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Minimal Man \ Biography

Patrick Miller, leader of avant-garde 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-screen techniques.

After moving to San Francisco in 1979 Miller 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, Tuxedomoon included, and by October Minimal Man were performing at the legendary Deaf Club, as well as other venues.

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 own 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, at which time the band was a trio comprising Miller with Andrew Baumer and Lliam Hart. Guest musicians included Tuxedomoon members Steven Brown and Michael Belfer, along with several others who reflected a revolving door policy with regard to personnel which Miller actively encouraged. Bond Bergland, Cole Palme and Joseph T. Jacobs would also play in Minimal Man prior to founding Factrix.

The cover of The Shroud Of features one of Miller's characteristic 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 decided to relocate to Europe, settling in Brussels alongside fellow SF exiles Tuxedomoon, where he recorded Sex With God (1985), Slave Lullabyes (1986), Hunger Is All She Has Ever Known and Pure (both 1988). The European albums range in scope from hardcore EBM (so-called electronic body music) to ambient instrumental tracks, while Pure revisits earlier recordings made in San Francisco. Live shows from this period usually found Miller backed by various Tuxedomoon members, including Steven Brown, Peter Principle, Luc van Lieshout and Bruce Geduldig.

At the beginning of the 1990s 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 outsider artist of considerable talent. Passionate, empathetic and volatile, he died at his home in Eagle Rock, California on 14 December 2003, having contracted Hepatitis C. His passing was marked not by one but two articles in the New York Times.

James Nice

October 2004

Minimal Man