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The Binary System

If the word "piano" conjures up images of grade school recitals, think again. Former Mission Of Burma guitar assassin Roger Miller manhandles this puppy like the versatile beast that it is, mining both its melodic and percussive functions (particularly on the "prepared" piano pieces, on which Miller treats the strings of the instrument with alligator clips, bolts, and whatever he finds lying around) to maximum effect. And while Miller warps his piano to new heights of avant-jazz/progreesive rock power, percussionist Larry Dersch (The Concussion Ensemble) pounds his drum kit with tight, relentless energy. The result is something like being thrust in the middle of a pounding sonic thunderstorm, or getting trapped in a rain of concussion grenades.

The last three tracks of TBS's debut recording, From the Epicenter (featuring "Generator") are improvised and have a slightly softer effect than the scripted portion of the album. But throughout, the duo's blend of rock motifs, jazz and classical compositional sensibilities, improvisation, and experimentation produces a frenetic, manic, and thrilling sound.

The dazzling mania continued on The Binary System's heady follow-up, Invention Box (featuring "The Initial Orbit"). Here the core duo continues to match the frantic pace of free jazz with a variety of 20th century compositional ethics, from Bartok to Zappa. But they augment their piano/percussion style by playing a lot of strange (and not-so-strange) instruments and tapping a number of guests to do the same. Miller adds some electric guitar, cornet, toy piano, and organ, while Dersch brings his homemade wind machine and junk metal percussion. Guests contribute to some tracks on stand-up bass, musical saw, shawm (a medieval oboe), even offering the occasional demented vocal.

In addition to creating and inhabiting the world of The Binary System, Miller also directs The Alloy Orchestra ("The country's leading interpreter of silent films," says Neil Strauss of the New York Times), and Fun World (which has produced award-winning major sound works for Universal, Nintendo, Cartoon Network, Sesame Street, MTV, ESPN, and the BBC).

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