Tony Conrad - Joan of Arc (Table of the Elements CD)
All right! New Tony Conrad! It's a good year. And there's (supposed to be, at least) a new Pandit Pran Nath disc on its way to my homestead as I type this! So despite what may be La Monte Young's best efforts, some of this music is making its way to the people. Just kidding La Monte (I can't afford a lawsuit). Of course this new Tony Conrad isn't really NEW new Tony Conrad, it's just never-before-heard Tony Conrad which is just as good (better?) as far as I'm concerned. "Joan of Arc" was recorded in 1968 as the soundtrack to a Piero Helicer movie of the same name which seems to be permanently AWOL, at least to the best of my knowledge.. It's a solo pump organ improvisation lasting 64 sweet minutes and is accompanied - as you can see on the cover - by stills from Ira Cohean's '68 film Invasion of the Thunderbolt Pagoda, which I also hope makes it to my doorstep someday.
It's difficult to come up with very many things to say about such a single-minded release, so I'll try and keep it short without being too verbose. There are a few things which jump to my mind at least a quarter of the way into "Joan of Arc", the first of which is the juxtaposition Conrad creates (however intentional) between the searing white pitch of the instrument and the brooding darkened tones which eventually take over almost completely. It's like listening to moonlight, if you can dig that. Like curling up on the grass in a field and letting luminous beams flood into your ear. But just as their is a juxtaposition with the result of the keys Conrad plays, there's also one audible in the grander scheme of the recording - not only can you heard the organ's final output but you can also hear the sounds it takes together. For example, Conrad's foot on the pump organ pedal often evoke a rhythmic spirit in the organ's drones that you didn't know were there until you heard the methods used to conjure them up. And then it all locked into place in your head until the foot-tapping went inaudible again and you were left to find your way once more. The composer's fingers also play the role of spectral tour guide, dancing around and sounding a bit like small rocks dropped into vast oceans, but they don't stay for long either. Of these external factors, however, the biggest compliment to "Joan of Arc"'s sound is the lo-fi tape recording it was committed too...it doesn't sound at all cleaned up and that's the way it should be. Apparently Conrad considers "Joan of Arc" one of his favorite pieces and I can understand why he'd be hesitant to alter it at all, even in the slightest way. I don't know if I prefer "Joan of Arc" to the violin works I've heard from Conrad...it's certainly a bit less...high strung? No pun intended, it just comes off a lot more mellowed, but of course that's the nature of the chosen instrument. If you like Charlemagne Palestine's organ drones, you should know where you're heading with this one and you know you're going to love it just like I did. Plus, the Con-man's stuff isn't always readily available at bargain-bin prices, but this one is as cheap as any other respectable CD you'll find and well worth the investment. Here's hoping Conrad's Audio ArtKive imprint provides many many more goods in the near future.
It's so easy to call any kind of drone music boring, just out of reflex if for nothing else. But when you truly listen to a record like "Joan of Arc", the opposite becomes true - it provides an hour's worth of entirely stimulating, intriguing, organic music. And if you can't hear that, well I just plain feel sorry for you. Put it on your stereo, turn it up loud, and never fall asleep.