Interview with Laurie Anderson

Legendary New York-based artist, musician, and performance artist Laurie Anderson will come to Santiago, Chile August 30th, with her new musical project, Homeland. This will be a one-night only, once in a lifetime event for Chile’s cultural scene.

Photo courtesy Laurie Anderson
Photo courtesy Laurie Anderson

The Santiago Times spoke to Ms. Anderson about her new project, Homeland, and her perceptions of Chile.  She also shared her thoughts about the space that exists after thoughts and before words, Mongolian throat singers, and the deceptive media machines that control what most of us hear, see and understand.

Q: Could you tell me a little bit about your new project Homeland?

LAURIE ANDERSON: Yes, of course. First of all, it's a music project really, not a multimedia thing at all, and it’s really focusing on words, lyrics and stories. So to describe it, it’s four people playing music; its one third politics, like the title says, one third strange dreams, and one third pure music. It’s a long, long attempt to describe the place and that place is not necessarily New York or the United States, but a place where there is, for example, a lot of surveillance and pressure on people to keep up with technology. The dream part of it really is just descriptions about how the mind works before we put things into language. Of course the project is all about words, but I am trying to make it make sense it in a different kind of way.

Q: How did you think up the idea for Homeland?

LA: I was really impressed when I went to museum here in New York for Himalayan Art and there was a group playing from Mongolia and they were throat singers. These guys sing these notes that have many, many overtones, so it sounds like ten people whistling when only one person is singing or one singer that sounds like a radio tuned to ten different stations; it’s an amazing way of singing. They also play these two stringed Chinese violins called erhu that have a very throaty sound, unlike the western violin that has a very bravado smooth sound.

This is a different way of playing music and I thought to myself, I love this way of using the voice and using a violin and of course, they use zero technology, unlike me, I have to use lots and lots of boxes to get to an interesting sound. They do it with no plugs. So I thought these are such wonderful guys, so I went to their workshop. Not to learn how to do it, but just to hear them singing some more.

Anyway, I asked them to come into my studio and play. And it was really amazing how they immediately started playing this amazing music with these other New York electronic musicians. I thought, and it’s such a cliché, but you know, music is really astounding, how you can really jump across borders instantly, like this. So I asked, “Why don't you guys come on a tour?”

So I brought them on a tour and we were playing, and you think the world is small and it’s really, really big.  When they go home from New York they have to go on an 11 hour flight to Moscow and then a five day train ride and then they have three day’s in a car and one day of walking: It’s very, very far away.

So anyway, we were playing up in the mountains north of Lisbon at a beautiful castle on a summer night. After the show they packed up their instruments and they started walking off into the darkness and I said, “Hey guys what are you doing?” I asked them because it was a two hour drive back to the hotel.

Their Russian manager had forgotten to make arrangements for them, so they just starting to walk back. Why? Because they are nomads, and I thought to myself, wow. It was such an amazing thing to work with them. They taught me a lot about time and music and about being in the world that I didn't know. This was not like American musicians who would be stranded and would be like, where is the van? I thought this is amazing.

Anyway, I really like trying to jump out of my little categories. Here I am a NY artist, a woman, and this is how I see the world for the most part, and, of course, you can’t help to see it from your point of view, but for me as an artist I like to try, anyway, to see it from another point view.

Q: Why did you decide to put Chile on your list of tour destinations?

LA: Of course the main reason is curiosity and to see what people are doing there. I am only going to be there for a very short period of time, but even that is better than nothing because, frankly, I don't believe media. And journalism it’s all so ridiculous, and I know that from the way that the United States is represented in other countries and it’s just not what is going on, it’s fantasy of it. And I am sure that is the case for everywhere in the world. So you really have to go to a place and see for yourself- so that is my ambition.

Q: Where else are you touring in South America?

LA: I'll be in Buenos Aires also. I’ve been in Argentina three times playing there, which I really enjoyed. For me it was a surprise, it was more an experience, Buenos Aires was more like being in Europe than being in South America, or my idea of what it would be like, because there was so much that reminded me of Italy and France, because so many people are from Italy and France. They kind of rebuild their culture there and it hasn't transformed so much.

Q: You are a political artist and as such do you have feelings about coming to Chile, or Argentina for that matter, in regards to their recent bleak political histories?

LA: What I would like most of all is to talk to artists there about what they see and experience, that’s the main thing I hope to do. Again, I just don't think that the way things are represented in media are necessarily the real story. I just don't know, so this is the whole reason to travel, not just to read stuff, and think you’ve been there. I am trying to make some time to meet people to tell me really what is going on. People who live there really do know. Once you try to write about it our summarize it, it’s very difficult. What I was saying about, trying to get into your thoughts before they become words. You know, sometimes you have this feeling and as soon as you put it into words its wrong. You kind of go, that’s not what I meant. Cause it’s really a trick to put things into words.

Sometimes it just comes out as a cliché or not really what you thought. So for me, really, what’s best is to see for myself and talk to people and to try not to come with preconceptions.

Q: How are you dealing with language in your performance?

LA: With subtitles. It’s not an ideal way to do it but I have occasionally tried to do things is Spanish and I don't want to torture people listening to their language being completely messed up. Like I said, it’s not ideal but if people don't want to look at subtitles they don't have to. They are there for people who want to and, of course, it’s then a really different and, I think, interesting experience to hear something live and be reading at the same time. Because when you read words you understand them in a different way then you would with um, if you’re reading a book or just hearing to something from a concert seat, so you get kind of a double show. I am hoping that is going to work well.

Q: Would you mind sharing some music recommendations?  What have you been listening to lately?

LA: I would check out Chirgilchin, incredible Mongolian singers and Nico Muhly, really interesting young NY composer 24-years-old and doing a lot of amazing things, with big orchestra, different ways to deal with live sound. He has a very extensive classical training, but uses it for all sorts of beautiful melodic and story telling purposes. Those are my two hot recommendations.

A Brief Bio Of The Artist:

Laurie Anderson, born in Chicago in 1947, came of age as an artist in the early 1970’s New York art scene, where she fostered an experimental attitude towards her art. Some of her earliest performances as a young artist took place on the street or in informal art spaces. In the most memorable of these, she stood on a block of ice, playing her violin while wearing ice skates. When the ice melted, the performance ended.

Since that time, Anderson has gone on to create large-scale theatrical works which combine a variety of media — music, video, storytelling, projected imagery, sculpture —in which she is an electrifying performer. As a visual artist, her work has been shown at the Guggenheim Museum in SoHo, New York, as well as extensively in Europe, including the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

She has also released seven albums for Warner Bros., including “Big Science,” featuring the song “O Superman” which rose to number two on the British pop charts. In 1999, she staged “Songs and Stories from Moby Dick,” an interpretation of Herman Melville's 1851 novel and has also released a book of drawings, “Night Time Drawings.” Her new album, Homeland, will be released sometime this year though she has been touring with the project since March 2008.

No votes yet

Other articles you might enjoy

Leave a comment