The brothers Miller grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They came of age during the Summer of Love when revolution and the White Panthers were livening up their hometown. They formed their first band together in 1967, covering 13th Floor Elevators and Mothers of Invention. Two years later they were engaged in freeform rock improvisations and started their first all-original rock band Sproton Layer. Their summer 1970 recording, "With Magnetic Fields Disrupted", was released in 2012 on the German label World in Sound. During this time, they would see the MC5 at a free concert in the afternoon, then head over to the University of Michigan New Music department to hear Stockhausen at night. John Sinclair's Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival a couple years later definitely had an impact on their world-view.
1975 press release
In 1975 the three brothers attended Thomas Jefferson College, a small Art School in the middle of Michigan. Benjamin and Laurence had recently absorbed the advanced jazz of Eric Dolphy and Anthony Braxton while at school in Boston, playing in the Nova Mob with Don Davis (later of Microscopic Septet). Roger had maintained an active interest in the music of Bela Bartok and Igor Stravinsky in Ann Arbor.
The Fourth World Quartet, with school-mate Jack Waterstone rounding out the quartet, was born out of this mash-up of free improvisation, classical music and jazz. All members composed, ranging from fully scored pieces to graphic scores or mere verbal instruction. Laurence arranged the Art Ensemble of Chicago's "Tnoona" for the group and Roger arranged the main theme from Igor Stravinsky's mini-opera "Renard the Fox". The boundaries were wide.
Three horns and a piano is already unusual, but add Benjamin's post-psychedelic guitar work and Roger's occasional "wall-of-piano" stylings, and things definitely stepped out of any traditional ensemble setting. Gentle melodies bump up against atonal bebop. Tightly structured forms contrast immediately with open improvisation. Wailing horns blaze over contained piano ostinati.
In a few months the band put together this repertoire, a testament to focus and extreme creative activity. If they only played two shows and lasted only a very short time, the connections into the future were many. Included here are two songs by Roger that would later appear on the first Birdsongs of the Mesozoic record: "The Transformation of Oz" and "Winter's Dream" - the latter name changed to "Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous" by the time it graced Birdsongs' freshman release. Their friend Rick Scott who recorded this session and later became a member of Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, used the same Braun 1/2 track that Martin Swope would use for tape loops in Mission of Burma. And if Roger's adaptation of "The Rite of Spring" for Birdsongs was more ambitious than his arrangement of "Renard the Fox", still, here is where that idea began.
By 1977 punk rock had kicked in, and Laurence (guitar) and Benjamin (alto sax) went back to their rock roots and joined the Detroit punk band Destroy All Monsters which included Ron Ashton from the Stooges and Michael Davis from the MC5. In 1979, Roger co-formed Mission of Burma in Boston, which went on to be influential on the indie rock movement.
Give this a listen. Music from a pivotal time period. That expanded not long afterwards.