Tony Conrad: 10 Essential Recordings From the Drone Pioneer

Titan of American minimalism influenced Velvet Underground, more

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'Day of the Holy Mountain' (bootleg, 1964)
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'Day of the Holy Mountain' (bootleg, 1964)

In 2000, the Table of the Elements label released a vintage recording by the Theatre of Eternal Music without obtaining permission from La Monte Young. Lawsuits and a press battle between Young and Conrad followed. The one thing everyone tends to agree on is that Outside the Dream Syndicate 1: Day of Niagara suffers from being a suboptimal dub of original tapes that are likely still sequestered in Young's downtown New York living quarters. Anyone interested in early drone music and American minimalism should instead look for the better-sounding live performances that are often freely distributed online. The best sounding set includes music recorded in 1964 distributed under the title Day of the Holy Mountain.

Over its first 40 minutes, the fast-cycling string drones of Conrad and Cale carry the performance. You can really hear them improvising with each other — a key part of Conrad's understanding of the minimalist revolution. Young's post-jazz sopranino saxophone playing, fervent and inspired, dominates the second half of the marathon take. It's too bad this group fell out so badly they never managed to agree on the rights for the full archive. The best of what has leaked out makes for unmissable American experimental music.

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