Tony Conrad, born in New Hampshire in 1940, was an avant-garde video artist, experimental filmmaker, writer, and teacher, as well as an influential composer, recording artist, and innovative and masterful violinist. He pursued these various art forms since the early 1960’s, and was instrumental in the establishment of structural film as well as drone music. During the 60’s, Conrad was an early member of the Theatre of Eternal Music, also known as The Dream Syndicate, where he rubbed shoulders with musicians such as John Cale and Angus MacLise (who went on to be a permanent member and the first drummer of The Velvet Underground respectively) La Monte Young, and Marian Zazeela. Together they were hugely influential in the creation of drone music, which they originally dubbed “dream music” at the time.
Conrad’s first musical release, and only release for many years thereafter, was a 1972 collaboration with German krautrock legends Faust titled Outside The Dream Syndicate. Beginning in the mid 90’s, Conrad composed more than a dozen avant-garde audio works using an amplified violin, on which he would experiment with unconventional tunings and special scales of his own invention. These releases included a four CD box set titled Slapping Pythagoras (1995), Early Minimalism Volume 1 (1997), and Fantastic Glissando (2003). Conrad has also collaborated with artists such as Charlemagne Palestine, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Jim O’Rourke (producer of artists such as Sonic Youth, Wilco, Stereolab, and more), David Grubbs (Squirrel Bait, Bastro, The Red Krayola), and numerous others. In 2009, Dais released a collaborative LP between Conrad and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge titled Taking Issue, which was recorded live during their performance together at ISSUE Project Room in January of 2009.
It is with a very heavy heart and great regret that we note that Tony Conrad passed away in Cheektowaga, New York in April of 2016 at the age of 76. While Tony Conrad’s legacy in the world of experimental filmmaking as well as his contributions to avant-garde experimental drone music will have a lasting influence on generations to come, his physical presence will undoubtedly and wholeheartedly be missed.