Boomkat Product Review:
Celebrating its one hundredth release, Black Truffle presents a major archival discovery: a stunning document of the only performance by the trio of Tony Conrad, Arnold Dreyblatt and Jim O’Rourke.
The flyer for the 2001 performance at long-shuttered NYC experimental venue Tonic read "massive, ecstatic, pulsating overtones," and it's impossible to describe it better than that. David Weinstein had organized the two-night programme, and O'Rourke, Dreyblatt and Conrad performed separately before resonating together on a collaborative show both evenings. The first night's performance featured Dreyblatt's ensemble, and the second (presented here in full) was as a trio that underscored the cross-generational influence of Conrad's anti-elitist experimental minimalism. Berlin-based composer Dreyblatt was shepherded towards Conrad's music when he was an archivist for La Monte Young in the mid-1970s, while O'Rourke - ever the music nerd - had been a devotee since he was young, and had the chance to perform with Conrad many times since the 1990s. Both artists acknowledged the impact Conrad had on their work, whetherhis innovative use of tuning (particularly just intonation) or his work with dream music, later renamed drone music.
The meeting of the trio represents three waves of minimalist expression, indivisibly connected. Dreyblatt writes in the accompanying liner notes that the performers and listeners were positioned in "Tony's sonic universe" for the duration, transported by Conrad's unusual pitch combinations and accentuated amplifications. But the description only scratches the surface; while O'Rourke and Dreyblatt seem somewhat deferential as well as referential to Conrad, their collaboration isn't exactly comparable to anything else in Conrad's catalog. The transportive dissonance of the three string drones isn't a million miles from "Four Violins", but the sonics feel new, ramping from woozy spiraling to intense tonal maximalism that's as visceral as any power electronics performance. In the middle section, the separate drones seem to eat into each other's space, as if the music was slowly disintegrating.
As it oozes into the third act, there's a sense of ecstasy that simmers just beneath the surface. It's a reminder that drone music (or indeed dream music) doesn't have to be oppressive or dark. Conrad, Dreyblatt and O'Rourke's meditation on intonation, feedback and harmonic space was shockingly ahead of its time over two decades ago - in 2023, it still sounds like a transmission from an alternate future.