Tony Conrad: Invented Acoustical Tools 1966–2012
Deconstruction has its limits at exhibition of handmade ‘acoustical tools’ constructed out of everyday objects
An exhibition of Tony Conrad’s work shouldn’t be silent: and this one isn’t. As soon as you enter the first room, the howling, whistling and scraping of a new composition, made with his collection of homespun instruments, draws its fingernails down your internal blackboard.
Conrad, an American artist, composer and film-maker, who was associated with offshoots of Fluxus in the 1960s, is regarded as one of the pioneers of drone-based minimal music. This show is a ‘comprehensive’ survey of his ‘invented acoustical tools’ (he does not call them ‘instruments’, as they produce noise rather than music): single-string constructions made from bead chain and plumbers’ brackets, chimes made from golf club sleeves, a ‘bagpipe’ made with a Tesco carrier bag.
As sculptural objects, some are more impressive than others: the stringed instruments have real presence, while his deconstructed drums look rather forlorn. The show also includes his 2008 work, ‘Quartet’, a wooden bench suspended a few inches above the ground which visitors can ‘play’ by tapping on it, and his important 1965 work, ‘The Flicker’, a deconstructionist exercise which reduces film to a series of flashing black and white frames.
While the spirit of his work is best summed up by the documentary film in the basement, in which a sprightly Conrad enthuses about his Heath Robinson inventions, the overall effect of the show is to remind us that deconstruction has its limits. While taking music apart has value as an exercise, it’s possible to end up with something rather less interesting than the thing being deconstructed.
Invented Acoustical Tools 1969–2014, Inverleith House, Edinburgh, until Sun 18 Jan.