Tony Conrad

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Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad at the DeStijl/Freedom From Festival in Minneapolis-Saint Paul in October 2003.
Anthony Schmalz Conrad[1]

(1940-03-07)March 7, 1940
DiedApril 9, 2016(2016-04-09) (aged 76)
Alma materHarvard University
Occupation(s)Filmmaker, musician, composer
MovementMinimalism, drone music, structural film
Musical career
Years active1962–2016
LabelsTable of the Elements, Caroline

Anthony Schmalz Conrad (March 7, 1940 – April 9, 2016) was an American video artist, experimental filmmaker, musician, composer, sound artist, teacher, and writer. Active in a variety of media since the early 1960s, he was a pioneer of both drone music and structural film.[2] As a musician, he was an important figure in the New York minimalist scene of the early 1960s, during which time he performed as part of the Theatre of Eternal Music (along with John Cale, La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, and others).[3] He became recognized as a filmmaker for his 1966 film The Flicker. He performed and collaborated with a wide range of artists over the course of his career.


Early life[edit]

Conrad was born in Concord, New Hampshire, to Mary Elizabeth Parfitt and Arthur Emil Conrad, and raised in Baldwin, Maryland and Northern Virginia.[1] His father worked with Everett Warner during World War II in designing dazzle camouflage for the United States Navy.[4] Conrad's high school violin lessons with symphony violist Ronald Knudsen introduced him to just intonation and double stop playing.[5] After briefly studying violin at Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory, Conrad graduated from Harvard University in 1962 with a degree in mathematics.[1][6] While studying at Harvard, Conrad was exposed to the ideas of experimental composers John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. After working as a computer programmer, Conrad became involved in New York City's avant-garde arts scene.[1]


After moving to New York, Conrad became an early member of La Monte Young's Theatre of Eternal Music alongside John Cale, Angus MacLise, and Marian Zazeela.[7] The Theatre of Eternal Music utilized just intonation and drones to produce what the group called "dream music"; Conrad's mathematical knowledge contributed to the Theatre's systematization of just intervals, and he also encouraged the ensemble to adopt electronic amplification.[1][8] Conrad would later leave the Theatre in a dispute over Young's attempt to assert more deliberate compositional influence over their performances and refusal to grant him or Cale shared credit for the ensemble's music or access to its recordings, and in 1990 protested a concert by his former bandleader with a manifesto titled "Composer La Monte Young Does Not Understand 'His' Work" outlining his grievances and accusing Young of "orientalism and [a] romanticized personality cult mark[ing] him among the most regressive of contemporary artists."[9]

In 1963, he joined his former Harvard classmate and Fluxus associate Henry Flynt in his anti-art demonstrations against "elitist" New York cultural institutions.[10]

In 1964, Conrad and Cale were recruited by Pickwick Records to serve as a backing band, The Primitives, to perform the Lou Reed-penned single "The Ostrich"/"Sneaky Pete". Conrad and Cale played guitar and bass, Walter de Maria played percussion, and Reed sang. Conrad and Cale's instruments were tuned to Reed's "Ostrich tuning", with every string the same pitch class. After the Primitives disbanded, Cale and Reed formed The Velvet Underground.[11] Conrad was indirectly responsible for the name of The Velvet Underground, although he was never a member of the group; after moving into Conrad's old apartment on Ludlow Street in New York City, Reed and Cale found a copy of The Velvet Underground which Conrad had left in the apartment, and took its name for the band.[12]


Conrad's first musical release under his own name was a collaboration with Faust, Outside the Dream Syndicate, released by Caroline in 1973. This remains his best known musical work and is considered a classic of minimalist music and drone music.[1][13]

One of Conrad's early films was Coming Attractions, which was released in 1970. This film led indirectly to the founding of Syntonic Research and the Environments series of natural sound recordings.[1]

Yellow Movies was a project of Conrad's in 1973 of twenty "movies" consisting of rectangular borders painted in black house paint on large pieces of photographic paper, effectively framing each sizable expanse of emulsion whereby the physical aging and transformation of the emulsion itself would constitute a definitively slow-motion moving picture over such an extended period of time.[14]

Conrad began to work in video and performance in the 1970s as a professor at Antioch College, where he replaced the filmmaker Paul Sharits. In 1976, Conrad joined the faculty at the Center for Media Studies at the University at Buffalo.[15] While in Buffalo, Conrad was part of a scene that included Sharits, as well as Hollis Frampton, Steina and Woody Vasulka, Peter Weibel, James Blue, Cathy Steffan and Gerald O'Grady. Their practices in film, video, performance, and other forms were documented in the 2008 book Buffalo Heads: Media Study, Media Practice, Media Pioneers, 1973–1990, edited by Vasulka and Weibel.[16]

In the mid-1970s, Conrad began performing film. With Sukiyaki Film he decided that the film should be prepared immediately before viewing. Sukiyaki was chosen as the paradigm for the work because it is a dish often cooked immediately before eating, in front of the diners. Conrad cooked sukiyaki in front of an audience: egg, meat, vegetables, and 16mm film; and literally "projected" onto the screen behind him.[17]

Later life[edit]

Table of the Elements released a number of Conrad's archival recordings in the 1990s and 2000s, including Four Violins (1964),[1] Fantastic Glissando, and Joan of Arc.[18] Slapping Pythagoras, an album of new music commissioned by Table of the Elements, was recorded with Jim O'Rourke and Steve Albini at Electrical Audio and released in 1995.[19] Early Minimalism, Vol. 1, released in 1997, was an attempt to reconstruct the sound of Theatre of Eternal Music recordings withheld by La Monte Young.[20] He also issued two archival CDs featuring the work of late New York filmmaker Jack Smith, with whom he was associated in the 1960s.[21]

Conrad collaborated with artists such as Charlemagne Palestine,[22] Genesis P-Orridge, Keiji Haino, Jim O'Rourke, David Grubbs, C Spencer Yeh, Tovah Olson, MV Carbon, and numerous others.[23] Conrad was chosen by Animal Collective to perform at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival that they curated in May 2011.[24] In 2012 Conrad was part of the line-up of the touring avant-garde festival Sonic Protest that took place in five cities in France.[25] In 2013 Conrad visited Genoa to open his first solo exhibition in Italy.[26]

Conrad performing in Paris, 2012.

Conrad's work has been shown at many museums including the Museum of Modern Art, MoMA PS1, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; the Louvre in Paris; the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles; and many others.[27] Specifically, his film The Flicker was included in the Whitney Museum of American Art's exhibition, The American Century; he participated in the 2006 Whitney Biennial; and one of his Yellow Paintings was featured in the museum's 2015–2016 exhibition "Collected by Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner."[28]

Conrad's artwork is represented by Greene Naftali Gallery in New York City,[29] and by Galerie Buchholz in Germany.[30]

Conrad had been a faculty member in the State University of New York at Buffalo since 1976, and continued to teach there in the Department of Media Study until his death.[6][31] Several of his students at Buffalo formed the indie rock band Mercury Rev in 1989.[32]


Conrad died at a hospice in Cheektowaga, New York, on April 9, 2016, after fighting prostate cancer.[6][33]

Partial discography[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hoberman, J. (April 9, 2016). "Tony Conrad, Experimental Filmmaker and Musician, Dies at 76". The New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  2. ^ "'People thought we were on drugs – and we were!' … Tony Conrad, the great avant-garde adventurer". The Guardian. February 20, 2015. Retrieved April 10, 2016.
  3. ^ Clark, Phillip. "Tony Conrad - the minimalist pioneer time forgot". Gramophone. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  4. ^ Behrens, Roy R. "Everett Warner (1877–1963) – Ship Camouflage Artist". Dazzle Camouflage. Archived from the original on May 16, 2008. Retrieved September 9, 2008.
  5. ^ Conrad, Tony. "Four Violins (1964)" (PDF). Table of the Elements. Retrieved November 8, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c "Pioneering artist Tony Conrad dies". Retrieved March 24, 2023.
  7. ^ Patrick Nickleson, The Names of Minimalism: Authorship, Art Music, and Historiography in Dispute, University of Michigan Press, pp. 56-58
  8. ^ Bridges, Brian. "Product of Culture-Clash: the Theatre of Eternal Music and the early New York Downtown Scene". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ Robin, William (March 24, 2017). "Tony Conrad Was Such a Good Minimalist, He Was Almost Forgotten". The New York Times. Retrieved October 7, 2020.
  10. ^ Interview with Henry Flynt in The Village Voice, September 10th, 1964, by Susan Goodman, "Anti-Art Pickets Pick on Stockhausen" .
  11. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "The Primitives". AllMusic. Retrieved March 23, 2016.
  12. ^ Beaumont-Thomas, Ben (March 22, 2016). "'People thought we were on drugs – and we were!' … Tony Conrad, the great avant-garde adventurer". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved March 23, 2016.
  13. ^ Sirota, Brent. "Tony Conrad / Faust Outside the Dream Syndicate". Pitchfork. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  14. ^ "Tony Conrad's "Yellow Movie"". Louise Blouin Media. Archived from the original on May 28, 2016. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  15. ^ "Tony Conrad > Artists > Burchfield Penney Art Center". Retrieved April 10, 2016.
  16. ^ Vasulka and Weibel, Woody and Peter, ed. (2008). Buffalo Heads: Media Study, Media Practice, Media Pioneers, 1973–1990. MIT Press. ISBN 9780262720502.
  17. ^ Sanders, Jay. "Tony Conrad by Jay Sanders". Bomb Magazine. Archived from the original on March 31, 2016. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  18. ^ Masters, Marc. "Tony Conrad - Joan of Arc". Pitchfork. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  19. ^ "Slapping Pythagoras". Table of the Elements. Retrieved September 14, 2023.
  20. ^ Gardner, Drew (November 2, 2006). "Moving Waves: Listening to Tony Conrad's Early Minimalism". Brooklyn Rail. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  21. ^ Shirley, David (May 7, 2009). "Jack Smith, Les Evening Gowns Damnées and Silent Shadows on Cinemaroc Island (Table of the Elements, 1997)". Brooklyn Rail. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  22. ^ Currin, Grayson. "Charlemagne Palestine and Tony Conrad - An Aural Symbiotic Mystery". Pitchfork. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  23. ^ Kreps, Daniel (April 9, 2016). "Tony Conrad, Pioneering Musician and Filmmaker, Dead at 76". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  24. ^ "Tony Conrad plays London ahead of Animal Collective ATP". Fact Magazine. May 10, 2011. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  25. ^ "Trois raisons (et plus) d'assister au festival Sonic Protest". l'express. April 2015. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  26. ^ "Tony Conrad a Genova con la mostra 'Farsi la città': l'intervista –". (in Italian). Retrieved April 10, 2016.
  27. ^ "Tony Conrad biography". Greene Naftali Gallery. February 2016. Retrieved March 23, 2016.
  28. ^ "Collected by Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner | Whitney Museum of American Art". Retrieved March 23, 2016.
  29. ^ "Tony Conrad". February 3, 1973. Retrieved April 10, 2016.
  30. ^ "Galerie Buchholz". Retrieved April 10, 2016.
  31. ^ Fryling, Kevin (October 19, 2006). "Conrad breaks boundaries in art". University at Buffalo Reporter. Retrieved January 3, 2007.
  32. ^ Miers, Jeff (April 23, 2018). "Mercury Rev found magic in UB professor Tony Conrad's alchemy". The Buffalo News. Retrieved July 23, 2021.
  33. ^ Dabkowski, Colin. "Tony Conrad, avant garde pioneer and UB professor, dies at 76". The Buffalo News. Archived from the original on April 10, 2016. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  34. ^ Conrad, Tony. "Tony Conrad Discography". Discogs. Retrieved March 26, 2018.

External links[edit]