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Tony Conrad

Minimalism and experimental specialist TONY CONRAD had times when he could crossover into the world of “rock” music; his name now eternally lodged within the fanatic minds of The VELVET UNDERGROUND, FAUST and latter-day avant-gardists HANGEDUP.
Born March 7, 1940, Concord, New Hampshire; but raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Tony studied music at Harvard University, where exposure to the bleak, ambient sounds of JOHN CAGE, KARLHEINZ STOCKHAUSEN and DAVID TUDOR, affirmed exactly where he wanted to take music.
His skills as a computer programmer led to him to relocate to New York where, in the early 60s, mixing with the likes of LaMONTE YOUNG, JOHN CALE, LOU REED, et al, found him on the fringes of filmmaking and other mediums. As the decade progressed, Tony became part of The Primitives, a pre-VELVET UNDERGROUND act with one single under their belt, the 1964-released `The Ostrich’ (b/w `Sneaky Pete’). The VU moniker was said to have been borrowed from a book that Messrs REED and CALE eyeballed in CONRAD’s Big Apple apartment. Prior to artist Andy Warhol hooking up with the VU volunteers, dubbed “The Dream Syndicate” by their fellow “Factory” artists, Tony worked alongside YOUNG, CALE, Angus MacLise and Marian Zazeela on a limited number of “drone” recordings, before calling it a day in 1965; some of these early works can be now heard on EARLY MINIMALISM VOLUME ONE (1997) – a 4-CD boxed set – and INSIDE THE DREAM SYNDICATE VOLUME I: DAY OF NIAGARA (1965) (2000).
Bored with conventional verse and chorus, TONY CONRAD would turn his hand to film music and its mathematical principles; one piece that stood out was “The Flicker”, which was said to have made his audience physically sick, with its flashes inducing epileptic fits. It would be several years until CONRAD made another of such scope and intrigue; “Yellow Movies” (1973) pushing the envelope even further when subjecting people to frame by frame fragments and long periods of inaction. Another “lost” work was his then unreleased hour-long soundtrack to 1968’s `Joan Of Arc’, a short film by Piero Heliczer; Jeff Hunt’s Table Of The Elements belatedly issued the piece in 2006.
In 1972/73, drone aficionado TONY CONRAD collaborated with krautrock avant-garde outfit FAUST on the VU-like/viola-enhanced OUTSIDE THE DREAM SYNDICATE (1973) {*7}, an LP more or less forgotten until minimalist records from ENO and LOU REED reactivated the genre. Over 53 minutes on two side-long pieces (`From The Side Of Man And Womankind’ and `From The Side Of The Machine’), levels of patience had to be the listener’s priority.
For the next two decades, the music world had lost Tony while he ventured further into art and film, whilst working in Buffalo as a faculty member at the State University of New York. Calling up friends and acquaintances such as JIM O’ROURKE, DAVID GRUBBS, Thymme Jones, Dylan Posa, John Corbett, Gene Coleman, Alex Gelencser and Kevin Drum, a refreshed TONY CONRAD – now aged 55 – unveiled his debut solo album, SLAPPING PYTHAGORAS (1995) {*6}. Consisting of two lengthy exercises (with equally long titles), his plethora of global album/12-inch releases started here. Mainly collaborations with the like-minded GASTR DEL SOL (a shared set `The Japanese Room At The Pagode / May’), albums with Tony Oursler, Andrew Deutsch, Charlemagne Palestine, Tovah Olson, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and XXX Macarena littered the limited-edition sections of indie stores. While there were others only available on the now fashionable vinyl format, the P-Orridge work (TAKING ISSUE (2009) {*6}) and the Norwegian-only MUSCULUS TRAPEZIUS (2010) {*7} – alongside C. Spencer Yeh & Michael F. Duch – could be trusted to inspire more than just I Robots. Add to these, his 2004-recorded `Transit Of Venus’ collaboration with said HANGEDUP (released in 2012), there was finally a body of work to boast-of for the inspirational violinist.
Sadly, the reluctant electronic entertainer based in Cheektowaga, NY, died on April 9, 2016 after suffering from prostate cancer. A better insight to the work of the man was addressed fully on the film by Tyler Hubby, Tony Conrad: Completely In The Present.
© MC Strong/MCS Apr2016

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