Tony Conrad | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Tony Conrad 

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Between 1962 and 1965, Tony Conrad played violin in the Theatre of Eternal Music, a radical group convened by composer La Monte Young. Its raw, droning "dream music" spurred the development of minimalism and influenced bands from the Velvet Underground to Sonic Youth, but for decades the Theatre itself (or the Dream Syndicate, as Conrad prefers) has been more heard about than heard--due to a conflict about the music's authorship, Young has kept those early recordings under lock and key. (Last year, at Conrad's instigation, Table of the Elements released Day of Niagara, a bootlegged tape of original dream music; unsurprisingly, it's very similar to his own subsequent work.) But simply calling Conrad a musician would be missing the boat--and not just because he's also an accomplished moviemaker and video documentarian, with a body of work that includes the classic structuralist film The Flicker (1966). In a broader sense, he's a cultural warrior: he sees his art as a way to pull authoritarianism up by its roots, and he traces those roots back to the formative years of Western philosophy. In the liner notes to his 1995 album Slapping Pythagoras, he rebukes the Greek mathematician for linking the concepts of numerical, musical, and cosmic harmony in a hierarchical ideology, which in turn became the bedrock of antidemocratic elitism--in music, this ideology is expressed most simply through the system of fixed scales. On the record, Conrad and a phalanx of other string players assault conventional harmony with heterophonic drones wreathed in jolting difference tones--and by using intervals (some of which divide a whole step into five or even six parts) that assert their own consonance but lie outside the Western tuning system. At tonight's performance, part of the Experimental Sound Studio's second annual Outer Ear Festival of Sound, Conrad will perform two solo pieces. He'll play along with seven recorded violin tracks and a layer of electronically manipulated violin tones in "Roughing Up Rameau," which carries on his fight against the legacy of Pythagoras--in this case by subverting the work of Jean-Philippe Rameau, who "stabilized" Western harmony in the 18th century by tethering it to the piano's 12-note octave. And in "Selling Short," Conrad will pay homage to Marcel Duchamp by coaxing melodies from an amplified bicycle wheel, then "play" La Monte Young's "Compositions 1960 #2- #6" and "Piano Piece for Terry Riley #1" by applying a contact microphone to the manuscripts. Saturday, November 17, 8 PM, Galvin Auditorium, Sullivan Center, Loyola University, 6525 N. Sheridan; 773-784-0449.

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


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