Life + Arts Music

Storytelling legend gets personal

Laurie_anderson by Tim KnoxSMALL

Laurie Anderson, a pioneering experimental artist, has proved to be a force to be reckoned with over the 30 years she has been in her field. | Courtesy of the UH Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts

The world-renowned experimental art pioneer Laurie Anderson, recognized for her ability to blend varying art forms with technology, was the featured guest of the second annual Mitchell Arts Lecture on Wednesday, Sept. 10.

She became widely known for her 1981 single “O Superman”, which ranked second on the UK pop charts. True to her craft, she invented several devices: a magnetic tape-bow violin, a talking stick and a talking table. Anderson uses these in her recordings and during her on-stage performances.

Over the years, Anderson has learned to find beauty in the struggle: the idea that some things don’t work out for interesting reasons. She has been keeping her plate full, touring “Landfall” with the Kronos Quartet, mainly around Europe. She recently finished an untitled film — a collaboration with the German-French network Arte TV and graciously made time to stop in Houston to spread her words of wisdom.

The Cougar: You’ve been touring “Landfall” with the Kronos Quartet. How has that experience been for you?

Laurie Anderson: It requires some improvising, which is really fun for me and kind of new. We collaborated with a local musician in Norway, and the concept of that was even more extreme than the Kronos. This was entirely improv with the third musician on the stage sampling what we’re doing live, and then he plays the remix of the whole thing. It was really cool; playing with them has been great. It was sort of a funny festival called Punktd, almost all men.

TC: Were you able to find inspiration after such experiences while on tour?

LA: Absolutely. I plan to redesign my whole rig to where I can sample. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it. Maybe remix my own shows. I enjoyed meeting new musicians, seeing them do things I don’t know how to do and bring them to the festival.

TC: As an artist, has what inspires you changed over the last thirty years?

LA: I mean, what inspires me is really beautiful work; I think that’s a big part of it — seeing what people are making. It could be anything: writing, a painting, music — I don’t really see giant differences between the art forms. I don’t see a difference in what inspires me per say; it’s more to do with a variety of different works over time.

TC: In the early stages of your career, did you always have the freedom to express your own vision in your work?

LA: You have as much freedom as you give yourself. There is what I like to think of as the ‘Art Police,’ who try to influence people on what they should be doing, which is ridiculous. I’m not someone who criticizes others because working within structure can be wonderful, but I think for people starting out, something to keep in mind is that it’s easy to get caught in bureaucracy and structures, but you need to please yourself. Trust that you’re average enough for other people to relate to and enjoy your work.

TC: What has “Landfall” meant to you while you have  been touring?

LA: It’s more a way to make music in a different way; the lyrics of it are not as important to me as the music I’m playing. We get into Schoenberg territory and it’s really fun to play. It’s different from my other work, which is more story-driven.

TC: The San Jose Mercury called your performance “70 minutes of sensuous futurism.” Do you find that people receive your work the way you intend for them to?

LA: Secretly, yes. There’s not a specific response I want from people; my job is to evoke. It’s really interesting when people tell me they’ve gotten ideas from my work; it makes you feel like you’re part of a network, where humans can imagine.

TC: What is your advice to aspiring artists?

 LA: Don’t be afraid of anyone. Try to think of what your life would be like if you weren’t afraid of anyone, and just do that.

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