Monday, 13 June 2011

Tony Conrad with Faust - 'Outside the Dream Syndicate' (Table of the Elements)

I like to say that Tony Conrad invented minimalism, when of course I know that's not true, and it's far more complicated than that, and I would never write such a statement academically, or on paper at all. This cyberspace world of blogspot is somewhere in between "provocative conversation line" and "something I would actually say, and mean" so i can write it here. So yeah, Tony Conrad invented minimalism. Which of course he didn't, but at times I think his Table of the Elements output is trying to make some sort of case for his lost place in history. Which is totally fair, because the stuff is brilliant and dense and when I first heard of Conrad back in high school still, it actually sounded dangerous and scary. An older girl I knew from the local liberal arts college told me her roommate had Four Violins on LP and to piss off someone else in their dorm, they went out, leaving it playing at full volume from their empty room. She described the record as four violins playing the same note really loud with screeching overtones, and I thought "gee, what is an overtone"? But I also thought this was maybe too extreme for me, and why would anyone want to listen to that, but she said it was amazing and because she was older than me, a cultural sherpa of sorts, I was interested. Now I didn't actually hear this for a few more years, but by that time, I think I had read the Nyman book and was pretty much ready to sign the dotted line for experimentalism in music. You can't listen to indie rock forever. Anyway. It's not quite as simple than that, but there's lots to hear in Outside the Dream Syndicate to reflect a complex, multi-faceted musical world. There is the sheer density of such a work, which with Faust's plodding rhythm section it feels even more endless and monotonous. And there is the attitude conveyed through aesthetic, because I still hear a little of my sherpa's "fuck you" that was described to me so long ago. But of course there's the innovative exploration of sound properties - the focus and dedication to unlocking new crevices in what we hear - that is really what makes this so amazing. This CD reissue (which I think was later expanded to a box set, but I just get 71 minutes here) tacks on an alternate version of 'From the Side of Man and Womankind', called, ready -- 'From the Side of Woman and Mankind' - which makes a nice sandwich with 'From the Side of the Machine'. I love em both, and would definitely love an LP for the symmetry, but I think the titles are inaccurate. Conrad is Conrad, and the sounds layer beautifully throughout, which I can't even write about really. The mix is somewhat less Conrad focused - the violin is of course central, but it's not overbearing and the drumset has room to reverberate. The distinction between the two compositions is most notable in Faust's rhythmic contributions. It's through these that I find the titles to be backwards. 'Man and Womankind' is machinelike; 'Machine' is organic. Both are unwavering in their forward progress, yet 'Machine' is focused around a bending bass guitar part. It's flexible, crouching under its own weight and threatening to slip off into another direction, but it never does. Of course, one could argue that Faust doesn't get room to be Faust here - there are no crazy explorations of collage and pastiche, no vocals, no guitar solos -- but the atmosphere is enormous, and this is one of the rare occasions of titans meeting and actually delivering the goods.

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