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Tony Conrad, Hototogisu, Mountains

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TONY CONRAD is one of the few artists whose interviews and writings are as consistently rewarding as his work. None of it is easily digested, though. Last year he told an interviewer that at 65 he's been thinking about the value of listening to old recordings versus making new ones and that he increasingly sees himself as an "animator"--someone who encourages other artists. He's played that role teaching video and film at SUNY Buffalo and as a mentor to more than a few experimental musicians, but he's not fading into the background just yet. In the past decade or so, as he's reemerged, there's been a resurgence of interest in his early experimental films and his rigorous, hypnotic drone music, played primarily on amplified violin. The Table of the Elements label has released archival recordings of his earlier pieces, including some of his work with a group that included La Monte Young, John Cale, and Angus MacLise, as well as his 1973 collaboration with Faust, Outside the Dream Syndicate. It's also released the megalithic four-CD set Early Minimalism, which contains four of my desert-island discs; I can't think of any music better suited to such a place. Conrad's last local performance was in 2001 at Loyola University; his latest release is Bryant Park Moratorium Rally (Table of the Elements), a piece from 1969 in which he takes a field recording of an antiwar rally and juxtaposes it with a television broadcast about it. It's mesmerizing listening, and proof that his current interest in culture jamming and contextual juggling has been with him all along. --Monica Kendrick

Since the mid-80s British noise rocker Matthew Bower has released dozens of records with projects like Ramleh, Sunroof!, Skullflower, and Total--different bands, same penchant for sonic overload. Bower started HOTOTOGISU (named for a Japanese cuckoo) five years ago as a solo ambient project, but since Marcia Bassett of east-coast drone merchants Double Leopards joined in 2003 the music has accumulated density like a black hole. The two stack so many layers of guitar feedback, keyboard drone, vocal moaning, and shortwave splatter on the 2004 double album Ghosts From the Sun (Important) that the seven untitled tracks sound like they're collapsing under their own weight, with crumbling bits of sound spraying outward in all directions. For Green (Eclipse), their latest album, they throw in partially digested chunks of death metal; on "Hellebore" thrash-guitar riffs and frantic programmed drums burst from the maelstrom like rocks blasting out of an erupting volcano. Bassett and Bower treat live performances more like ceremonies than concerts; they play their guitars and laptops while kneeling on prayer rugs set in the middle of a circle of candles, incense pots, and amplifiers. This is Hototogisu's first Chicago appearance. --Bill Meyer

Brooklynites Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp create a gorgeous, mewling kind of ambient music as MOUNTAINS. Their recent self-titled album on Apestaartje (a label they started in Chicago in 1998) could function as background noise, but it's so meticulously constructed and rich in detail that it deserves a closer listen. Built on layers of field recordings (trickling rainfall, a gurgling stream), electronics, and acoustic instruments like guitar, cello, and accordion, the pieces drift languorously, with subtle snippets of melody flowing in and out of warm, enveloping billows of texture and color. The title of "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass" recalls John Fahey, as do the extended passages of fingerstyle guitar, which are shadowed by spooky electronic figures; a live track, "Sunday 07.25.04 Live at Tonic," is a more synthetic, hypnotic glide through computer-based minimalism. --Peter Margasak

This show kicks off the Two Million Tongues Festival, which runs through November 6; see next week's issue for a complete schedule. Tony Conrad headlines; Hototogisu, Miminokoto, Mountains, the Amy Cargill-Tim Kinsella Duo, Bird Show, and Lux open. Thu 11/3, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $12 in advance, $15 at the door.

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