If you don’t like it, it’s your problem. Get busy liking!

screen-shot-2016-04-13-at-10-28-50-amI’m right now downloading “71 Minutes of Faust” and I can feel myself in danger of going on something of a Faustian feeding frenzy… On top of that, I’ve somehow, in my eMusic wanderings, come across this strange piece…

Outside the Dream Syndicate

Tony Conrad was a proper avant-garde situationist artist with a career in experimental film and abstract art, and a bit of a name in the New York underground scene of the mid-sixties. He rubbed shoulders with (and was a little snooty about) Andy Warhol; took drugs with La Monte Young and John Cale, and was instrumental in the forming and naming of the Velvet Underground. All well and (presumably) good, but way beyond my ken.

So let’s catch up together with this trailer about his life:

 

As well as being an artist and film-maker, Conrad was incorporating his highly individual violin playing into his art. However, although he was playing a miked up violin and making experimental music with John Cale and the Theatre of Eternal Music in throughout the sixties, his first venture onto vinyl wasn’t until 1972 when he was introduced to Uwe Nettelbeck, the man managing and producing my new favourite band. He flew out to the old school house where Faust lived, rehearsed and recorded, and together they spent three days making a very curious record indeed. As his most recent work in New York had been done under the stage name of the Dream Syndicate, the recordings that were made with Faust were christened Outside the Dream Syndicate.

If you’re thinking that such a project would sound a bit like Cale and Klaus Dinger going on a gigantic weekender bender, you’d be pretty much right. Listen to the track that plays underneath the YouTube trailer and you’ll hear part of “The Sound of Man and Womankind” which makes up the first side of the record.

As far as I can see, the main difference between Cale and Conrad’s playing is that the Welshman in spite of his love of experimentation and all sorts of abnormality, still had an ear for a song and was not averse to having a crack at the odd three-minute ditty. You get the feeling that Conrad, however, had little time for such constraints. He was in his element playing (and playing) and would probably have carried on until the lights went out. He speaks in an interview of the private pleasure of playing single notes and chords repeatedly or in elongated sequences – effectively the originator of electronic drone music.

Here’s an interview with the man:

 

The record is pretty, er…,  unusual – two 27 minute slices of grinding, whining repetition, which on the face of it might sound like a pretty hard listen but is actually much more fun than that. Conrad often spoke of enjoying letting the tone and depth of a single note unfurl itself (and if this all sounds rather self-indulgent, he was under no illusions that that was exactly what it was – he considered it the listener’s responsibility to make something of it, if he or she didn’t like what they were hearing)

What rescues the whole venture from being an obscure art happening and gives it shape and structure is the gallant efforts on drums and bass of Zappi Diermaier and Jean-Hervé Peron. Considering the recordings were done not long before Faust IV was recorded and presumably in the midst of the rehearsals for it, a new project, although recorded relatively quickly, must’ve been something of a challenge in itself.

The real trial, though, was the heroic levels of self-denial the pair had to display in the monotone roles that they were given. Conrad’s Smithy-style instructions were: “one note, one beat, one hour”. (It’s not repetition…) This must have been a bitter pill for members of a ferociously ill-disciplined musical collective, well-known for their fanatical levels of self-expression, to swallow. Peron said afterwards:

“We were used to extraordinary music but had never come across anything like this. It was more of a trip inside. I went through all kinds of mental states: boredom, anger, ecstasy, doubt about myself and what I was doing.”

It’s actually a surprisingly compelling listen, with Conrad’s eerie wail floating heedlessly above Diermaier and Peron’s surly compliance. Hard to say much more about the two tracks (and I have no idea about the titles) other than that they are wordless statements of do-what-you-like-with-me that you don’t really want to leave unfinished.

There’s a well-written Pitchfork review of the album which sheds more light on it, here and a really good March ’16 interview with Conrad in the Guardian (“People thought we were on drugs, and we were!”) here. I’d recommend them both.

I’ll leave you with this track from YouTube which was recorded during the same sessions but somehow never made it on to the record (maybe it was too short, maybe it was Conrad’s stab at making a 3-minute “hit”?)

 

I’m not really one to have the patience or commitment to take modern drone music very seriously, but maybe I need to rethink this…

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