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Although Con wasn't the first artist to use taped cassettes in a live context, his method of cassette playing allowed more spontaneous interaction with the music during the live performance, and this was an increasingly important factor in his work. His command at recording and performing with these tapes brought him to many important performances, including Cafe Einstein in Berlin,The Kitchen in New York City, Le Musee D'Art Moderne de la Ville in Paris, and ARS Electronica in Linz . In many of these performances Conrad attached a belt of walkmen to his body, all wired to a megaphone built into a metal helmet worn on his head. With this added flexibility, Con could give performances at any location in the world, either walking through the space with the sounds coming from his body, or in conjunction with the Kassettenorgel set up in the room. In this way Conrad gave Cassette Concerts in a tremendous variety of settings, with durations from one hour to any number of hours. (There was one Cassette Concert given at the Block Gallery in Berlin that lasted for fifty hours.) This exploration of acoustic-spatial composition had a strong relation to his earlier ideas combining sculpture and music. (Conrad studied sculpture in Düsseldorf with Joseph Beuys .) The Cassette Concert composed with groupings of four cassettes has become almost a standard for Conrad, though there are many exceptions, including Conrad in Sequenza , a concert for two cassettes released in an edition of five hundred by David Elliot's Y.U.R. cassette label in England; Composition fur Sechs Kassetten , a concert for six cassettes released in an edition of ten and sold at Gelbe Musik in Berlin; and most recently, The Thousander Program , a work-in-progress Cassette Concert, for one thousand individually-recorded cassettes.
Eventually, the Cassette Concert series went well beyond practicality,
as each new idea led to new developments in composition and live performance.
At the same time, technologies increased to give artists the chance to
work with digital synthesizers that featured programming and computer-controlled
interface possibilities. For live realization of electronic music, there
were definite and somewhat limited schools of thought. There were the
academic composers, whose complex mathematical and computer-assisted compositions,
unfortunately, could often only be heard by static replaying of a tape,
or preprogrammed data bank; or the experimental composers, such as John
Cage and LaMonte Young , whose compositions were based on clever and intriguing
conceptual ideas but, separated from the notations, often didn't have
a musical identity. Then there were the commercially-oriented electronic
pop groups or composers, who were working along more conventional lines,
programming a skeleton of their songs and then sometimes embellishing
these backing tracks with more manageable instrumentation. These methods
unfortunately didn't allow for much intuitive work or surprises; but on
the other hand, there was a repeatable compositional structure or musical
identity. These limitations separated many composer/performers into discrete
categories, but the Cassette Concert permitted Conrad to combine the best
elements of structured composed music, free music, and conceptual music
into a workable, personalized, and identifiable method of both composing
and performing live electronic music, namely the Cassette Concert.
Some of Conrad's Cassette Concerts have been mixed and recorded onto records, cassettes, and CDs, but unlike many other electronic music recordings, these final recordings are not final at all. Each is merely a documentation of a particular mix, at a particular time and place. In the hands of any other conductor, the recordings would be completely different. The differences come from the attenuation and mixing of volumes, the adjustment of equalization, additional and perhaps technologically-updated signal processing of the original sounds, and the placement of the speakers, both in stationary positions and with movement, for spatial diffusion of sound.
There is also the possibility of changing the starting time of the individual cassettes, which alone can bring tremendous variation in the interaction of sounds. At times it is very difficult to start four separate cassette players at precisely the same moment, so these variations are deliberately inherent in the Cassette Concert method of composition. In fact when you change the starting time intervals from thirty seconds to two minutes between cassettes, the variations increase dramatically and proportionally. There is also the opportunity for a conductor to add entirely new lives to the piece, with something from an unrelated Cassette Concert, or something composed or improvised by the conductor, for additional accompaniment and surprises. All interactions are invited, as the audience can become an important creative element to the music. As everyone is an artist, so everyone is a conductor and is free to invent more ideas to relate and interact with the music. The most amazing part is that, despite this seemingly free style of construction, the Cassette Concerts have a very definite cohesive and consistent musical identity (within an obvious range of sensitivity for the music).
Conrad found a way to effectively and successfully compose structured free-flowing music (which would probably sound like a contradiction to someone without an understanding of the Cassette Concert). The Cassette Concert transforms a static recording into an evolving interactive intermedial event, where creativity is passed through the medium to encourage and inspire the inherent creativity of the audience. The aim is to eventually break down the self-imposed barrier between the so-called "active" state of performers, and the "passive" state of the listening public. All forms of creativity are expressed, shared, and encouraged. Who Conducts Cassette Concerts?
As the first authorized conductor of Con's Cassette Concerts, I have
had the opportunity to conduct numerous Cassette Concerts in Europe and
America since 1986. I've experienced this music in art galleries, rock
clubs, churches, radio stations, shopping malls, and cars, at Niagara
Falls, and with informal gatherings of friends in kitchens around the
world. Every concert has been absolutely unique, depending on the space,
the sound equipment, the interaction of the people, and of course my particular
mood on that day. It is clear to me that there is life in this music,
as well as an inherent call to create. Many people have approached me
after the concerts with excited and inspired reactions. Because of my
experience and familiarity with conducting Cassette Concerts, I have been
conducting the performances at The Dramatic Electronic Music Concert Hall
, although eventually others will be invited to participate. Gencon Productions
has also released a Cassette Concert through Generations Unlimited , which
we hope will promote the awareness of conducting Cassette Concerts around
the world. People will be encouraged to explore the possibilities of these
Cassette Concerts for themselves, because Art is no secret anymore.
© Gen Ken Montgomery | 1990