real quiet until
you plug it in." Miller's piano is
met by the various synthesizers,
organs, and tape manipulations of
Erik Lindren and Rick Scott, while
Martin Swope keeps the percussion
and guitars alive.
Miller is heavily influenced by
several modern composers of that
vague category called avant garde.
"Early Stravinsky, Bela Bartok," he
cites, plus "early psychedelic
keyboard players like early Pink
Floyd... also Terry Riley - he is,

like, maybe the first guy that did
this minimalist type of thing. I
don't really like Philip Glass, I
think he's too mechanical. But the
fact that Philip Glass is out there
doing it helped pave the way for
Birdsongs."
At the moment, there is no new
LP in the works for Birdsongs of
the Mesozoic. In fact, this current
tour is still to support the last
album, Beat of the Mesozoic,
released just last year. Miller,
however, is still busily at work on
his own solo career. 1986 also saw
the release of his LP No Man is
Hurting Me, and he says he has a
new album due out in May entitled,
The Big Industry. Miller calls it his
"maximum electric piano work."
"I'm really, really excited about
this album because I think it
captures it really well," he says,
"People that are so far very familiar
with my stuff will be surprised. It's
mostly piano... a few sampled

sounds like a lawnmower starting,
or the oil tank in my house... the
whole ensemble is very unique."
Miller has just come back from life
on the road with Husker Du,
serving as the Minneapolis thrash
band's opening act. "It could have
been a disaster," he says, "You
know, solo piano player with
electronics opening for Husker
Du... but basically it worked very
well... It was very encouraging to
me as a solo performer."
As with Miller's solo work,
Birdsongs has a much quieter sort
of sound, certainly worlds apart
from anything like Burma or even
Husker Du. This is in large part due
to Miller's hearing problem, a
condition known as tinnitus which
causes him to have tones in his ears
at all times. "The volume level is
just incredibly much softer than it
was in Burma," he says of his
present work, "When I rehearse solo
or with Birdsongs you can talk over.
it."
One listen to Birdsongs of the
Mesozoic tonight at 10 at the
Blind Pig should tell you that they
are still very much tied to the spirit
of the punk heydey - although the
volume levels will be much lower.
Cover charge is $4.
Read and Use
Daily Classitieds

IM w. Y sAwwwMU 11M1 1
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/v;
~w4~ ,J

TUESDAY LUNCH LECTURES
12 NOON
at the
INTERNATIONAL. CENTER - 603 E. Madison
April 21: "A JOURNEY TO NEPAL"
Speaker: Karen K. O'Neal,
University of Michigan Alumna
Sponsored by
THE ECUMENICAL CAMPUS CANTER & THE INTERNATIONAL CENTER

AI

i

wordprocesgig I.

The .University of
offers a great

Michigan

ri m

education, a wealth
cultural diversity, and

of
a

beautiful can
spite of

mpus to

boot.

In
fine

these

attributes, students are
often overwhelmed by the
somewhat unfriendly nature
of the university.
We wolverines are

4
4

sometimes accused

of being

very reserved, even uptight.
With finals looming just
ahead, anxieties are as high
as ever. Think about it,
when was the last time you
said "Hi" to a stranger as

Drop by the
Academic Resource Center
Room 219
Undergraduate Library
Monday - Thursday
1-7p.m.
Friday and Saturday
401 'r.mm

you passed

on the street.

Why not make the first move
and break the tension!

4

i

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