Guitarist Roger Clark Miller was straying into heavily experimental territory before and after Mission of Burma’s initial run. Not long after forming the heavily psychedelic band Sproton Layer with his brothers in the late 1960s, he teamed up with the Fourth World Quartet, a group that blended jazz instrumentation with modern classical sounds. After the Boston indie powerhouse Mission of Burma first called it a day in 1983, Miller scratched his avant-garde itch again by joining Birdsongs of the Mesozoic to make chamber racket and recording his album The Big Industry under the Maximum Electric Piano name, to name a few projects.
Now that Mission of Burma have retired from their long and highly successful second act, Miller is back at it as a one-person band with Eight Dream Interpretations for Solo Electric Guitar, a body of music that first took root in 2018. For this recording, he used one electric guitar, three lap steels, and an array of pedals to create any sound that crossed his mind. The compositions mirror dreams, making them ambiguous at their core. Partially composed and partially improvised, the music bounces between extremes in dynamics and mood, cramming a great deal of sound into each track. With eight pieces spanning 40 minutes, it’s easy to imagine a situation where Miller just kept going because the music seems too open-ended to contain it to the confines of a vinyl disc. But if less is more, the 40 minutes on Eight Dream Interpretations for Solo Electric Guitar will keep you and your sleep patterns occupied.
Numbered sequentially but not in a discernable order, the eight movements behave more like one singular blob of music than eight separate parts. Still, there is a stamp of identity to each one. However, one common music thread running through the entire record is the use of loops. Starting with “Dream Interpretation #16”, Miller is looping the percussive sound of a pick raking across his guitar string, providing a sharp vamp for himself as he spins out a series of confounding licks based on even more confounding harmonies. Programming his own metronome isn’t the only use of loops as Miller turns to his pedals repeatedly to create cavernous backdrops for the rubato moments of search and introspection. In “Dream Interpretation #17”, Miller develops an unsettling number of strands with a slide, a steel guitar, and the use of loops as a sinewy fabric takes hold. That paves the way for an ominous melody played with octaves, pushing the music skyward while remaining rooted in an alternate reality.
When Miller plays an agreeably arpeggiated pattern in “Dream Interpretation #20”, it sounds like we’re going to get something resembling a standard composition. But then the key signature goes sideways, and a series of growling noises take over. If “Dream Interpretation #19” is based on the rhythmic drive of low-end guitar noises, then “Dream Interpretation #13” turns all of the atonal sounds and awkward harmonies into a terrific series of riffs. “Dream Interpretation #18” plays the long game by combining a dizzying number of elements, including a pattern mimicking a broken toy, a hollowed-out insect attack, a steady rhythmic chugging, and moments of anchorless soaring with backward guitar that morphs back into a broken clock counting down one’s limited time. If “Dream Interpretation #18” isn’t the oft-blamed fevered dream, then I truly don’t know what is. As “Dream Interpretation #15” finishes out the album, Miller lets the art of abstract sound carry the program to the finish line where it doesn’t so much collapse in a heap as it disappears in a vapor.
Is there still room in Roger Clark Miller’s career to get weird? Eight Dream Interpretations for Solo Electric Guitar answers that question with a hearty Yes. His skills as a guitar player and his bottomless imagination have collided in a perfect encapsulation of the two traits, bringing forth a third strand that just can’t be imitated by anyone else, no matter how hard anyone should try. The technically proficient has officially met the sonically fearless on Eight Dream Interpretations for Solo Electric Guitar, a project that deserves to be considered more than just a Mission of Burma offshoot.