Premiere: Hangedup and Tony Conrad: "Gentil The Unlucky Astronomer"

Premiere: Hangedup and Tony Conrad:

Alas, we’ll never really know what the Theatre of Eternal Music sounded like. No, La Monte Young’s egos all but made sure of that. The only surviving document of the classic ‘65 Dream Syndicate-- Young, his wife Marian Zazeela, early Velvet Underground "drummer" Angus MacLise, their violist John Cale, and the inimitable polymath Tony Conrad-- is an unauthorized bootleg put out by Table of the Elements some 12 years ago. It may be important historically, but its shoddy, black-market quality is hardly the stuff their collective dream was made of. So, until Young comes to his senses or kicks the bucket entirely, we’ll just have to settle for simulacra.

Transit of Venus is the closest anything's come yet, and that’s no small feat. A dense and deliberate union of Conrad’s violin and the celebrated viola/drum duo Hangedup, it, too, was something of a dream deferred. The three first met back in 2003, sharing a bill at Belgium’s k-raa-k festival. Equally smitten, Conrad then sat in with Gen Heistek (viola) and Eric Craven (drums) on several North American gigs. Naturally, a proper recording session soon followed. A near-decade later, Transit of Venus (out June 26 as part of Constellation’s three-disc Musique Fragile Volume 02) finally exists as a master’s cobbling of both live and studio takes.

“Gentil The Unlucky Astronomer” is a grand unification of Conrad and Heistek’s string theories with Craven’s constant coupling drums-- a true music of the spheres, if ever La Monte sounded one. Unlike some of Conrad and Hangedup’s efforts divorced from one another, the exposition here pretty much provides everything ye need know; for such a seemingly careening track, “Gentil The Unlucky Astronomer” ultimately proves quite organic. Of special note, as well, is the combined timbre of Conrad’s violin and Heistek’s viola. Sawing away feverishly, but in two separate tessituras, theirs is a stratified hue not heard on the former’s Four Violins, much less the latter’s Clatter for Control. Eat your ears out, then, Mr. Young.

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