Of the many words used by friends and collaborators to describe Tony Conrad, who died last April at the age of 76, one of the most frequently heard is “disruptive.” In a career that straddled experimental music, film, visual art and education, Conrad vigorously resisted the complacency that befell many of his peers from the 1960s New York avant-garde.
For Tyler Hubby, director of the new documentary “Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present,” this presented a challenge. The filmmaker had been shooting footage of Conrad since the mid-1990s — when his musical career had enjoyed a renaissance after a lengthy hiatus — and began to work in earnest on a feature in 2010. But how do you pin down such a multifaceted, mercurial artist?
“Tony was very aware — and wary — of the camera throughout filming, and in many ways was giving a performance,” Hubby recalls. “I just kept the camera rolling to break that down a bit, but he always knew what was up and always seemed to know what was or was not in frame.”
In making the documentary, which also features interviews with artists such as Jim O’Rourke, Moby and Tony Oursler, Hubby says he focused on key Conrad pieces that “worked to empower the viewer/listener to create their own artistic experience, and not just passively receive it.”
The film, fittingly, uses a nonchronological structure: “Since so much of Tony’s work dealt with the elasticity of time, it seemed right to adopt a similar approach.”
The documentary gets its Japan premiere at a special event in Tokyo on Nov. 20. Keiji Haino, who played with Conrad during his final trip to Japan in 2008, will provide a live soundtrack to the latter’s notorious 1966 film, “The Flicker,” alongside a musical tribute by O’Rourke.
“A Tribute to the Life and Work of Tony Conrad” takes place at Super Deluxe in Minato-ku, Tokyo, on Nov. 20 (5:30 p.m. start; ¥4,000 in advance; 03-5412-0515). For details, visit www.tonyconradmovie.com.