Tony Conrad: I basically said, "Keep an even beat going throughout the whole thing", which is almost impossible. When I worked with Faust, I told the bass player
this, but they didn't believe me.
They don't even remember working with me. When it all came back recently, they had no recollection at all of working with me. I think they knew the record existed, somehow Uwe Nettelbeck had sucked it out of them. There were probably many reasons for that, including the fact that somebody must have been burning a pot field around where they were working, because there was so, so much pot smoke in the air. It was incredible. And who could remember anything under those conditions. I told them that they should just keep the beat steady, but when you play like that for a half-hour, it's really unbelievably difficult and painful. Like when we played at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, Jean was playing with great fervour. I said, "Let's play for 50 minutes." The set broke down and we stopped early, and he came back and he was very excited, and he showed how his fingers were bleeding. He was ready to play more - the flesh was actually stripped off his fingers, (laughs) it was a nightmare, I couldn't believe it was happening.
Why and how did the collaboration with Faust come about? Why did you
choose them? Were you aware of their music?
I was approached by a filmmaker in New York, who was aware of my music,
who was from Hamburg, and he told me that he knew a producer who would be
interested in me, and that maybe we could make a record. So we set up a
date, and as a matter of fact, at the time I had been working as an
electronics technician for a small company that was planning to send me to
Paris. That was because I was good at sales, and we were going to have an
expo in Paris. But then the kid who owned the company got his college
roommate to learn the electronics instead of me boning up on my French, and
his roommate went and I stayed at home. So I quit, and decided to go to
Europe anyway. La Monte had been commissioned to do a room for [large annual
German art show] Documenta in '72 and he hired me to be his engineer. So I
did that, and when I was finished, I showed my films around, and went to
Berlin, because I had, something more than a decade earlier, spent half a
year bumming around in East Berlin, and I had all of these friends from this very strange scene, which is now part of some history that is so weird and gone that no one will ever
understand how strange it was. But it was the most extraordinary situation I
was ever in in my life, and I wanted to go back and hang out with my friends
in East Berlin.
And after I did that, I flew to Hamburg, and was met by Uwe Nettelbeck,
who took me to this farmhouse, and there were these people hanging around
out there, I didn't know who they were. [laughs] It was these people Faust.
And they had been, to some substantial degree, incarcerated in this
farmhouse for months, and they had their partners and sexual liaisons and
different social complexities enacted on a long-term basis within this
farmhouse. It was a microcosm, where everything seemed to have been evolving
in some strange way over the course of months and months. It was no wonder
that they really didn't really have a lot of involvement with me, and I
thought of them as musicians that I could use in my record. But Uwe said
that they wanted to do stuff too, so we did one that was my style, and one
that was more like a rock 'n' roll style. That's how there's two sides.
Jean-Hervé Péron: Ooooooooooooh Tony! The Queen Elizabeth Hall gig was quite something! i thought it lasted longer than 50 minutes though... time is relative said einstein and can be bent. Zappi and I (and Tony?) agreed that i would stop the piece (someone HAD TO STOP IT you know or else we'd just all dehydrate on stage as no one would dare stop it it first :) and the SIGN was me hitting a cobble stone with a sledge hammer ( just to make sure noone could incidentally overhear it :) and that was my main concern during the whole show even when i lost my plectrum in the first five minutes and realize i did not think of of a spare one... even when i broke the E-string on my bass....even when i saw blood dripping at my feet...the idea of this small square hard granit stone and this small hard steel head and me me beeing as the vector of a perfect
trajectoire ending with a clean impact and hundreds of people watching this..... ooooooooh Tony, what if i miss?? WHAT IF I MISS ??
This obsessive idea helped me through the whole show. The violins and the celli were burning their highpitch ferociously equalized tones in my brain, Zappi was sweating his wild dog-sweat and the stone just laid there, waiting patiently for its fortune that's why i was so excited, at the end,,,
because it stopped
because I did not miss :))
In fact I do remember the recordings at Wümme as something very special
which, in the meantime, is more familiar to me: it was the feeling of drifting off your body. I feel similar through dynamic meditation. i do remember the face of both Tony and Zappi and the smell of them ...quite clearly indeed. Nevertheless Tony is right on the fact that we smoked more than average.
Alan (faust List): I was at the QEH gig (in 1994?) and it really was an extraordinary experience. I'm sure it was more than 50 minutes as well.
A strange thing began to happen after about 15 minutes where the way your
ears work seemed to change - it's hard to explain exactly but several people I spoke to felt the same.
A few years later I spoke to Zappi about the gig and all he said was "I think it was very loud"... as indeed it was :)
Jean-Hervé Péron: The fact that people had the feeling that "something changed" is probably purely morphological:: the great lord designed our ear system with a "limiter" so whatever comes to our ears and exceed whatever the Maker thought intolerable will be cut off. Our ears close! yeah, hallelujah, that's hi-tech, that is love, that is a wonder, and it is good. I remember Jim O'Rourke and Tony fiddling at the mixing desk with a look in their eyes which was a mixture of anger (the sound man did not meet their wishes obviously), amusement , mischief and insanity. We, on stage, were privileged cos the sound was not that loud but Zappi is
always very surprising by his comments....
An old Zen koan comes to mind; delivered through the lesser hands of seekers and compilers, beats and Deadheads, the New Age - but surely, I imagine, of wise and noble provenance somewhere back. A flag flapping in the gale sparks an argument between two monks on the nature of things. The first declares that the flag is surely moving. The flag is still, counters the other, it is the wind that is moving. Sure enough, where an insoluble paradox appears, the wandering master is not far behind. Which is it, ask the monks, is the flag moving or is the wind moving? Neither, replies the master; mind is moving.
Fair enough. Take it, like any wisdom, with a grain of salt, but it springs to mind. Not because Tony Conrad sees still air and a flapping flag, or because Faust occupy a world of volatile weather, but just because, for a moment in Outside the Dream Syndicate, one forgets what exactly is moving and what is standing still.
Here's what we know: in October 1972, at a hippie commune in Wümme in southwestern Hamburg, a German art-rock collective bred on the stringent drone and skag-pop of the Velvet Underground hooked up with the young composer who gave that band its name - or rather, who handed Lou Reed the sadomasochism exposé whence the band derived its name. Tony Conrad and the members of Faust collaborated for three days on an album that would be released the following year in England and would tank immediately thereafter. The musicians did not communicate or collaborate throughout the following two decades.
Minimalism is unquestionably the wrong word; I prefer asceticism. Anyone familiar with the Zappa-like hysteria of Faust's first album or the searing kosmische of IV must imagine the sheer force of self-denial at work in implementing Conrad's vision: to have a deep base note tuned to the tonic on Conrad's violin and to have the drummer "tuned" to a rhythm that corresponded to the vibrations. Minimal in design, I suppose, but catastrophically huge in execution.
"From the Side of Man and Womankind" opens in dead motorik, the usually nimble percussive battery of bass guitarist Jean-Hervé Péron and drummer 'Zappi' Diermaier, stalled out to a hollow thud -- like the heartbeat of a machine. Conrad's violin bleats mournfully, endlessly; rising, breathing, sighing, screaming, but without ceasing: relentless. Faust resisted. Péron's second bass note, inserted against Conrad's wishes, adds a spring and thrust to the proceedings. Zappi's odd cymbal crash shatters like punctuation in a prayer. Faust producer Uwe Nettelbeck dulled the serrated violence of Conrad's violin, somehow rendering slow murder into long caresses. "The Side of Man and Womankind" runs like a conveyor belt through fog: going without moving, advancing, standing still.
"From the Side of the Machine" is oddly less mechanical than its counterpart. A half-hour in length, like "Man and Womankind", the "Machine" side ruminates with muted psychedelia: serpentine bass, ceremonial percussion, the purr and roar of Rudolf Sosna's humming synthesizer, Conrad's violin passing high above like an electrical storm in the upper air. There is a predatory quality to the "Side of the Machine": an encircling peril, a certain restlessness above and behind. Mind moves, as if hunted.
The Thirtieth Anniversary Edition of Outside the Dream Syndicate adds a second disc of material. Two brief tracks - both named with the young death of former Dream Syndicate comrade Angus Maclise in mind - offer the remaining fragments of those three days at the abandoned schoolhouse studio at Wümme. Both the slow burning "The Pyre of Angus was in Kathmandu" and the tremulous "The Death of the Composer Was in 1962" reveal a looser agenda in the sessions. In the latter piece, Conrad abandons the impassive drone of the first disc for an almost celebratory psych-rock. The second disc is rounded out by an alternate production of "From the Side of Man and Womankind", lacking the overdubbed violin lines of the album version.
So perhaps a little Zen, perhaps a little cataclysm. After all, as Lou Reed said, "It's the beginning of the New Age." And a few decades before that, a poet ended his long flirtation with Buddhism by joining the Church of England. In his conversion poem, however, he continued to pray with eastern paradoxes. "Teach us to care and not to care," TS Eliot intoned, "teach us to sit still." And this album finally begins to show us how.