Tony Conrad, Experimental Composer and Filmmaker, Dies at Age 76

By Philip Trapp on Apr 11, 2016 06:14 PM EDT

Tony Conrad, minimalist composer and avant-garde filmmaker, died on Saturday, aged 76. The artist was best known in music circles for his introspective violin work on Outside the Dream Syndicate, his acclaimed 1973 collaboration with German krautrock band, Faust.

Conrad was also a pioneer of structural film, an experimental platform he galvanized in the 1960s. His first effort in the medium, The Flicker (1966), is considered a cornerstone of the genre.

As we previously reported, his scheduled performances at last week's Big Ears Festival proceeded in his absence, including an anthology screening of his films.

Conrad, a Harvard alumnus, cut his teeth on Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage. He played with Lou Reed in an early version of the Velvet Underground called the Primitives. Coining the "ostrich" guitar tuning with the rock and roll primordials, he spoke to The Quietus regarding those halcyon days:

"I had been working with some other musicians including John Cale and La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, Angus Maclise, sometimes Terry Riley, and we had worked out a way to play drone music. We were probably the first band in the world to do that and certainly the first band in New York to do so. We were very excited about it. We figured out special notes to play."

He later educated the next wave of auteurs, teaching at University of Buffalo's Center for Media Studies beginning in 1976. The renowned video faculty at the college also included fellow avant-garde directors Paul Sharits and Hollis Frampton.

The forward-looking composer had music yet to unveil to the world. He told City Paper of plans to release archival recordings, similar to the 2006 issue of his then-unreleased 1968 album, Joan of Arc:

"I still have a lot of music that hasn't found its way to daylight yet." [...] "I want to release some of my experimental free jazz from the early '60s and some piano music from the '70s."

Performance artist Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed's widow, appeared with Faust at Big Ears Festival's planned Dream Syndicate show in his stead. She also performed her tribute to Lou Reed, DRONES.

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