An Evening for Tony Conrad
11 West 53rd Street, New York
T2, Titus Theater 2
Monday, April 18, 7PM
Polymath artist, filmmaker, and composer Tony Conrad's (1940–2016) recent composition Empire for Strings (2015) will be performed live by the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, followed by a screening of two of Conrad's most iconic films, The Flicker (1966, 30 min.) and Straight and Narrow (1970, 10 min.). 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of The Flicker, among the most influential American avant-garde films of the 1960s. With its landmark use of alternating white and black film images, The Flickercreates a hallucinatory, physical response, reimagining the cinematic experience as an unhinged administration of the human nervous system. Straight and Narrow, produced four years later, further modifies these experimental stroboscopic techniques using horizontal and vertical lines of alternating black and white, combined with music by Terry Riley and John Cale.
Tony Conrad has passed away at the age of 76 after battling cancer. A pioneer in avant-garde music, film, and numerous other media, Conrad indelibly altered the course of contemporary art and thought.
Born in New Hampshire, he earned a mathematics degree from Harvard and soon became a central figure in the 1960s New York scene. From a young age he stretched the limits of music and performance, drafting post-Cagean music compositions and text pieces—and collaborating with artists such as Henry Flynt, Jack Smith, and, with the legendary drone ensemble Theatre of Eternal Music, La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, and John Cale. By the mid-’60s, Conrad had begun to focus his attention on film; in 1966, he created The Flicker, a stroboscopic masterpiece which stands as one of the first examples of structural film.
From then on, Conrad’s socially-engaged multimedia works—such as Straight and Narrow and Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain—continued to investigate and push the boundaries of art, performance, authorship, viewership, discipline, and power. In the ‘70s, after releasing his first studio album, Outside the Dream Syndicate (with Faust), he turned his attention to new media—working alongside artists such as Paul Sharits and Hollis Frampton while a professor State University of New York at Buffalo. In the ‘80s, he made films with, and proved a major influence on, a younger generation of artists, namely Mike Kelley and Tony Oursler. Ever-restless, Conrad injected each strain of his polymathic practice with unique conceptual and political force as well as a sense of humor.
Fueling a resurgence of interest in his music in the mid-1990s, Conrad focused once again on music, releasing Slapping Pythagoras, Four Violins, and Early Minimalism Volume One. Accompanied by incisive texts by Conrad, these albums helped to cement his place as a crucial and singular figure in the history of minimal music. He performed and screened his films at forward-thinking festivals and institutions throughout the world, such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Tate Modern, and Anthology Film Archives. His films and artworks are in the collections of the Whitney Museum, the Albright-Knox Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), and the ZKM enter for Art and Media, among others.
Conrad continued to teach, create, perform, transgress, and innovate until his passing. Recently he performed with Faust at Berlin Atonal Festival; he also created solo exhibitions at the Kunsthalle Wien and 80WSE, New York University, as well as at Greene Naftali Gallery, New York, and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne. A large collection of piano works called Music and the Mind of the World and a book that traces his particular vision of the history of music theory are forthcoming. A radical and thoughtful visionary, Tony Conrad will be missed.