TONY CONRAD (b. 1941) is one of the most compelling figures in 20th century music, a profoundly influential composer whose radical styles resist textbook definitions and challenge accepted notions of the minimalist canon.
At the core of Conrad's legend is his work as a violinist, in which primal, enveloping drones
create an oscillating ritual theater. In 1962 he co-founded the groundbreaking ensemble known as the Dream Syndicate. Wielding a drone both aggressively confrontational and subtly mesmerizing, he and his collaborators -- including La Monte Young and future Velvet Underground co-founders John Cale and Angus MacLise -- created some of the most revolutionary music of that – or any -- decade. Utilizing long durations, precise pitch and blistering volume, Conrad and co. forged a "Dream Music" that articulated the Big Bang of "minimalism." However, the many rehearsal and performance tapes from this period were repressed by Young, becoming the stuff of legend.
Following the dissolution of the group in 1966, Conrad played a pivotal role in the formation of the Velvet Underground, then refocused his efforts on experimental film and video; his 1966 masterwork The Flickeris considered the cornerstone of the Structural Cinema movement. Musically, he resurfaced only briefly, to jam with German krautrock progenitors Faust on the 1972 LP Outside the Dream Syndicate, a work of explosive prophecy that to this day retains an undiminished power to startle and excite.
In 1994, Conrad addressed two decades of silence by directing his own ensemble, with the guidance of producers Steve Albini (Bush, Nirvana, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page) and Jim O'Rourke (Stereolab, Sonic Youth, Wilco). The result, Slapping Pythagoras, was as thrilling, vigorous and downright antisocial as any great rock album, and established Conrad's relevance and influence for a new generation of listeners.
In 1997 Tony Conrad completed a ten-year return expedition to the site of the entombed Dream Syndicate fragments to unearth the losses; from them he reconstituted and regenerated the epic 4xCD boxed set, Early Minimalism. Reaching back through time, Conrad wove a mobile narrative over and under minimalism: making music out of history, and history out of music.
Finally, in 2000, these efforts achieved a critical mass, with the controversial release of actual tapes from Conrad's original Dream Syndicate days. Recorded in 1964 and unheard since, Day of Niagara: Inside the Dream Syndicate topped numerous year-end "Best Of" lists and was lauded as "the most historically significant music release of the last 20 years."
The present decade has seen a series of releases that confirm Conrad's indefatigable creative legacy. These include field recordings, piano compositions, film soundtracks, and electronic compositions, as well as his documentation of early, seminal efforts by John Cale (now a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) and the late filmmaker and performance artist Jack Smith. Taken together, these comprise a remarkable body of work, and celebrate the wild breadth of a spectacular 40-year career.
Quintessential cult figure; resident outsider; rebel angel; Tony Conrad's got the kind of immaculate credibility that can't be bought and can't be sold -- and how else, otherwise, could he have persevered? Rumbling under the cultural radar since the Kennedy Era, Conrad is at once first cause and last laugh, a covert operative who can stand as a primary influence over succeeding generations.
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