Tony Conrad

born 1940 in Concord, New Hampshire; died in 2016 in Cheektowaga, New York

Biography

Born as as Anthony Schmalz Conrad

Until 1962 studies in mathematics at Harvard University;

Mid-1960’s joined the Theater of Eternal Music (also called: The Dream Syndicate, 1963–1965) and contact with La Monte Young, Angus MacLise, John Cale, Marian Zazeela, among others, who experimented with minimal music and developed the special form of drone music.

Teaching: College in Antioch, Ohio, Center for Media Studies at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York; 1976 Professor in Albright and at the State University of Buffalo, where he created an interactive television project that assisted children in their homework – long before the internet was a collective form of communication – introduced community discussions.

Visual Arts

Visual Arts

Conrad began as an experimental filmmaker in the 1960s. The Flicker (1964) was a milestone in structuralist cinema as well as a masterpiece of op art wherein he worked exclusively with the basic cinematic elements of light and dark creating stroboscopic effects. These extreme flicker effects irritate the eye and can sometimes trigger epileptic seizures, which the film warns about in the opening credits.

In his series the Yellow Movies (from the 1970s) he also deals analytically with the basic conditions of film: Here, however, it is not about straining the eyes by too many stimuli beating down too fast but the opposite: He thematizes the color change of monochromatic, white painted surfaces (the size of amateur screens) by the effect of light. This process is barely perceptible, only its long-term results.

...more/images


Conrad’s first film, The Flicker (premier: 1966) has no action. The artist manipulates the film material as a pure abstraction. Intervals of different lengths of black frames are shown broken up by white frames in a frequency of 4 to 24 pictures per second during a period of 30 minutes. The eye perceives the strobe-like light effect. Tony Conrad is familiar with the extreme flashing effects as well as its psychedelic and hypnotic effect from his investigations into the physiology of the nervous system. His film does not provide the senses with images but rather stimulation of physiological processes by directly triggering neural reactions. It is not the eye that perceived the ready-made images but the brain (itself) that generates these. They rhythmic flashing light effects trigger individual reactions in each viewer, such as shaping of color, slowed shape and afterimage vision.


Conrad’s series of Yellow Movies consists of large-format papers that are covered with white paint inside a black painted frame – like oversized film frames the size of projection screens for amateur filmmakers. The »film« without camera, projector and screen begins as soon as the papers are painted and the natural aging process begins, because the color turns yellow as a result of exposure to light in interaction with the paper substrate. »The Yellow Movies were a solution to the problem of how to produce films that could run for a lifetime.« (Conrad)

In contrast to the speed of the flashing film frame and the visual overload in the viewer in The Flicker, the Yellow Movies obey the exact opposite principle: The extreme slowing down of the optical effect causes an under-load in the viewer. It is impossible to see any change during an exhibition or the even shorter viewing. In his music, Tony Conrad uses stretched out time as an exuberant acoustic challenge to culmination.

Author: Doris Leutgeb

...less
Music

Music

Tony Conrad, who plays the violin, is one of the pioneers of both minimal and drone music.

In 1962, he went to New York where he met similarly engaged people with whom he practiced minimally varied tones and individual intervals for hours. In the 1960s he became a member of the Theater of Eternal Music (also: The Dream Syndicate (1963–1965) and met John Cale, Angus MacLise, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, Billy Name, Jon Hassell and Alex Dea, among others. They experimented with accompanying tones and developed a special form of minimal music, called drone music. In this music, mostly low frequency tones are sustained for a very long time while the accompanying tones are increasingly made to sound.

Conrad insisted on »just intonation« (pure tuning) in his music. This is in opposition to the European tradition of »well-tempered tuning« in which multiple tonalities can be played on an instrument. However, it means that the distances between the individual notes on the scale cannot be exactly the same, but rather must be lightly offset up or down. In »just intonation,« in contrast, the distances between the notes related to a basic not are precise but no longer transferable to other basic notes. That’s why one certain basic note must be defined for one instrument or performance and can only be changed by retuning. This insistence on an equivalence of all tones, as well as the rejection of traditional compositional principles that operate with leading and subordinate elements, is also an expression of Conrad’s deeply political attitude to life, which fundamentally rejects hierarchies: »I wanted to get rid of composition. To free myself from it.«

...more

Conrad played for a short time with Lou Reed and John Cale in the studio band The Primitives with Walter De Maria on drums, and all bass guitars tuned to the same note. Conrad introduced them to the book The Velvet Underground by Michael Leigh. The title became the name of their next band which was soon promoted by Andy Warhol and was to be also used for his artistic goals. After its founding (1965), Conrad switched over to film and produced The Flicker.

While in The Flicker, the eye can hardly process the flickering effects and the over-stimulation produces illusions, Conrad cultivates the exact opposite in his drone music: The radical extension of time during which the sound volume of an ultimately long sustained note swells to a spatial power and develops a piercing intensity of acoustic overlays.

In 1973, Conrad worked with the German kraut-rock band Faust. For its album, Outside the Dream Syndicate, it created a mix of minimalistic cutting drone music with the monotonous beat of Faust.

Conrad’s studio album Slapping Pythagoras was released in 1995. He had six guitarists tune the strings on their horizontally placed instruments to the same basic note and then to strike them in drone style accompanied by a 60 Hz basic tone in killing loudness using six amplifiers.

Author: Doris Leutgeb

...less
In the Exhibition

In the Exhibition

Tony Conrad

MOCA Los Angeles, 12. 3. 1998, with Tony Conrad, 14:28 min

Film: Tyler Hubby

Conrad plays the strings of his violin, sometimes stroking two at a time and extending the notes as long as possible. By slightly changing the pressure and position of his left hand on the fingerboard of the violin, he manipulates the result to extreme amplification. Due to the long duration, the frequencies begin to superimpose and produce rhythmic oscillations.

...more

Conrad mentions the violinist Ronald Knudsen, the Mystery Sonatas (= Rosenkranz Sonaten) of the violinist and composer Heinrich Ignaz Biber (1644–1704) and classical Indian music as influences for the pure tuning of the violin and the specific polyphonies resulting from it as well as for his slow playing.

Author: Doris Leutgeb

...less

Author:

Doris Leutgeb