Tony Conrad With Faust – Outside The Dream Syndicate (1973/2016)
For obsessives like myself, the reissue market can be a little bitter sweet. It’s brought countless records into my grasp which eluded me, but then there are the others. The ones I spent years hunting for, own a rare copy of, and paid who knows what for, which suddenly become easy to find. Most collectors will site the significance of an original pressing. I’ve always been in it for the music. As long as a record sounds great, I don’t care when it was made. I just need to own it. Money is a necessary concession for otherwise unavailable sounds.
This is my entry into the context of Tony Conrad’s collaboration with Faust – Outside The Dream Syndicate. I discovered it around 1996 while I was working through Table of the Elements incredible catalog of archival avant-garde recordings. It stopped me dead in my tracks. I fell head over heals. From that day it’s remained one of my favorite records of all time. I can’t explain how many times I’ve listened to it. I’m obsessed. It never gives way.
I’m a member of the generation that was raised on CDs. During the early 2000’s, through chance and circumstance, I stopped listening to them. I was buying LPs because they were cheap and I was poor (I’m still poor, but sadly records are no longer cheap). It turned out that I preferred vinyl. By the middle of the decade, my feeling about digital formats soured. A sense of principle had taken root. I realized the depth of the recording industry’s con, and began to replace my CD collection with LP copies. It was a long, expensive, and impossible process (there’s too much great music only available on CD). One of the first albums I looked to replace was Outside The Dream Syndicate. Of all the rare records I have hunted for, it might have been the most elusive. It’s pretty expensive – rarely dipping below $100, and regularly selling for over double that. Once every five years, I’d see a copy on a record store wall, jump with joy, and sink my head when I saw the price. Eventually I found a cheap copy stuffed in a bin, and ended what had been a long and seemingly futile hunt.
Despite the album’s relative obscurity, both members of the collaboration should be familiar. Tony Conrad was a central member of Fluxus. He’s known as a violinist and composer, but makes equally remarkable films. He is credited as one of the originators of Minimalist music, and made some of the earliest Minimalist films. He continues to be a vibrant contributor to NY’s avant-garde. Having met him a few times (and opened for him once at Cafe Oto), I can confirm he’s an absolutely lovely human being. Faust needs less introduction. For more than 40 years they have remained one of the most inflammatory musical spirits. They were among the most exciting figures of Krautrock/ Kosmische, and continue to break ground without compromise. They have opened territories for the countless bands following in their wake, and probably deserve credit for planting the seeds for both Noise and Industrial.
The context of Outside The Dream Syndicate is in the title. Despite having composed extensively and made recordings as a solo performer during the 60’s, this is Tony Conrad’s first available document after leaving La Monte Young’s collective The Dream Syndicate (Young, Conrad, John Cale, Angus MacLise, and Marian Zazeela). The album is the result of a single meeting with Conrad and Faust. Though I’m not entirely sure of how or why this happened, the two were brought together by Faust’s manager. The album was released on Caroline (a division of Virgin) in 1973, was a financial flop, and went quickly out of print. During the decades that followed, it slowly became the stuff of legend among fans of the avant-garde.
If you are looking for a happy medium between Krautrock and Minimalism, this is the one. Outside The Dream Syndicate is composed of two single sided pieces. Across both Conrad’s droning violin sculpts an elastic a backbone. The Side Of Man And Womankind, is a duo between Conrad and drummer Zappi. He drives out a rigorously metronomic 1/2 beat for a full 27 minutes, while Conrad’s violin squeals its onslaught. It’s a droning march toward oblivion. In The Side Of The Machine, Zappi’s rythm is fractured by Jean-Hervé Péron’s Bass while Conrad’s drone is doubled by Rudolf Sosna’s guitar and keyboards. Despite being rigorously avant-garde, and its duration pushing toward the meditative, the track is also kind of funky. It’s a weird and wonderful mix, which has no equivalent I can call to mind. The album is a singular marvel, and in my view one of the greatest of all time.
After being out of print on Vinyl for more than 40 years, Superior Viaduct is bringing this beautiful wonder back. I wish it had happened sooner so I’d have a reason to buy it, but I’m thrilled that a new generation of listeners will be able to get their hands on one of my favorite records of all time. I won’t say this often, but if you are going to buy one record this year, make this the one. Get it from them direct here, or pick it up from your local shop when it hits the shelves.