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Space Music

The three Miller brothers grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan together. There they developed their concept of space music.

Patrick Powers

The three Miller brothers grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan together. There they developed their concept of space music by playing in bands such as Sproton Layer. They are Roger Clark, Laurence Bond, and Benjamin Rush.

What is space music?

Roger: To Boldly Go where No Band has Gone Before. In our (Sproton Layer's) interpretation, this incorporated 20th Century avant-classical ideas: the skewed tonality of Bartok or Stravinskiy's The Rite of Spring with the free-sonic deconstructions of Karlheinz Stockhausen. Interstellar Overdrive is the prototype summation.

Benjamin: When I was a youth that term related to an extended type of Rock Music (Space Rock) which freely used electronic effects such as the Echoplex and the option to be free of Rhythmic Form. In a sense it was the Hippie layman's extension of earlier Electronic Music from the 50's and Free Jazz i.e. Sun Ra's ATLANTIS circa 1960, but it was clearly a world of its own. Neo-Hippies of this century are unfortunate.

Laurence: Space Music must pay attention to that which is beyond the fundamental principles of music making as we "reasonably" know it to be: traditional time meters, tonal centers, A/B/A song structures, the concept of how to begin and how to end, etc. I see Space Music mostly in terms of free-from instrumental music, though free association singing or speaking can certainly play a part. Back in the day I would often perceive music as a growing, living architectural form. It is also a visual thing. My brothers and I would often try to describe something simple before setting out to improvise, for example "a jungle" or "a rainbow" whatever, to get the imaginary proportions fueled.

How should the listener expect to feel when exposed to space music?

Benjamin: Spacey.

Laurence: The listener ought to feel expanded, opened to the capacity where one might begin to experience an arbitrary point in time & space, ending up in an entirely new area with no immediate understanding between the two hemispheres

Roger: Spaced Out? Time distortions. The web of reality is dissolving. Excitement.

What do you think about when playing space music?

Roger: Try not to think, just be. Let go of pre-concieved notions. When we listened back to tapes we did in 1969 we wondered how we made the music.

Laurence: I think about what the other players are intending, and how that might correlate to my immediate intentions. Non-Stop Give & Take. As in any form of improvisation, one has to truly listen, carefully.

Benjamin: Except for the occasional Sproton Layer reunion, I don't play Space Music anymore.

What was it like when you got started playing space music?

Benjamin: It was like Space Music.

Roger: Revelatory. Suddenly we were no longer playing blues-based rock and roll. What a relief! Literally, our goal was to boldly go where no band had gone before. On occasion, we reached that. Our upcoming album, from 1969-1971, includes improvisations that are, to some degree anyways, unprecedented. That was what excited us.

Laurence: We thought we had truly landed on the Holy Grail. This was three-dimensional sound that could take you in territories never ever explored before in history.

What's is it like for you today?

Roger: Space Music as a genre was pretty time-specific. It helped to take "the good drugs": weed, acid, the mind-melding stuff. Time-warps. Not into those things these days. Now I suppose I transpose myself more through my body, total involvement in the act. More physical than mental. But those initial ideas are so much in me that they still manifest on a daily basis.

Benjamin: I have records of that time that are still refreshing today: Pink Floyd's Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Jimi Hendrix, SRC's first LP, early Soft Machine, etc.

Laurence: Truth be told I rarely play it any more, but when I have the chance—like when I'm with my brothers—it is once again a "living entity" in and of itself. We happen upon it and it opens up.

What about influences?

Laurence: Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, MC5, Silver Apples, Alice Cooper (very early), and Captain Beefheart, to name but a few. Later there were free-form jazz artists which helped boost my understanding.

Roger: Syd Barrett #1. Soft Machine first LP. Weed. Afternoons in the sun. Forgetting where I was. Waking up out of a trance. Looking at what I drew and wondering how I did it.

Benjamin: Beatles, Hendrix, Syd's Pink Floyd, Beefheart, very early Alice Cooper, Stockhausen, Derek Bailey, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Messiaen, Satie, Cocteau Twins, Skinny Puppy, GBV.

What other kinds of music do you make?

Ben: Multiphonic guitar (noise with elements of psychedelia), vocal for death disco duet, art rock, symphonic compositions for saxophone orchestra, spiritual song.

Laurence: Children's Music, Hard Pop, Surreal Acoustic Songs, Slap-Sappy Lounge, Avant Garde.

Roger: Whatever is required from life. Sometimes it's practical: soundtrack work. I discovered myself in 1969 with "Space Music/Sproton Layer" and have transformed it from there. It's now more "of the body" and less a mental space-out. Even Mission of Burma manifests many of the ideas from Sproton Layer, just the veneer of psychedelia was replaced by the veneer of punk rock. But deep-down inside, many of the ideas are similar.

Plans for the future?

Roger: There is only "now."

Laurence: Continue writing, recording, and performing original music until a die. Recently I've created a New & Improved version of my 1990's band, LARYNX ZILLION'S NOVELTY SHOP. This is an eclectic group which plays originals ranging from Glam Rock to Wholetone Instrumentals, to maniacal near free-form compositions, and all with a pinch of parody while sporting a flare for surreal sentiment and/or artfully discordant sound.

Benjamin: Is there one?

Interviewer's Note: More information is available online for Ben Miller,Roger Clark Miller, and Laurence Miller. These three sites comprise an astonishing list of projects and ideas: bands, books, drawing, games, interviews, masks, photography, symphonies, videos, on an endless variety of instruments, not excluding the bass clarinet, "moronic Elvis impersonations," and gigs in exotic locations among them Ukraine, Vermont, the Wall Street Journal, and Ypsilanti. "Passersby would literally freak, not knowing if we were real or not."

It can be grueling. Given a blog by the Huffington Post, Roger inadvertently outraged readers by suggesting that US Presidents be required to inform the public of their dreams each morning. People just aren't used to that kind of thing. "Slave to my ideas," writes Roger.

Patrick Powers is a bass guitarist and poet, formerly of Bali, now living in northern Michigan. Selfie (2013) by Ben, Roger and Laurence, courtesy Debra McLauglin. "Never Drink and Draw" © Roger Clark Miller 2008. "Botanical Fire Bell" © Laurence Bond Miller 2016.

Copyright © Patrick Powers. All rights reserved.