Laurie Anderson considers the heart of her 'performance art' to be storytelling
Laurie Anderson sings, composes music, paints, sculptures, makes movies, invents new kinds of violins, plays saxophone and synthesizer, and combines all these talents in multimedia ''performance art'' shows.Skip to next paragraph
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But at heart, she thinks of herself as just a storyteller. ''All these things are offshoots of words,'' she says. ''Words are the most important part, and if they don't mean a lot, I have a hard time with the rest of it.''
Working in so many areas is a challenge, but Miss Anderson takes it in stride. ''I've always done a lot of different things,'' she says. ''The usual categories don't seem that important to me.'' And there are advantages: ''If I get stuck on a song I'm writing, I can go work on the film awhile. . . .''
Her activities have attracted a growing audience. Her magnum opus, a six-hour show called ''United States,'' had fans lined up for blocks outside the Brooklyn Academy of Music last season. Her record ''O Superman'' became a pop hit in England, and her album ''Big Science'' (Warner Bros. BSK 3674) has won praise from American listeners.
Her latest musical project is ''Long Time No See,'' composed for a dance called ''Set and Reset,'' by the Trisha Brown Company. Its first performances took place recently at the Brooklyn Academy, decked out with a Robert Rauschenberg ''visual presentation'' and Beverly Emmons lighting. Scored for bells, percussion, guitar, and electronic keyboards, the piece is now part of the Brown touring repertoire.
Also happening is an Anderson retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia (running through Dec. 4), including works made from 1968 on. A new 45-r.p.m. disc has just been released by Warner Bros., including a ''sort of ghost song'' based on part of her Trisha Brown piece. Another single is due shortly, and she is mixing an LP version of ''United States,'' which she expects will be a six-record album. Her next American tour begins in April.
I interrupted the busy Anderson schedule the other day by showing up at her downtown loft to ask about recent doings, and to get her thoughts on the shape of her career thus far. We repaired to a semi-soundproof enclosure crammed with keyboards, recording equipment, a massive control console, and a computer or two.
''High-tech,'' I remarked. ''Medium-tech,'' she amended, beginning our talk with the bemused modesty that characterizes much of what she says and does.
Although she's an artistic explorer, leaping over boundaries and wriggling out of pigeonholes, Anderson's work is remarkably accessible to audiences. This reflects a conscious effort to reach out and touch as many different people as possible.
''I began by playing for a small, insular community of downtown artists,'' she recalls. ''It was very reassuring, but also very snobbish. We played for each other, and thought nobody else could really penetrate what we were doing.''
A breakthrough came when she agreed to perform at a Houston museum, but she found the place ''acoustically horrible.'' Looking for a different hall, she wound up at ''a kind of old barn'' that usually presented country-and-western music.
''The regular customers were there,'' she says, ''and so was the art world. It was a strange mix of people, but the regulars 'got' what I was doing just fine. Basically, it was fiddling and stories and film, and everyone could relate to it. They thought the way I blended this stuff was odd, but it didn't bother them.''