Tyler Hubby (left) and Tony Conrad (right)
I met Tony Conrad in 1994 just as he was re-emerging as a composer and musician. I was recording with my Hi-8 camera when he played one of his first public shows as a violin soloist and have been recording since.
Tony was electrifying in how he could always find ways to confront establishment ideas and personal belief systems. Not only was his sabre rattling at the foundations of western culture inspiring, it was also just, and deeply resonated with my ideas of the role of art in society.
Over the years as I worked as an editor on films like The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Double Take and The Great Invisible I kept shooting performances and interviews with Tony, amassing a strange, deep archive until in 2010 I proposed to him that we fashion all of this into a feature film, which would be my first as a director.
While a film student at the San Francisco Art Institute (studying with the late George Kuchar who was the other great prankster of cheap, underground cinema) I first saw Tony’s film, The Flicker and was stunned by its power and simplicity in its complete and fundamental reduction of cinema to white and black frames. Shortly after that I discovered his ear splitting and mesmerizing violin drones. And shortly after that I met him.
I have always felt a deep connection to Tony’s work in music, film and video. His early film and music are so total and demand absolute attention, They somehow magically altered the perception of time. As I grew to know his later media and television work I came to see how deeply humane it was in its desire to connect not just with a particular audience but whole communities. Tony had a great desire for his work to be of service to others and promote the agency of the audience in creating their own experience.
It is always a delight to introduce new audiences to Tony’s work, which despite its intense conceptual rigor, is entertaining, playful and eternally inclusive. It can be powerful, opaque, cheap, ridiculous and inspiring. Fans and historians have traced a lineage of influence that moves from the Velvet Underground to Sonic Youth, from Mike Kelley to the Yes Men and from Jim O’Rourke to Sunn O))).
In making the film I didn’t want to copy Tony but instead I wanted to take inspiration from him. I wanted to make a film about time and minimalism that played with temporality and was minimal in its approach, avoiding interpretation of his works and allowing the viewer time and space to come at the works on their own terms.
I also wanted to create the experience of spending time with Tony in all of his goofy, freewheeling, intellectualism and keep him alive and in the present not through a simple, biographic summary but a kind of living experience suspended in midair. So much of his work deals with time and is about time, and yet is somehow unbound by time as it will continue to challenge us for generations. I wanted to use time not just as a device but as a thematic subtext.
Although he died just before the film was finished I did not want to eulogize Tony but celebrate his life force and give others a chance to experience his infectious energy and passion for ideas.