Don't tell Laurie Anderson what to think

  • Article by: ROHAN PRESTON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 27, 2012 - 4:55 PM

Performing-arts pioneer Laurie Anderson on the election, technology, shaggy-dog stories, music and marriage to Lou Reed.

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Laurie Anderson: "Everybody is a multimedia artist. It's like saying you're a typewriter artist or a pencil artist."

Photo: ©2007 Laurie Anderson

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It has been a decade since performing-arts pioneer Laurie Anderson, 65, last did a show in the Twin Cities.

The tone and themes of that work, "Happiness," were colored by the shock of the 9/11 terror attacks. Assisted by voice-masking technology, much of it of her own making, Anderson delivered in a multiplicity of voices and colors to bring varied stories to the stage.

In the intervening years, she has toured Europe and created a raft of new meditative works, including "Delusion," about the stories we tell ourselves and our families, and "Homeland," a querulous piece on the state of the nation. In 2008, she married her longtime partner, music legend Lou Reed.

The Star Tribune spoke with Anderson last Sunday as she was concluding a stay in Seattle, where she performed her latest piece, "Dirtday!" The Seattle Times described this hallucinatory dreamscape as being about "everything: evolution, the post 9/11 security state, popes on other planets, tent cities, our health-care system, sleep, dreams, music, regrets, superstition, love and, emphatically, death."

"Dirtday!" plays next weekend at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

• "'Dirtday!' started out pretty differently. It was going to be all music. I had been playing the violin a few hours a day and loved the harmonies that were coming out. I thought, wouldn't it be great to do a whole evening of violin filters? The time I was writing it, a lot of diverse [ideas] started to converge. It changed with some political ideas. I was involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement at the time.

"But some of the things I wanted the violin to do, it wasn't doing. For example, I wanted a note to trigger another note. So, I began to write software for that. Then the whole thing became one long shaggy-dog story that extended into dreams and anthropology and journalism.

"I'm someone who throws away 90 percent of what I make. I'm always trying to analyze what my work is doing. I try to be an intuitive artist, but I also have to be a good editor. I asked myself, 'What was leading, the music or the story?' And it was the story. That's how 'Dirtday!' went from something that I imagined as all music in a completely different direction."

• "This is a show that began, in part, with thinking about how things were moving in this country, but it didn't stay there. I'm not somebody who uses political ideas in my work directly to try to convince people of how the world should be. I don't know how the world should be. I'm not a believer in this 19th-century idea that art makes the world a better place. For whom? For you and your friends?

"I don't try to improve things, just describe them. I hate it when people who don't even know me try to tell me what to think."

• "I have invented a number of things, and the software is a part of that. When you're a musician, your brain is wired for how your fingers arrange themselves on instruments. It's hard to move yourself out of those patterns. I try to trick myself out of that by making electronics that will explore things like dissonance. I do that to keep things interesting, to not get caught in writing the same little tune over and over again in my life. I try to find sounds that I've never heard before and try to do something with them."

• "If somebody asked me what I do, I would say I'm a multimedia artist. It's a terrible term; everybody is a multimedia artist. It's like saying you're a typewriter artist or a pencil artist. It's kind of silly to be bound by the material. With what I do, you just have an instinct. And you follow that, you honor that.

"Artists are not philosophers. Otherwise, you would just write down your message or philosophy and distribute that. We wouldn't bother to make notes or colors or sounds. These things change the meaning, change the resonance, of what you're doing."

• "The context for this piece is the elections. It's always really interesting to work at a time when people are dealing with language and analyzing it. We listen to somebody give a speech on what the past was, somebody's version of the past. People are very attuned to voices, or the inadequacy of language."

• "Our world is made of words. Throughout their lives, people tell stories about who they are, what they care about, where they're going. What kind of kid were you? Politicians tell stories about where we should be. We need these stories. If you start thinking about them in more detail, you realize that your stories are constructs that sometimes you can just change."

• "If you like stories, you'll love 'Dirtday!' One of the things I like to do is jump cuts. Be prepared to be taken here and there. Is it dream-like? Yes."

• "Lou and I got married. We should have a different word for it, since it's not the same as setting off at the beginning of your life and going, 'Who's this person? Who am I?' We had been together for 20 years. So, it's a different thing, like marrying your best friend. I'm very happy. It's an amazing acknowledgment of the relationship with the person you hope to be with for the rest of your life."

Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390

  • DIRTDAY!

    What: Conceived, created and performed by Laurie Anderson. When: 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m. next Sun.

    Where: Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.

    Tickets: Sold out.

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