Tony Conrad | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Tony Conrad 

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World renowned as one of the preeminent vanguard filmmakers and videographers, Tony Conrad created the sound track for Jack Smith's notorious Flaming Creatures, and his own Flicker is an acknowledged classic of experimental film. But until recently Conrad's reputation in the musical world rested on one extremely rare record: Outside the Dream Syndicate. This brilliant recording, made 24 years ago and finally reissued last year by the important new Table of the Elements label, documented a one-shot meeting between Conrad and German experimental-rock group Faust. At 56, Conrad is now about to release his second commercially available record, Spanking Pythagoras (also on Table of the Elements). Conrad's musical story is far more than two points on a line, however. He was in fact one of the key figures in early minimalism, playing violin in a collective alongside La Monte Young, John Cale, Marian Zazeela, and Angus MacLise. For three years private practice sessions and live performances of this ensemble were recorded, but in the decades since the group disbanded Young has kept an iron grip on the tapes, allowing no one to duplicate or release them. Nevertheless, the music they made, which poured over the possibilities of microtonality, intonation, drone, and pure sonic materialism, had a profound impact on future generations, moving directly through the Velvet Underground into Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca and their noise-rock progeny, Sonic Youth. But what promises to make this a rewarding evening of music is the simple fact that Conrad is a wonderful musician. With just a tad of amplification on his violin, the ex-mathematician can play an interval whose frequency ratio produces clear, resounding beats that pulse viscerally beneath the bright surface textures of his fiddling. This show, Conrad's first live Chicago appearance, is part of a two-night mini-festival set up by Table of the Elements. On the same night's bill will be Chicago's own Gastr del Sol and Tortoise, which should make it pretty hard to surpass. Saturday, 10 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 525-6620.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Bettina Herzner.

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