Tony Conrad passed away earlier this year 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. Last visiting Filmforum in 2005, Conrad was a constant icon for us, with his persistent curiosity and delight in old and new work, his humor and intelligence. We’ll miss him terribly. For this tribute, we’ll screen classic film and video works and host several speakers.
Born in New Hampshire, Tony Conrad 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. –Greene Naftali Gallery, http://www.greenenaftaligallery.com/news/in-memoriam2
Tickets: $10 general, free for students/seniors; free for Filmforum members. Available in advance from Brown Paper Tickets at http://bpt.me/2586723 or at the door.
Special thanks to Paige Sarlin, Tyler Hubby, and Chris Hill.
- The Flicker (1966, 16mm, B&W, sound, 30 min.)
The Flicker is an etude in flicker polyrhythm. It was a founding work in the “structuralist film” movement. The film’s hypnotic and trance-inducing visual qualities are enhanced by a radical electronic soundtrack. 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 Flicker creates a hallucinatory, physical response, reimagining the cinematic experience as an unhinged administration of the human nervous system.
This is a notorious film; it moves audiences into some space and time in which they may look around and find the movie happening in the room there with them. Much has been written about The Flicker. It is a library of peculiar visual materials, referenced to the frame-pulse at 24 frames per second. All flickering light is potentially hazardous for photogenic epileptics or photogenic migraine sufferers.
- Straight and Narrow (1970, b&w, sound, 10 min.)
Straight and Narrow is a study in subjective color and visual rhythm. Although it is printed on black and white film, the hypnotic pacing of the images will cause viewers to experience a programmed gamut of hallucinatory color effects. Straight And Narrow uses the flicker phenomenon not as an end in itself, but as an effectuator of other related phenomena. In this film the colors which are so illusory in The Flicker are visible and under the programmed control of the filmmaker. Also, by using images which alternate in a vibrating flickering schedule, a new impression of motion and texture is created.
- The Eye of Count Flickerstein (1967, revised 1975, 16mm, B&W, silent, 7 minutes).
The sustained dead gaze of black-and-white TV “snow,” captured in 1965 and twisted sideways, draws the viewer hypnotically into an abstract visual jungle.
- Film Feedback (1974, b&w, silent, 15 minutes)
Made with a film-feedback team which I directed at Antioch College. Negative image is shot from a small rear-projection screen, the film comes out of the camera continuously (in the dark room) and is immediately processed, dried, and projected on the screen by the team. What are the qualities of film that may be made visible through feedback?
- Articulation of Boolean Algebra for Film Opticals (1975, 16mm film, B&W, sound, 10 min. excerpt of 75 min. original)
Articulation of Boolean Algebra for Film Opticals is one of the most austere and highly structure-dependent films ever, made without images other than six patterns of alternating black and white imposed upon the full surface of the film strip.
And more to be announced, including a video of a Tony Conrad music performance at MOCA in 1998 by Tyler Hubby.