Born in Glenn Ellyn, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, in 1947, Laurie Anderson was a child of a wealthy family. Her style of performance runs a fine line between musician and artist, and she could definitely be considered both as well as a combination of the two.
Music was her first endeavor as a child when she began playing the violin at age five. She went on to play in the Chicago Youth Symphony, but then stopped playing at sixteen. She needed another outlet that her intense eight-hour a day violin practices did not provide. It was at this time that she first turned to art.
Anderson first studied art history at New York's Barnard College and acquired her bachelor degree in the subject from this institution in 1969. Branching out into studio art, she earned an M.F.A. in sculpture from Columbia University in 1972.
Laurie Anderson's career is marked by her eclectic mind. She seemed to excel at many things and over her career she worked with artists such as Sol LeWitt as well as well as earning money writing reviews and interviews for art magazines in New York City.
She began her career in art as a sculptor. Even in her sculpture, music still found its way, in fact, one of her best-known sculptures, "Headphone Table (When You Were Here)" (1975-1978), calls upon music for its effect. The piece consists of a specially modified table equipped with a tape recorder that sends musical vibrations through the bodies of those who are so inclined to lean on the table.
Anderson seemed destined to venture into the realm of the currently popular performance art, and that she did. Already having had years of performance experience from playing the violin, Laurie looked at the work she was doing and wondered why she was writing words when they had so much more meaning when spoken.
Much of Anderson's work can be categorized as storytelling, especially in her early work. In 1972, her first performance piece, "Automotive", executed on a sidewalk in Rochester, New York, included a symphony of car horns. 1973 brought about a more audacious performance when she stood on a street corner in the SoHo section of New York perched on a melting ice block with the blades of her ice-skates lodged in the ice. With her she had her violin, minus its strings and donning a tape recorder in their place, accompanying her own voice in its lecture on the comparison of violin playing and ice-skating. She called this number "Duets on Ice".
The musical style that Anderson takes on falls into the minimalist category with pop rhythms. She combines vocals, violin and electronic modifications of voice and music, just to name a few of her performance components. This results in a mix of minimal, new wave, spoken text and projected images. Her work is sometimes funny, always challenging, and usually haunting and hypnotic. She uses a devise called a vocoder to change and manipulate her voice with the synthesizer. Visual aspects are still an important part of her work and she often integrates slides, films, and videotapes as a part of her performances. Her lyrics, while a necessary element, need music with them to make an effective impact.
Although her work has long received critical attention, she has achieved the most commercial acclaim on the pop music circuit. In 1980, her song "O Superman (for Massenet)" (in video above) was a surprise pop sensation and took the number two spot in the British pop charts. Its popularity was not as great in the United States, but still it was quite successful.
"O'Superman (for Massenet)" would later appear on a seven-album deal with Warner Bros. Studios upon which she would record albums such as "Big Science", "United States Live", "Mister Heartbreak" and the soundtrack to the film, "Home of the Brave". "Mr. Heartbreak' was Anderson's first purely pop recording and in it she borrows the words of William Burroughs and he even makes a guest recitation. Pop star Peter Gabriel also helped Anderson by collaborating on this album.
Laurie Anderson has performed throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, beginning in the 1970's. Currently, as her success as a pop artist grows, it seems as though she is moving further away from the concepts of avant-garde art in her work. Anderson has even been known to say that she is leaning toward the commercial music industry because of the stuffiness found in the art world with its museums and collectors.
A recent work was the presentation of an orchestra piece based on the life of Amelia Earhart in February of 2000. Anderson was commissioned to create this work by The American Composers Orchestra and the piece was performed in Carnegie Hall. Recently, her CD-ROM, "Puppet Motel" has been brought into production again by Voyager.
Perhaps her most important influence in both the music and art world has been her use of and innovations in technology. At the moment, she is working on an innovation called the Talking Stick with the Interval Research Corporation, a laboratory devoted to research and development.
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Page author: N.G.