Experimental Sounds

Anything and everything can be made into a musical instrument, appears to be the theme of Tony Conrad’s exhibition “Invented Acoustical Tools” at Galerie Buchholz. Finding ordinary instruments limiting, the artist and musician has been developing experimental instruments to create new sounds over the last 50 years. Record discs, metal pipes, children’s toys, and even a metal bodice of the kind a warrior would have worn in battle are incorporated into the imaginative instruments on display.

Breaking the norm

As a young man playing improvised music in New York in the 1960s, Conrad perceived the sonic architecture of instruments to define the limits of the music that could be made. In a sense, he argues that the instrument itself is the composition, designed to enable particular sounds within a certain range. Driven by the need to produce a sound track for his film “The Flicker“, Conrad compiled an experimental array of electrical units to produce the sounds he desired. He continued trying out various makeshift instruments throughout the ‘60s, which included playing a ladder with a baseball bat. Contrary to custom string instruments where the strings are wound tight, Conrad began with his limp string approach by loosening one string on his guitar. More recently, he has played loose strings which simply dangle from the bridge of his violin.

Tony Conrad violin
Everything can be made into a musical instrument! Photo: Elizabeth Johnson, Courtesy of Galerie Buchholz

Sceptical of whether a violin with limp and dangling strings would be at all pleasing to the ear, I searched for a YouTube clip of Conrad playing such an instrument. It’s certainly different. I doubt I would listen to it for pleasure but the sounds could make a trance-like ambient backing for a challenging film or electronic track.  The exhibition itself unfortunately did not have any musical demonstrations or recordings to listen to but it was fun to view the unusual instruments. 

Later in the day

Next door is the delightful Albrechts Patisserie selling a delicious array of cakes and treats, as well as fresh warm juices. I recommend the apple and cinnamon. If you’re keen to take in more art, the street is brimming with little galleries and exhibitions, as well as the permanent museum of renowned German painter, printmaker, and sculptor, Käthe Kollwitz.

  • Galerie Buchholz  Tony Conrad -“Invented Acoustical Tools”  February 17th – April 14th Tue-Sat: 11am -6pm