8/11/2006

MINIMAL MAN



Patrick Miller, avant-garde leader of underground 'antimusic' ensemble Minimal Man, was born in Glendale, California, on 2 January 1952 and studied art at Sonoma State University, where he concentrated chiefly on silk-screening.

After moving to San Francisco in 1979 he immediately began to experiment with music and film. Minimal Man began as a vehicle to produce soundtracks for these films, with the realization that anyone could do so given access to the tools. Miller also began to collaborate with a wide variety of punk, new wave and industrial musicians, including Tuxedomoon, and by October Minimal Man were performing at the legendary Deaf Club venue, and elsewhere.

Minimal Man became one of a select handful of influential groups from this era to bridge punk and industrial music with aggressive blasts of noise and electronic effects. As the core of Minimal Man, Miller sang (and screamed), played keyboards and manipulated tapes to create their dissonant, unsettling, experimental sound. One critic described the result simply as 'antimusic.'

The band name was inspired by people who lived in the low income Fillmore district of San Francisco. Though often without basic needs, these were people creative in adapting to life on the street. Miller's conception of Minimal Man was a character with 'everything against him.'

The debut Minimal Man album The Shroud Of was originally released by Berkeley label Subterranean Records in 1981, when the core band comprised a trio of Miller with Andrew Baumer and Lliam Hart. Guest musicians included Tuxedomoon members Steven Brown and Michael Belfer (Sleepers), along with several others who reflect a revolving door policy with regard to personnel that Miller actively encouraged. Bond Bergland and Cole Palme also played in Minimal Man prior to founding Factrix.

The cover of The Shroud Of features one of Miller's signature paintings. Writer Neil Strauss recalls: 'They were all variations on one image: a featureless head or mask, usually wrapped in strips of bandages that were peeling off to reveal a discoloured, decomposed face. It was a self-portrait. It wasn't even a mask; it was what lay beneath the mask (at least in his darkest moments) - a paranoid, dark, disturbed shell of a human being."

In January 1983 Minimal Man recorded a second album, Safari, a more conventional set than the debut, with Miller and Baumer now joined by a guitarist and drummer. In 1985 Miller relocated to Europe, settling in Brussels alongside Tuxedomoon, and recorded Sex With God (1985), Slave Lullabyes (1986), Hunger Is All She Has Ever Known (1988) and Pure (also 1988). The European albums range in scope from hardcore EBM (so-called electronic body music) to more ambient instrumental tracks, while Pure revisits earlier recordings made in San Francisco. Live shows from this period usually saw Miller backed by various Tuxedomoon members including Steven Brown, Peter Principle, Luc van Lieshout and Bruce Geduldig.

At the beginning of the 1990's Miller returned to the United States, first to New York and then back to California. Regrettably no further Minimal Man records appeared, and instead Miller worked in the movie business as a set dresser. Sometimes there were difficulties: "I invented Minimal Man as this wild person, and then I actualized it and took all kinds of drugs and stuff, because I felt guilty for not living up to this fiction."

Patrick Miller was an artist of considerable talent, as a musician, as a painter, as a visual artist. His art was his life, and his life was his art. Passionate, empathetic and volatile, he died at his home in Eagle Rock, California on 14 December 2003.... His passing was marked not by one but two articles in the New York Times.

James Nice
October 2004


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8 comments:

A. Cade Bois said...

I am very glad to see you've posted this article. I hope that Patrick Miller/Minimal Man will be remembered and appreciated for his original and challenging work long after his death. Like many legendary "obscure" artists, Minimal Man's greatest contribution seems to be the ability to engage and inspire other artists. To create something that unfolds the creativity in the minds of others is an unparalleled accomplishment, if not the mark of a genius. I have yet to cease being inspired by this music - it deserves to be kept available for younger audiences so they too can be likewise inspired.

Gregg Turkington said...

I knew Patrick Miller in San Francisco in the early '80s and he was very generous, encouraging and inspirational...really a great guy. The one-person version of Minimal Man that I saw at the On Broadway in San Francisco in 1984 remains one of the most compelling shows I've ever seen. "The Shroud Of" and "Safari" are completely original, disturbing albums that never got their full due.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is very interesting; I've never heard of this guy before...I'll have to check him out sometime, especially since he had connections with factrix, who I love. I just recently discovered your blog, but you've posted some great stuff so far - keep it up! Thanks for posting this. :]

Eliot said...

I was just quoting Minimal Man's lyric, if I remember correctly, goes like this, "Loneliness is a sad place, Ronald Reagan and I agree." It might not be a M.M. lyric, but I think it is.
I also saw Patrick Miller in the '80s at the On Broadway - above the Mab. Lliam Hart who played drums with/for him was my roommate in eighties.
I remember well him and his strapless red guitar and the a movie of a guy with his head in a bucket of water.
Eliot

Simon Glickman and Sera Gamble said...

Eliot: I played "Loneliness" on my college radio show in the '80s. I believe the line was "Ronald Reagan, I agree!" and was delivered as a symptom of the song's narrator losing his mind. One couplet I remember is "...And ghosts are all I see/Ronald Reagan, I agree!" That was a really haunting track.

louland said...

I found "The Shroud Of" in a dusty record bin of a store in downtown Louisville, KY in 1999. I knew nothing of Minimal Man at this point, but was intriuged by the album work and instruments listed. I was shocked to have stumbled onto something so artistically inspiring, I have always wondered why this group wasn't more widely received or recognized. Minimal Man's place in the Punk, Avant-Guarde genre is significant, I consider myself lucky to know the genius of Patrick Miller.

louland said...

I found "The Shroud Of" in a dusty record bin of a store in downtown Louisville, KY in 1999. I knew nothing of Minimal Man at this point, but was intriuged by the album work and instruments listed. I was shocked to have stumbled onto something so artistically inspiring, I have always wondered why this group wasn't more widely received or recognized. Minimal Man's place in the Punk, Avant-Guarde genre is significant, I consider myself lucky to know the genius of Patrick Miller.

Thomas Cross said...

I cannot express the depth of loss and sorrow at the passing of Patrick Miller.
Even today.
If I had a dollar for every 'Shroud Of' (see picture above) stenciled around the Mission District and Division Street (often seemingly close to the Fatrix and Survival Research Laboratories posters) that I had ever seen I would be a rich man.
But still not as rich as I am for having witnessed his very personal performances. And for just knowing that there was someone out the who seemed to feel like I did and who could express it like nobody has since.
Thank you for this important release.