Laurie Anderson  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Now only an expert can deal with the problem
Cause half the problem is seeing the problem.

--"Only an Expert" (2010) by Laurien Anderson

Related e



Laurie Anderson (born Laura Phillips Anderson, on June 5 1947, in Glen Ellyn, Illinois) is an American experimental performance artist and musician. Anderson became widely known outside the art world in 1981 with the single "O Superman" and "Language is a Virus."


Life and works

Anderson was born in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, where she graduated from Glenbard West High School. She attended Mills College in California, and eventually graduated from Barnard College magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, studying art history. In 1972, she obtained an MFA in sculpture from Columbia University. Her first performance art piece -- a symphony played on automobile horns -- was performed in 1969. In the early 1970s, she worked as an art instructor, as an art critic for magazines such as Artforum, and illustrated children's books.

She performed in New York through the 1970s. One of her most-cited performances, Duets on Ice, which she conducted in New York and other cities around the world, involved her playing violin along with a recording while wearing ice skates with the blades frozen into a block of ice; the performance ended only when the ice had melted away.

Two early pieces, "New York Social Life" and "Time to Go," were included in the 1977 compilation New Music for Electronic and Recorded Media, along with works by Pauline Oliveros and others. Many of Anderson's earliest recordings remain unreleased, or were only issued in limited quantities, such as her first single, "It's Not the Bullet That Kills You (It's the Hole)". That song, along with "New York Social Life" and about a dozen others, were originally recorded for use in an art installation that consisted of a jukebox that played the different Anderson compositions.

Photographs and descriptions of many of these early performances were included in Anderson's retrospective book, Stories from the Nerve Bible.

During the late 1970s, Anderson made a number of additional recordings which were released either privately or included on compilations of avant garde music, most notably releases by the Giorno Poetry Systems label run by New York poet John Giorno. In 1978, Anderson performed at The Nova Convention, a major conference involving many counter-culture figures and rising avant garde musical stars, including William S. Burroughs, Philip Glass, Frank Zappa, Timothy Leary, Malcolm Goldstein, John Cage and Allen Ginsberg.

Anderson became widely known outside the art world in 1981 with the single "O Superman," originally released in a limited quantity by B. George's One Ten Records. "O Superman" reached number two on the national pop charts in Britain after the sudden influx of orders from the UK (prompted by British DJ John Peel playing the record) led to Anderson's signing with the Warner Bros. label, which re-released the single.

"O Superman" was part of a larger stage work entitled United States and was included on her following album, Big Science. Prior to the release of Big Science, Anderson returned to Giorno Poetry Systems to record the album, You're the Guy I Want to Share My Money With; Anderson recorded one side of the 2-LP set, with Burroughs and Giorno recording a side each, and the fourth side featured a separate groove for each artist. This was followed by the back-to-back releases of her album Mister Heartbreak and United States Live, a five-LP recording of her two-evening stage show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

She next starred in and directed the 1986 concert film, Home of the Brave, and also composed the soundtracks for the Spalding Gray films Swimming to Cambodia and Monster in a Box. During this time she also contributed music to Robert Wilson's "Alcestis" at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge MA. All of Anderson's albums from the 1980s sold very well despite being labeled "avant garde". She also hosted the PBS series Alive from Off-Center during this time, for which she produced the short film, What You Mean We?.

Release of Anderson's first post-Home of the Brave album, 1989's Strange Angels, was delayed for more than a year in order for Anderson to take singing lessons. This was due to the album being more musically inclined (in terms of singing) than her previous works. Strange Angels was critically acclaimed, but fans were divided over whether they preferred the non-musical Anderson over the musical Anderson.

Her varied career in the early 1990s included voice-acting in the animated film The Rugrats Movie. In 1994 she created a CD-ROM entitled Puppet Motel which was followed by Bright Red, co-produced by Brian Eno, and another spoken word album, The Ugly One with the Jewels.

An interval of more than half a decade followed before her next album release. During this time, she wrote a supplemental article on the cultural character of New York City for the Encyclopædia Britannica.<ref>"Encyclopaedia Anderson", The New Yorker, July 16 2001</ref> and created a number of multimedia presentations, most notably one inspired by Moby-Dick (Songs and Stories From Moby Dick, 1999-2000).

One of the central themes in Anderson's work is exploring the effects of technology on human relationships and communication.

The first new Laurie Anderson album in years, Life on a String, appeared in 2001, by which time she had moved from the main Warner Bros. label to its subsidiary, Nonesuch Records. Life on a String was a mixture of new works (including one song recalling the recent death of Anderson's father) and works from the Moby Dick presentation.

Anderson, who rarely revisits older work (though themes and lyrics occasionally reappear) went on tour performing a selection of her best-known musical pieces in 2001. One of these performances was recorded in New York City only a week after the September 11, 2001 attacks, and included a performance of "O Superman", a song containing lyrics eerily relevant to the attacks ("Here come the planes; They're American planes; Made in America; Smoking or non-smoking?"). This concert was released in early 2002 as the double CD, Live in New York.

In 2003, Anderson became NASA's first and so far only artist-in-residence, which inspired her most recent performance piece, The End of the Moon.

Rumors emerged of a possible new album release in late 2004, but this turned out to be false as Anderson was possibly too busy mounting a succession of themed shows, as well as composing a piece for Expo 2005 in Japan.

Anderson has collaborated with William Burroughs, Arto Lindsay, Bill Laswell, Ian Ritchie, Peter Gabriel, Perry Hoberman, David Sylvian, Jean Michel Jarre, Brian Eno, Nona Hendryx, Bobby McFerrin, Dave Stewart, Peter Laurence Gordon, Hector Zazou, and Lou Reed. She also worked with comedian Andy Kaufman in the late 1970s (with a romantic involvement hinted at in some of her spoken word performances about him).

Since the later part of the 1990s Anderson has become romantically linked with Lou Reed, and the two have collaborated on a number of recordings together. Anderson contributed to "Call On Me" from Reed's collaborative project, The Raven, and on the tracks "Rouge" and "Rock Minuet" from Reed's, Ecstasy, and "Hang On To Your Emotions" from Reed's Set the Twilight Reeling; Lou Reed contributes to the tracks "In Our Sleep" from Laurie Anderson's Bright Red and "One Beautiful Evening" from Anderson's Life on a String.

On September 16, 2005, Laurie’s exhibition The Waters Reglitterized opened at the Sean Kelly Gallery in New York City. According to the press release by Sean Kelly,<ref> Retrieved on 05-09-07 </ref> The Waters Reglitterized is a diary of dreams and their literal recreation as works of art. This work, created in the process of re-experiencing or re-working her dreams while awake, uses the language of dreams to investigate the dream itself. The resulting pieces include drawings, prints and high definition video. The installation ran until October 22, 2005. In 2006, she contributed a song to Plague Songs, a collection of songs related to the 10 Biblical plagues.

Laurie Anderson narrated Ric Burns's Andy Warhol: The Documentary Film, which was first televised in September 2006 as part of the PBS American Masters series. Anderson also performed in Came So Far For Beauty the Leonard Cohen tribute event held in The Point Theatre, Dublin, Ireland on October 4 & 5 2006.

Recently, through her web site, Laurie announced a re-release of her first album, Big Science, on Nonesuch Records, a DVD box set containing her short films and the concert movie Home of the Brave, a book of drawings titled Night Life, and a new album to be released in 2008, Homeland.

Material from Homeland was performed at small 'work in progress' shows in New York throughout May 2007, most notably at the Highline Ballroom on May 17 and May 18 supported by a four piece band with spontaneous lighting and video visuals mixed live throughout the performances.




  • "O Superman (For Massenet)" (1981) #2 UK
  • "Big Science" (1981)
  • "Sharkey's Day" (1984)
  • "Language is a Virus" (1986)
  • "Strange Angels" (1989)
  • "Babydoll" (1989) #7 US Modern Rock
  • "Beautiful Red Dress" (1990)
  • "In Our Sleep" (1994)

Anderson also recorded a number of limited-release singles in the late 1970s (many issued from the Holly Soloman Gallery), songs from which were included on a number of compilations, including Giorno Poetry Systems' The Nova Convention and You're the Guy I Want to Spend My Money With. Over the years she has also performed on recordings by other musicians such as Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed and Jean Michel Jarre. She also contributed lyrics to the Philip Glass album Songs for Liquid Days, portrayed Mary Todd Lincoln (wife of Abraham Lincoln) for a recording of the CIVIL warS: a tree is best measured when it is down by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson, and also contributed a spoken word piece to a tribute album in honor of John Cage.

Music videos

Formal music videos have been produced of:

  • "O Superman"
  • "Sharkey's Day"
  • "Language is a Virus" (from Home of the Brave)
  • "Beautiful Red Dress"

In addition, in lieu of making another music video for her Strange Angels album, Anderson taped a series of 1-2 minute "Personal Service Announcements" in which she spoke about issues such as the U.S. national debt and the arts scene. Some of the music used in these productions came from her soundtrack to Swimming to Cambodia.


  • 1986 Home of the Brave
  • 1993 - Laurie Anderson: Collected Videos (1990) contained her four music videos and several of the PSAs, plus excerpts from What You Mean We?, Home of the Brave, Empty Places, and her introductions to Alive from Off-Center.
  • 1993 - The Sensual Nature of Sound: 4 Composers - Laurie Anderson, Tania León, Meredith Monk, Pauline Oliveros. Directed by Michael Blackwood.
  • 2006 - Hidden Inside Mountains - written by Laurie Anderson, produced by Cheryl Kaplan. Official selection of the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival. 26 minutes in length.


Anderson has invented several devices that she has used in her recordings and performances.

Tape-bow violin

The tape-bow violin is an instrument created by Laurie Anderson in 1977. It uses recorded magnetic tape in place of the traditional hair in the bow, and a magnetic tape head in the bridge. Anderson has updated and modified this device over the years. She can be seen using a later generation of this device in her film, Home of the Brave, during the "Late Show" segment in which she manipulates a sentence recorded by William S. Burroughs. This version of the violin discarded magnetic tape, and actually used MIDI-based audio samples, triggered by contact with the bow.

Talking stick

The talking stick is a six-foot long, batonlike MIDI controller. It was used in the Moby Dick tour in 1999-2000. She described it in program notes: Template:Quote

Working as NASA resident artist

(From her lecture and movie presentation at the University of Maryland, College Park on April 4, 2007.) "So I was working in the studio one day, feeling sorry for myself, when I suddenly got this phone call, and the guy told me I was selected to be the resident artist at NASA. I said, 'Well what does that mean "artist in residence", what can I offer a bunch of scientists?', and he said, 'I don't know either'. Turns out scientists and artists have a lot more in common than one would think. Neither of them knows what is it they're looking for and they both start out with a set of tools and try to come closer towards that certain something."


In the 1995 Hong Kong art house movie Fallen Angels written and directed by Wong Kar-wai of Chunking Express fame, in the restaurant frequented by the hitman (Leon Lai) and his manager (Michelle Reis) the jukebox plays "Speak My Language" by Laurie Anderson.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Laurie Anderson" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools