Friday, July 11, 2008

How To Join The Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra

                                         photo by chris woo
Professor B. Miller and his singing robot are taking over the San Diego music scene. But don't let the lab-coat and safety goggles fool you. The human half of the experimental music duo known as Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra is none other than SDSU English Department alumni Michael Buchmiller.

Buchmiller's behind-the-scenes artistic achievements before graduating with a BA in 2003 are blogworthy alone, but with the recent release of his debut 
4 CD box set and a handful of live shows since last December accumulating what amounts to a cult-like following and earning him a full-page article in this week's San Diego CityBeat, the man (and his robot) are now in the spotlight.

During those years at SDSU, Buchmiller ran a music magazine called Hand Carved, starting as a writer, and over time, a graphic designer. The success of his show posters, print ads, and t-shirts led him to start his own graphic design company, 
Hand Carved Graphics.

Buchmiller's love of music also landed him a weekly radio show at SDSU's college radio station, KCR. Aptly named Hand Carved Radio, the show featured live performances and on-air interviews with bands such as Rocket From the Crypt,DenaliThe Lawrence Arms, and Pretty Girls Make Graves. Promoted to Music Director of the station where he was responsible for weeding through the 200 plus albums sent in each week, Buckmiller's tastes began to broaden.

"After listening to hours and hours of bands that all sounded similar, I found myself being drawn to the more unusual music out there," he recalls. "That probably explains a bit about why the Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra sounds the way it does."

But how does any of this explain his reasoning for pursuing and obtaining an English degree?

Like most students entering a college English program, Buchmiller was considering the writer/teacher route, perhaps eventually incorporating his love of art and music. But, as he admits, "I guess at the heart of all of these different mediums, what I really loved was storytelling."

Buchmiller claims many of the influences of his current storytelling projects came from English classes.  Speaking of one current Department Chairman in particular, Buchmiller says, "up until that point, I had always thought of literature, paintings, motion pictures, and music as separate mediums. But in his classes, he showed me that there doesn't have to be a division between them. He'd go back and forth between the different formats and treat them all the same way. I think that's when I realized that the Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra could be one work of fiction that spans all of those categories. "

Among his other faculty influences from his time at SDSU, Buchmiller credits his interest in science fiction to Larry McCaffrey, his inspiration for creating his own postmodern fiction to guest lecturer and author Raymond Federman, and the encouragement and insight to experiment across different mediums to creative writing instructor Lidia Yuknavitch.

"At first it might not seem like an English degree would have any kind of direct correlation to how I make my living these days," Buchmiller adds, "but that's not really true. Every time I design something, I'm telling a story. Instead of words, I'm using photos, drawings, and colors. Then when I turn it in to the client, I don't just show it to them. I explain what it is and why I did it... why it's compelling, what things symbolize, and that sort of thing. It's really no different than when we'd read a book and come in to class and talk about what the author was doing. At the end of the day, it's all communication, and I think having a background in literature definitely gives me an advantage in the visual arts."

The Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra is proof that his time studying literature has not gone to waste. Combining music, art, and writing into one project, Buchmiller likes to think of it as one ongoing work of fiction loaded with layers of stories between the characters and songs. For example, the box set includes enhanced CDs with corresponding audio tracks that explain the origins of each song.

"As the band has started to perform live, I've taken on the role of the Professor and the lines between fact and fiction continue to blur."

But don't take our word for it.  Go check it out for yourself.  

The next Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra performance takes place July 30th at The Casbah.

box set

Sample Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra:
Stole Your Daddy's Time Machine
Haunted Rental Car

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