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Laurie Anderson at A Room for London: expect the unexpected

 
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 24, 2012 12:48 pm    Post subject: Laurie Anderson at A Room for London: expect the unexpected Reply with quote

div class="track"img alt="" src="http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.22.4/11088?ns=guardianpageName=Laurie+Anderson+at+A+Room+for+London%3A+expect+the+unexpected%3AArticle%3A1721440ch=Musicc3=GU.co.ukc4=Laurie+Anderson%2CMusic%2CCulture%2CA+Room+for+London%2CLou+Reed%2CWoody+Allen+%28Film%29%2CRonald+Reagan%2CNasa%2CManchester+international+festival%2CWilliam+Burroughs+%28Author%29c5=Unclassified%2CPop+Music%2CNot+commercially+useful%2CFilm+Reviewsc6=John+Lewisc7=12-Mar-23c8=1721440c9=Articlec10=Blogpostc11=Musicc13=c25=Music+blogc30=contentc42=Cultureh2=GU%2FCulture%2FMusic%2FLaurie+Anderson" width="1" height="1" //divp class="standfirst"As Laurie Anderson's experimental performance comes to this month's a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/a-room-for-london" title=""A Room for London/a, John Lewis introduces the artist whose dreamlike storytelling has the power to surprise and challengebr /br /• a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/interactive/2012/mar/23/a-room-for-london-laurie-anderson"Watch a live stream of Anderson's performance on 25 March/a/ppIt's November 1981, and a strangely mesmeric experimental track called O Superman has somehow climbed to No 2 in the UK singles chart. With no promotional video to accompany it, Top of the Pops has enlisted its in-house dance troupe, a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/totp2/trivia/legs_and_co/" title=""Legs and Co/a, to provide a "sensitive interpretation" of the song. As Laurie Anderson sings through a robotic vocoder about the slow death of civilisation, millions of teatime TV-viewers will watch women in space-age costumes emerging from the kind of glowing pods you see a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1shIHF0KJs" title=""in Woody Allen's Sleeper/a, while a bespectacled dancer goose-steps among them wearing judge's robes. It's all sandwiched between performances by Dollar and Altered Images, creating one of the most baffling moments in the TOTP archive./ppAmazingly, Laurie Anderson's own shows have been even more surreal. In the early 1970s, not long after she had arrived in downtown New York as a a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluxus" title=""fluxus/a-inspired sculpture student, Anderson started assembling works that sound like Pythonesque parodies of conceptual art. There was a symphony for car horns and autoparts entitled An Afternoon of Automotive Transmission. There was O-Range, in which 10 people gathered in a stadium to shout stories through megaphones. There was The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin, a 12-hour audio-visual interpretation of the dictator's life. And then there was a show where Anderson stood on stage, wearing skates frozen into large blocks of ice; it ended when the ice melted./ppSuch delightfully bonkers ideas still persist in her shows. In 2010 she unveiled a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38g4VzkIf14" title=""Music For Dogs/a, an "inter-species social gathering" featuring a piece of high-frequency electronic music that was only audible to Laurie's canine friends (the music had, apparently, been thoroughly road-tested on Lolabelle, the rat terrier that Anderson owns with her husband, Lou Reed)./ppBut it was Anderson's 1975 piece As:If that set the tone for what we would eventually recognise as a Laurie Anderson performance: a mixture of William Burroughs-inspired short stories, minimalist music and technology. "I think I'm more of a spy," she said. "That's really what I do. I look at the stuff in other people's lives."/ppBy the next decade, she had perfected her form with United States I to IV, a mammoth, eight-hour "solo opera" – including the totemic O Superman – that mixed synth songs, visual projections, violin solos and bizarre soliloquies. That show appeared to comment on Ronald Reagan's America and the effects of technology, although no one really knows what's going on in Anderson's shows, least of all Anderson herself. "I'm never that interested in plot," she told The Wire in 1992. "I think plot is something that takes all the boring days out and leaves the exciting ones in. Most real things unravel in a much more textured way."/ppIt's this woozy, fragmented, dreamlike storytelling style that has become one of her trademarks. Even her 1999 tribute to Herman Melville – an avant garde opera called a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oMmdgQSchc" title=""Songs and Stories from Moby Dick/a – was an idiosyncratic, personal odyssey that bore little relation to the novel./ppSince then, her stage shows have lurched between the fascinating and baffling. There was 2003's Happiness, a piece of standup philosophy that ditched singing, save for a curious version of I'm a Little Teapot. In a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2005/may/03/popandrock1" title=""2005 came The End of the Moon/a, a depressing, candlelit meditation on 9/11 – apparently based on her experiences as Nasa's artist-in-residence. It was made all the worse by Anderson's wretched scraping on the viola. In 2008 we had a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2008/may/04/popandrock3" title=""Homeland/a, a rather more charming 100-minute musical show that looked at the Iraq war, state-sanctioned torture, billboard advertising and underpants. The next year she teamed up with a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/jul/20/laurie-anderson-lou-reed-review" title=""Lou Reed at the Manchester international festival/a – him on guitar, her on violin and electronics – proving that marital bliss doesn't always lead to an effective musical partnership. Her last appearance, in 2010, was a show called a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2010/apr/15/delusion-review-laurie-anderson" title=""Delusion/a, apparently inspired by the death of her mother; Anderson's whimsical storytelling was accompanied by baritone sax and Gypsy fiddle./ppYou'll often find O Superman crowbarred into her shows – it's Anderson's Stairway to Heaven, her Wonderwall. Perhaps she thinks that audiences will be disappointed not to hear it. You're also guaranteed to see some novel gadgetry, such as her own invented musical instruments. There's her Tape Violin – a proto-sampler that she developed in the 70s by stretching a two-foot section of magnetic tape across a bow, which is rubbed against a tape head on the bridge of a violin. There's her Talking Stick, a long paddle that emits samples of prerecorded sounds (seagulls, ships, bagpipes). There's Head Music, in which Anderson places contact microphones around her skull, amplifying internal sounds – breathing, gnashing teeth, grinding jaws, clicking tongues – that are usually only heard internally. There's the suit which turns movements into patterns on a drum machine; and there's the table that enables you to hear speech silently through your bones./ppWhere it all leaves us is unclear. Her music is hypnotic and her ululating voice is oddly comforting, like that of a children's TV presenter, but the random ideas she expresses can be disconcerting. Familiar phrases are twisted, while she juxtaposes images, words and music that clash violently with each other. Even at her worst, Anderson's shows have the power to surprise you. "I would like to be a voice in the dark," she says, "pointing at something over there, saying 'look behind you!'"/pdiv class="related" style="float: left; margin-right: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px;"ullia href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/laurie-anderson"Laurie Anderson/a/lilia href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/a-room-for-london"A Room for London/a/lilia href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/lou-reed"Lou Reed/a/lilia href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/woodyallen"Woody Allen/a/lilia href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/ronald-reagan"Ronald Reagan/a/lilia href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/nasa"Nasa/a/lilia href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/manchester-international-festival"Manchester international festival/a/lilia href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/williamburroughs"William Burroughs/a/li/ul/divbr/div class="terms"a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk"guardian.co.uk/a copy; 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our a href="http://users.guardian.co.uk/help/article/0,,933909,00.html"Terms Conditions/a | a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/help/feeds"More Feeds/a/divp style="clear:both" /

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