Tony Conrad/The Flaming Lips, SXSW XX, March 16, 2006, Austin, TX

On Thursday night, I received confirmation just how conservative I would have become had I pursued music composition back in college.

I arrived at Central Presbyteran Church before 9 p.m., hoping to catch Zeena Parkins, a harp player who has worked with the likes of Bill Laswell and Björk. I entered the church, and someone other than Parker was playing — a solo violinist shrouded in shadow, his visage illuminated on a scrim overhead.

After 15 minutes of listening to the player drone on and on with a limited set of notes, I asked myself, "What the fuck is this wanker shit?"

Somehow, I managed to stay through all 30 minutes of the performance, which meandered aimlessly with no end in sight. In fact, the only way it ended was because the background drone faded out. It reminded me of Arnold Schöenberg’s remark about his 12-tone system — the only way he could tell when a vocal piece would end was when it ran out of text.

The house lights went up, and a middle aged man took a bow. Uh-oh. Is this Tony Conrad? The guy who’s supposed to play after Zeena Parkins?

It was indeed. Parkins’ set was moved up, so even though I arrived on time, I was already too late for her showcase. Well, fuck me.

A Google search helped me to learn more about Conrad’s compositional style, and after reading the intention behind the endless drone and limited note class, I could see where he was going with it. Then I read this tidbit from an article with Conrad describing his "Dream Music":

… It dispensed with the musical score, offering a way for classical music to ditch compositional authoritarianism in favour of the improvisational collaboration already mapped out by jazz musicians. Finally, it focussed not on the act of composing at all, but, thanks to the minute harmonic intervals the group were now exploring, on the act of listening. According to Conrad: "This was a total displacement of the composer’s role, from progenitor of the sound to groundskeeper at its gravesite."

I call bullshit.

Maybe I’m too conditioned to think of improvisation as the ability to make up music on the spot that’s supposed to feel like it arrived fully formed, because I didn’t get that sense at all from Conrad’s performance.

It was public aural masturbation, as indulgent as the hubris of Conrad’s spat with La Monte Young over credit for the Theater of Eternal Music.

I wasn’t transported to an elevated aural experience. I was fucking bored out of my mind and annoyed as hell.

I probably would have been enraptured by this performance a decade ago, when I was studying composition. Today, I want the music that challenges me to be something my mind would love to take apart and reassemble.

Conrad’s ephermal construct doesn’t offer me that chance, and I’m not getting back that 1/2 hour of my life.

I’m going to sit the corner now with my Wayne Horvitz albums, thank you.

Fuck, was Eternal Night Club damn hot.

If there weren’t so many bodies pressed in that ill-ventilated club, I probably would have really gotten into the Flaming Lips’ second showcase of the festival.

I do have to hand it to Wayne Coyne, though. He was incredibly compassionate about the heat but still spurred the audience to make a lot of noise. BBC Radio 1 was recording the entire showcase for broadcast, and Coyne wanted listeners in England to think the show was apeshit crazy.

Unfortuantely, Coyne spent a lot of time prompting the audience. After a while, I couldn’t muster the energy.

Still, it was nice to witness (finally) the large bouncing balloons, the flying confetti, Michael Ivins bizzare suits (this night, a skeleton) and Coyne’s infectous charisma.

To comandeer a description of Snopp Dogg by Snopp Dogg, Coyne is "one likeable motherfucker".

The Lips started the evening with a cover of Queen’s "Boheman Rhapsody", a perfect choice for a band just as dramatic. The Lips also performed a number of songs from its forthcoming album, At War with the Mystics.

There’s much talk about the album featuring lots of crunchy guitars, and the riffs on the new songs were certainly rawer than the band’s immediate previous work.

When the Lips ended its set, I dove straight for the exit. I’ve never been more appreciative of a cool spring night.

None of The Flaming Lips shows were officially listed as showcases, and I had heard about the Thursday night show from a friend.

Disappointed from having missed Zeena Parkins, I decided to head to Eternal early and stay till the Lips finished.

That meant having to sit through another band.

Boy Kill Boy is another one of those groups rehashing ’80s British rock. I grew up listening to New Wave. Why is this revival irritating the shit out of me?

Perhaps because the bands rehashing the ’80s aren’t actually putting a new spin on it. At least with grunge, heavy metal and punk were thrown together in a blender, and it was different but felt familiar.

I can’t tell the difference between the ’80s music of today with the ’80s music of the ’80s. It feels famliar because it’s the same — Boy Kill Boy meet Television.

I’m going to sit the corner now with my Nirgilis albums, thank you.