On March 22nd, The Guardian ran an article about musician and filmmaker Tony Conrad which encapsulated his long career and was a lead-up to the April 1st Big Ears Festival in Knoxville. Scarcely a week later, it was reported that Conrad would not be able to make the appearance due to health concerns. On April 9th he succumbed to prostate cancer.
Back in the early 1970s when I first started getting interested in avant-garde and minimalist music, the name Tony Conrad crept into the text of many books that I read. I knew that he was associated with La Monte Young and his Theatre of Eternal Music (AKA The Dream Syndicate) but, was not able to source any recordings. At that point in time, the only photo that I’d seen of him was simply a shadow of a figure playing a violin projected on a curtain.
I knew that he recorded and LP with the German group Faust but, even though I could find the Faust albums, that certain record always seemed to elude me. It wasn’t until the days of CD re-issues that I finally managed to obtain a copy.
I was also aware of Tony Conrad’s film/video work which I was finally able to view courtesy of youtube. His main area of focus for many years was film.
Fast forward to 2010 and I find myself (as half of the duo Transmorphous Sound Ensemble with Richard Moule) booked to play at the LOLA Festival on the same bill as Tony Conrad.
For his performance, Conrad used his Long String Instrument to create a wonderful cloud of sound. After his performance, Richard and I were lucky enough to get to hang out with Tony and chat. It was a quite surreal moment for me as we listened to this iconic musical figure who had once only existed to me as a photograph of a shadow.
To discover more about Tony Conrad’s work, I recommend doing a search on youtube. There are several clips there including some very interesting interviews.
There is also a book which Tony himself recommends entitled Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts After Cage by Branden W. Joseph.
Here are a few photos which I took of Tony performing at the 2010 LOLA Festival here in London, Ontario.