Master of drones and flickering: U.S. musician, filmmaker and artist Tony Conrad is dead.
Always in a hat: multimedia artist Tony Conrad Photo: CC
He was a giant who liked to wear a hat on his head. His work is also gigantic, unparalleled in its versatility and effectiveness. Tony Conrad was a composer, musician, filmmaker, performance and video artist. His work oscillated effortlessly between highly academic work and experimental pop.
Born on March 7, 1940, Conrad initially studied mathematics at Harvard. His move to New York in 1962, where he joined the musical underground, became a turning point. One of his most important stations was the Theatre of Eternal Music, founded by the minimal music composer La Monte Young, a group that focused on long-held drones in pure tuning and in which the later Velvet Underground member John Cale also played.
With John Cale and Lou Reed, Conrad also formed the band The Primitives and introduced them to the book "The Velvet Underground" by Michael Leigh. Which the two took as an opportunity to name their next band after the book’s title.
The audience was hypnotized
Conrad also began his career as a filmmaker in the sixties. One of his best-known works, 1965’s "The Flicker," consists of nothing more than black frames alternating with white images in rapid succession, creating a strobe-like op-art effect for more than 30 minutes. Viewers were at times hypnotized by it. The opening credits even warned of possible epileptic seizures. "The Flicker" became the key work of the so-called "structural film.
With the Krautrock band Faust, he recorded the album "Outside the Dream Syndicate" in 1972, which became a classic of drone music, as did his solo album "Four Violins" from 1964. Here there were no melodies, only long held violin tones whose frequencies overlapped in such a way that they created their own rhythmic vibrations. Tony Conrad’s aesthetic credo on this was, "I love long durations in music."
Since 1976, Conrad taught as a professor in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Buffalo. He remained active as a musician; in 1995, for example, his drone album "Slapping Pythagoras" appeared, an only slightly concealed reckoning with La Monte Young, with whom he had permanently fallen out. Tony Conrad died on Saturday at the age of 76.