Music » Record Review

Jenks Miller's Zen Automata Volume One: V

(Small Doses)

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On Approaching the Invisible Mountain, Jenks Miller's only previous album under his own name, the guitarist exploits only space and tone. The series of six spare, nebulous guitar improvisations comes full of rests and breaks—as though, in pauses for pondering, Miller considered what he'd just played and proceeded accordingly. It was a winding, easy listen, where the listener delighted as much in the possibility of what might happen next as in what had come before.

Zen Automata Volume One: V—the second solo outing from Miller, who's been busy with the excellent metal of Horseback in the interim—couldn't be more different. Approaching was about the very human interaction between hands and guitar strings, but Zen is a piece of inhuman systems music. Miller ran contrasting tones through sets of different computer speakers, turned up the volume and hit play as he hit record—no strings, no hands, no decisions, except the method and its duration. The resulting 39 minutes are a vortex of suffocating grays, with alien oscillations phasing in and out of each other to create the illusion that time itself is collapsing. Think a baritone saxophone battling the machines of industry. It's a taxing listen, a psychosomatic experience as extreme and harsh as David Tudor's Neural Synthesis or Tony Conrad's Four Violins, as esoteric as Reynols' Blank Tapes. The construct is so relentless, its end feels like the crescendo. And it's just another indication that Miller's oeuvre by any name seems absolutely boundless.

(Editor's note: Music Editor Grayson Currin co-released Horseback's first album, Impale Golden Horn, in 2007. Currin no longer runs a label.)

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