Conceptual Correlations of Sound and Image

8 Dissolution of Boundaries

Conrad’s lasting concern is to subvert a superficially induced state of contemplative reception. That he thereby relies largely on improvised procedures attests not least to a certain reserve vis-à-vis conceptual work formats that depend on strict instructions. Conrad suspects these formats of an authoritarian compositional practice; his music would instead be structured around pragmatic activity, around direct gratification in the realization of the moment, and around discipline.[11] For Conrad, sustained sound on a violin in particular creates opportunities for compositional collaboration between an author and an interpreter—a technique which he developed in the 1960s, in cooperation with La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, and John Cale (Theatre of Eternal Music, known also as the Dream Syndicate).

A few years later, Conrad transposed the ideas he garnered in the acoustic, musical realm to the realm of film. His most famous work, Flicker (1966), consists of alternating sequences of black and completely transparent film frames, whereby the frequency or the alternating rhythm of the respective frames corresponds to mathematical formulas. The film thus develops a stroboscopic effect when projected. Far removed from any linguistic codification, the projection couples the sensory material directly with the bodies of the viewers, who thus experience dissolution of the boundaries of sensory and physiological perception. Moreover, when Conrad projects the film not onto a screen but onto part of the audience, thus enabling the viewers to watch each other as well as the film, the dissolution of boundaries is pushed even further—as the dissolution now also takes place between the various modalities of perception and the state of being perceived.

The spectrum of methods outlined in this article, ranging from chance to instructions and improvisation, may serve to demonstrate that reflection on sound-image relationships in the post-avant-garde of the 1960s and 1970s can bring out a dimension of meaning in the term conceptual art that is as diverse as it is contradictory.