Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present

Presented by Open Ears. Admission is PWYC (pay what you can)

While he conceived and created some of the most prescient, influential and galvanic music of the second half of the 20th century, Tony Conrad would have bristled if you had called him a composer. “One of the things the music represented was the absence of the composer,” Mr. Conrad says in the new documentary “Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present.” He considered this to be the case for his early ’60s work with John Cale, Marian Zazeela, Angus MacLise and, most crucially, La Monte Young — someone who very much considers himself a composer. Mr. Conrad’s ideological break with Mr. Young is one of the many fascinating episodes of Mr. Conrad’s productive life (he died last April at 76) covered in this film directed by Tyler Hubby.

The movie begins on Ludlow Street, with Mr. Conrad making a multichannel recording of the goings-on in the block where he worked with the underground filmmaker Jack Smith, the future Velvet Underground members Mr. Cale and Lou Reed, and on his own projects. He fed himself with 15-cents-a-pound chicken hearts and worked temp jobs while applying the mathematics he was trained in to works both visual and musical, including the hallucinatory film “The Flicker.”

Mr. Conrad could also be antic. Sawing at his violin, he evokes a character that could be played by a young Buck Henry in a Christopher Guest film. But, ultimately, he’s not sendup worthy: he’s the real deal. “I want to make abstract art that’s funny, happy, energetic, joyful,” he exclaims at one point. That he did. This movie is a good introduction to it. - NY Times


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