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Tony Conrad Bows Out of Big Ears Fest, His ‘Amplified Drone Strings’ Remain

By Philip Trapp on Apr 02, 2016 10:11 AM EDT

Drone music composer and avant-garde filmmaker Tony Conrad called off his appearance at this weekend's Big Ears Festival due to ill health.

He was expected to join prolific German krautrock originators, Faust, in a performance of their 1973 collaborative album, Outside the Dream Syndicate, as well as perform a solo set billed as "Tony Conrad's Amplified Drone Strings."

Conrad's anthology of short films showed as planned on Friday morning. Faust and friends performed the Dream Syndicate set, as scheduled, that night.

The artist's chamber trio of violinist Sally Morgan and double-bassists Frank Meadows and Liz Payne will still perform his Amplified Drone Strings suite Saturday afternoon.

The last minute cancellation was unfortunately caused by Conrad's ongoing battle with cancer. As reported on Big Ears' website, the eleventh-hour decision was prompted by his recent hospitalization:

"Tony was unexpectedly hospitalized last week with pneumonia, and this has made it impossible for him to travel to and perform at the Big Ears Festival. [...] Tony held out until the last possible moment to make this difficult decision with support and guidance from his family and physicians."

Conrad is arguably best known to experimental music fans for his spartan violin accompaniment on the aforementioned Dream Syndicate LP. However, the enduring artist has dabbled in nearly all art forms, pioneering ambient drone music alongside structural film since the Sixties.

A pillar of early minimalism, Conrad played guitar with John Cale and Lou Reed in proto-Velvet Underground ensemble, The Primitives. The clique of musicians foretold electric drone, vulgarizing the "ostrich" style of trivial tuning (all six guitar strings at unison pitch) as displayed on their 1964 single, "The Ostrich."

The trailblazer remains active despite his current setbacks. In a new interview with The Guardian, Conrad spoke of his continued excitement in creating new sounds:

"When I have this feeling that I'm working in some territory I can't clearly identify, I feel enormously encouraged. Because it means I've found my way to something important that's not been recognized."

Tony Conrad's Amplified Drone Strings performs today, April 2 at 2:30 p.m. at Big Ears in Knoxville.

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TagsTony Conrad, Faust, Amplified Drone Strings, Big Ears Festival, Experimental Music