Theatre of Eternal Music

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Theatre of Eternal Music
OriginNew York City, USA
GenresDrone, avant-garde, minimalism
Years active1962–1966, 1969-1974
LabelsShandar, Table of the Elements
Past membersLa Monte Young
John Cale
Angus MacLise
Terry Jennings
Marian Zazeela
Tony Conrad
Billy Name
Jon Hassell
Alex Dea
Terry Riley
Jon Gibson

The Theatre of Eternal Music (later sometimes called The Dream Syndicate)[1] was an avant-garde musical group formed by La Monte Young in New York City in 1962.[2] The core of the group consisted of Young (voice, saxophone), Tony Conrad (violin), Marian Zazeela (voice, lighting), and John Cale (viola), with additional participants including Angus MacLise, Terry Riley, Billy Name, Terry Jennings, Jon Hassell, Alex Dea, and Jon Gibson. The group's self-described "dream music" explored drones and pure harmonic intervals, employing sustained tones and electric amplification in lengthy, all-night performances.[3]

Archival recordings of the group's influential 1960s performances remain in the possession of Young, but none have ever seen official release.[4] A dispute over compositional credit between Young and other members (namely Conrad and Cale) resulted in Young's refusal to release any of the material.[4] Nonetheless, a bootleg recording of a 1965 performance was controversially released in 2000 as Day of Niagara.[4] Other bootlegs of the group have appeared online via file-sharing sites.[3]

Musical approach[edit]

The Theatre of Eternal Music performed music consisting of long sustained tones and unconventional harmonic combinations, which were explored via improvisation restricted by "laws" laid out by La Monte Young regarding allowable sequences and simultaneities. Combined with Young's interest in sustained tones and Hindustani classical music was Tony Conrad's knowledge of just intonation and the mathematics of non-Western tuning, along with his introduction of electronic amplification.[5] Occasionally, Young also made use of sine wave generators and other electronic sound sources, such as the 60 Hz motor of his turtle's aquarium tank.[6] Most of the pieces performed by the Theatre of Eternal Music have no beginning and no end, existing before and after a particular performance.


Originally active between 1962 and 1966, the initially unnamed group coalesced into the core lineup of composer-saxophonist La Monte Young, vocalist Marian Zazeela, violinist Tony Conrad, and violist John Cale. Other temporary members during this period included Angus MacLise, Billy Name, Terry Riley, and Terry Jennings. By February 1965, the group had begun referring to itself as the Theatre of Eternal Music. Many of the group's performances and practice sessions took place in Young and Zazeela's New York loft at 275 Church Street in TriBeCa.[7] The group was initially defined by Young's jazz-influenced saxophone improvisation, but soon moved fully toward drone music under the influence of Conrad and Cale.[5] In 1964, the group began performing sections of the drone-based improvisational work The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys, which features a raga-like scale made up of the harmonic numbers 21, 189, 3, 49, 7, and 63 over the fundamental.[8] The Theater of Eternal Music's sustained notes and loud amplification influenced Cale's subsequent contribution to the Velvet Underground in his use of both discordance and feedback.[9] Zazeela produced early light shows to accompany their performances.

Young revived the group in the late 1960s, although original member Tony Conrad found these performances less collaborative than the first incarnation and eventually parted ways with the project. A section of The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys entitled "Map of 49’s Dream: The Two Systems of Eleven Sets of Galactic Intervals Ornamental Light-Years Tracery," is the only one of which a fragment can be found on the 1974 LP Dream House 78' 17" (with Jon Hassell on trumpet, Garrett List on trombone, Zazeela on voice and Young on electronics).[10]

Dispute over credits[edit]

Few of the group's recorded performances from the 1960s have ever seen public release, and remain in the possession of Young despite protest from other group members.[4] A dispute over compositional credit developed between Young and members Conrad and Cale.[4] Requests for copies of these recordings were met with Young's insistence that they sign an agreement acknowledging Young as the sole composer of the music, which they refused to do;[11] Conrad maintained that the group was a collaborative enterprise which dissolved the concept of the composer.[12] In 1990, Conrad picketed outside a Young performance with a sign that read "Composer La Monte Young does not understand ‘his’ work.”[12]

In 2000, the record label Table of the Elements released a bootleg recording of a 1965 performance as Day of Niagara; the recording was not authorized by Young.[4] Young responded to the complaints of Conrad and Cale in an essay which reaffirmed his status as sole composer.[13] He also published a press release describing extensive problems with the release, including errors in the audio quality of the copied source tape, an unbalanced mix, and uninspired artwork made without Zazeela's input.[14]

Cale and Conrad later released recordings they made during the mid-sixties, such as Cale's Inside the Dream Syndicate series (The Dream Syndicate being the alternative name given by Cale and Conrad to their collective work with Young).[15]


See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Paul Hegarty, Noise/Music: A History (2007) Continuum International Publishing Group
  • Hermann von Helmholtz, On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music (1885) 2nd English edition. New York: Dover Publications
  • LaBelle, Brandon. Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art (2006) New York and London: Continuum International Publishing, p. 71
  • Joseph, Branden. Beyond the Dream Syndicate : Tony Conrad and the arts after Cage : a 'minor' history. New York: Zone Books, 2008.
  • Jim Samson, Music in Transition: A Study of Tonal Expansion and Atonality, 1900–1920 (1977) New York: W.W. Norton & Company
  • James Tenney, A History of "Consonance" and "Dissonance" (1988) White Plains, NY: Excelsior; New York: Gordon and Breach
  • Steven Watson, Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties (2003) Pantheon, New York


  1. ^ S. Murray (April 30, 2000). "Inside the Dream Syndicate, Volume I: Day of Niagara (1965)". Pitchfork.
  2. ^ La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela at the Dream House: The Theatre of Eternal Music (2003)
  3. ^ a b Hoberman, J. (April 9, 2016). "Tony Conrad, Experimental Filmmaker and Musician, Dies at 76". The New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Murray, S. "Inside the Dream Syndicate, Volume I: Day of Niagara (1965)". Pitchfork. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
  5. ^ a b Bridges, Brian. "Product of Culture-Clash: the Theatre of Eternal Music and the early New York Downtown Scene". Maynooth Musicology.
  6. ^ Robin, William. "The Secret Muse of the Downtown Scene? Turtles". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 October 2020.
  7. ^ [1] A ‘House’ Finds a New Home, Randy Kennedy June 11, 2015, The New York Times
  8. ^ Gann, Kyle (1996). "The Outer Edge of Consonance: Snapshots from the Evolution of La Monte Young's Tuning Installations". Sound and Light: La Monte Young Marian Zazeela. Bucknell University Press: 156–60.
  9. ^ Steven Watson, Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties (2003) Pantheon, New York, p. 157
  10. ^ LaBelle, Brandon. Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art (2006) New York and London: Continuum International Publishing, p. 71
  11. ^ Grubbs, David (2014). Records Ruin the Landscape: John Cage, the Sixties, and Sound Recording. Duke University Press. p. 30.
  12. ^ a b Robin, William. "Tony Conrad Was Such a Good Minimalist, He Was Almost Forgotten". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 October 2020.
  13. ^ Young, La Monte. "Notes on The Theatre of Eternal Music and The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys" (PDF). MELA Foundation. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  14. ^ Young, La Monte. [percussionist Angus MacLise, "Statement on Table of The Elements CD 74 "Day of Niagara" April 25, 1965"]. Mela Foundation. Retrieved 11 October 2020. {{cite web}}: Check |url= value (help)
  15. ^ Steven Watson, Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties (2003) Pantheon, New York, p. 103

External links[edit]