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Monday, September 22, 2014

Laurie Anderson—Storyteller

Laurie Anderson wrote Landfall for Kronos Quartet (Harvey Theater, Sep 23—27), drawing on experiences from Hurricane Sandy. Projected text is triggered electronically, compounding the stories.

Anderson is one of the first Next Wave artists, bringing her epic
United States: Parts I—IV to BAM in 1983, before the series became a festival. Prior to Landfall, 10 BAM performances featured her unforgettable sui generis music-theater, or involved her music. The following is a sidebar which was included in BAM: The Complete Works, an overview of BAM's history.

Laurie Anderson in Delusion, 2010. Photo: Rahav Segev
by Don Shewey

Anytime someone in contemporary culture wants to peer into the future, they usually try to engage Laurie Anderson to serve as consciousness scout. She’s a visionary who can be relied upon to bring curiosity, humor, and intelligence to the question “What’s next?” whether the subject is art, media, technology, spirituality, outer space, the political climate, or the new millennium. She’s a dauntless pioneer who surfs the edge between the known and unknown with a visual artist’s eye, a linguist’s ear, and a storyteller’s tongue, wearing her signature spiky haircut and soft, spangly slippers. She has put a friendly face on the sometimes-forbidding phenomenon we call avant-garde art.

A university-trained sculptor and art historian from a large, affluent suburban Chicago family, Anderson emerged from the fertile, cross-pollinated art garden that was 1970s SoHo to become the world’s first performance-artist-as-pop-star, thanks to “O Superman,” the unlikely hit song from her 1980 performance United States Part II. Its “ha-ha-ha-ha” sampled voice tape-loop has joined the pop pantheon of famous riffs alongside the buzzing guitar of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” or the opening notes of “Billie Jean.” And the accompanying video, album, and concert tours—including the complete four-part United States, unveiled at BAM in 1983 in the second season of the Next Wave series, the first of Anderson’s many appearances at BAM—created a new form of pop performance collage in which DIY graphics, images, electronic sounds, movement, and spoken word could be infinitely recombined, paving the way for innovative art-music-video practitioners from the early days of MTV to innovative contemporary rock-theatrical performers such as Björk and Lady Gaga.

In addition to producing a dozen major-label albums, one film, and several books on her own, Anderson has assumed a kind of cultural ambassadorship that transcends her output as an individual artist. Besides collaborating with an array of filmmakers, choreographers, and musicians, including her mate, legendary rocker Lou Reed [who sadly passed away last year], she took part in the first Internet community (Stewart Brand’s The WELL), brainstormed with Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno on a millennial theme park, and served as NASA’s first artist-in-residence. The permanent collection of the Guggenheim Museum includes an eight-inch high holographic representation of Laurie Anderson. Doing what? Sitting in a corner telling a quirky story.

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