Tony Conrad's Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain is an extraordinary 88-minute work, a powerfully majestic drone piece that will drive fans of the genre to distraction.
The work features violin, bass and Conrad's own invention: a six-foot-long plank of wood with bass strings, electric pickup, tuning keys, tape, rubber and metallic bits of hardware he called the long-string drone. (The latter is obviously the star of the show.)
The bass — plucked irregularly throughout — plays against the constant drone beautifully. It not only provides a much-needed change of tone; its sporadic nature keeps you guessing throughout. It delivers a focus point beyond the hypnotic drone, making the work a great deal more layered and interesting.
Besides being a lovely recording, one that can be compared favourably to any great drone work produced in the last decade, Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain must also be seen as a historical document. Conrad premiered this piece at NYC's The Kitchen in 1972. This, at a time when the great American composer, musician, video artist, sound artist, filmmaker, teacher and writer was helping invent the drone category.
This is an artist who handed the Velvet Underground their name, and then turned down an invitation to join them. His companions at that 1972 performance were two giants in their own right: Rhys Chatham and Laurie Spiegel.
To simply present this as an "important" record does the late Conrad and co. a great disservice. It is that of course, but much more. You will love it. (Superior Viaduct)