Premiering to the world at large, Tony Conrad’s gobsmacking quintessential opus Ten Years Alive On The Infinite Plain is now available to hear for the first time, featuring Laurie Spiegel and Rhys Chatham and arriving via Superior Viaduct just over a year since the death of the iconoclastic avant-garde violinist and composer in 2016.
Conrad’s sprawling, innovative practice - binding film, sound and performance in peerless and unprecedented style has been a huge influence on his myriad collaborators and far-flung body of avowed admirers. Just like the amazing and revelatory documentary, Tony Conrad: Completely In The Present , this steeply immersive 1hr, 30 minute recording should also attract a whole new wave of listeners to his truly sui generis music and cement his place in the 20th century avant-garde firmament, if it wasn’t already.
Recorded at the piece’s premiere at The Kitchen, NYC, in 1972, this release of Ten Years Alive On The Infinite Plain effectively forms some of the earliest documentation of Tony Conrad solo, one year before his legendary ..with Faust LP. Accompanied by Rhys Chatham playing the Long String Drone - a six-foot strip of wood with bass strings and electric pick up, prepared with tuning keys, tape and metal hardware - and Laurie Spiegel thrumming a crunching arrhythmic bass throughout, Conrad leads the 1hr 28 minute piece with the sustained caterwaul of his favoured violin (often the most battered model he could find), scraping back and forth in a pitching, phasing, mind-bending performance dating to just after his time spent developing this technique as part of The Theatre of Eternal Music with La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, and John Cale - whom cites Conrad’s sonic philosophy and contributions to early live Velvet Underground actions as a pivotal formative influence over the esteemed artrock pioneers.
Completely mesmerising, the instinctively fearless results are belied by a conceptual and mathematical rigour that boldly asserted Conrad’s convictions in a unity and transcendence of all things. And yet whilst divorced from the visual aspect of the performance - a row of quadruple projections arranged side-by-side, incremental overlapping to form a pulsating picture - which was surely a major part of the piece, the sonic results still carry a potent meaning through its durational reinforcement of purely dissonant tunings and insistently dragging yet forward motion - an inexorable drive intently focussing themselves, and the listener, in the eternal traction of the present.
In terms of that effect at least, we could compare the piece’s intensity and heightened hallucinogenic qualities with extended studies such as Éliane Radigue’s Transamorem - Transmortem, Alvin Lucier’s Music On A Long String Wire or Harley Gaber’s Wind Rises In The North, for example, yet there’s something utterly primal at play that bucks all those references, and appears closer to a prescient, overproof distillation of folk immediacy, rock’s lusting urge, and the hypnosis of tribal/trance/techno musics.
It’s a completely stunning piece of music that will repay the attentive, attuned listener with endless rewards.