Laurie Anderson is difficult to describe as an artist. And that’s what makes engaging with her so exciting. “Be loose!” – she herself puts it as simply and clearly as that when she advises creatives to avoid being pressured into limiting themselves artistically. She calls herself “vague” as a multimedia artist believing that this will giver her the freedom to do artistically whatever she wants defying labels of the art world.
In this conversation with Anderson Cooper from 60 Minutes, she gives an insight into her work and her creative process. I think it’s interesting to see how elaborate the production of “multimedia films” was 20, 30 years ago. And how much more it looks like the laborious process of a 19th century painter from today’s perspective than that of an artist using computers and software in the 2020s. Watch the result on Youtube: “O Superman” or Apple Music.
Anderson Cooper: Laurie Anderson is an artist whose work defies any easy description. She’s a pioneer of the avantgarde, but as we learn that doesn’t begin to describe what she creates. Her work isn’t sold in galleries. It’s experienced by audiences who come to see her perform singing, telling stories and playing strange violins of her own invention. She won a Grammy for a chamber music album about Hurricane Sandy and remains one of America’s most unusual and visionary artists we met at her largest ever us exhibition at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum earlier this year. Ladies and gentlemen, Laurie Anderson, the story will continue in a moment. She’s played electronic drums on her body, electric violins that sing and how for nearly five decades now she’s blended the beautiful and the bizarre days go by challenging audiences with homilies and humor. Welcome to difficult listening. Our she blurs boundaries across music, theater, dance and film.
Laurie Anderson: This is my dream body.
Anderson Cooper: It’s not just audiences that have a hard time defining her work. Laurie Anderson sometimes does as well. I used to say multimedia artist and that was ridiculous multimedia artists. So clumsy with a gun to my head. I say I tell stories and those look like paintings. Sometimes they look like, you know, songs, They look like films. They’re just stories, honey. What is the story? What is its function? How does it work? Who’s telling it to who?
uh if you’ve heard of Laurie Anderson at all. It may be because of this eight minute long song she recorded back in 1980. It’s eerie and somewhat unsettling. And to her surprise, it became a hit. This is a song about how basically technology cannot save you?
Anderson Cooper: I first heard it when I was 14. I just like what is this? And I still listen to it. It’s about a lot of things. Justice, Safety Power. She recorded O superman herself in her apartment in downtown Manhattan.
Laurie Anderson: I had a lot of equipment that would loop things so I was making a lot of vocal loops. Actually you have to hit it right in the right spot. So they pocket and do this. You
Anderson Cooper: say because when love is gone, there’s always Justice.
Laurie Anderson: Here you just here, Here you go. You can, you can use a vocoder. Here we go. Here we go.
Anderson Cooper: When Justice is gone. There’s always, there’s always song led to her groundbreaking first album, Big Science Pitchfork said listening to Laurie Anderson’s first album is like sitting down with a strange form of life that has been studying us for a long time.
Laurie Anderson: I’d like to meet that writer. I mean everything is, is when you actually break it down, bizarre and unlikely that’s my lens. I think unlikely
Anderson Cooper: Laurie Anderson grew up in glen Ellyn Illinois where she was one of eight Children every weekend. She played violin with the Chicago Youth Symphony and then walked across the street to the Art Institute to study painting
Laurie Anderson: and it didn’t seem different to me to go like this or go like this? It was the same thing. Same thing I would just. Is that or is that is it
Anderson Cooper: playing the violin or painting
Laurie Anderson: colorful enough? Is it cool in opposite and adventurous enough? Is it right enough. Is it? It’s all, it’s just the same exact thing, All the same questions. Um and it was just what a hand is doing and what is making sound over here, It’s making color over here.
Anderson Cooper: She came to New York in 1966 and began experimenting with music and short films. But after a while she thought her work might be better received in Europe. You wanted to tour in Europe?
Laurie Anderson: I did, yeah, I wrote to about maybe 500. Let’s see art centers say planning a tour in the fall. I had no tour. And would you like to be part of that
Anderson Cooper: With a couple responses. She took off for Italy, that’s her in 1975 playing a violin with a tape recorder inside playing loops. So she could duet with herself.
Laurie Anderson: But then when is the concert over, there’s no end to a loop. So I need a timing mechanism. So I wore some ice skates with their blades frozen into blocks of ice. So when that play until the ice started melting and cracking. And then when I began to lose my balance, I would just stop. That was it. That was the
Anderson Cooper: clock and you were doing this on the street.
Laurie Anderson: Yeah. Usually in the hottest part of town because it could take a long time to have these things, the cubes melt
Anderson Cooper: for years. She was a traveling troubadour experimenting with sound light and stories after the unlikely success about superman, she got an eight record deal with Warner Brothers. Suddenly the avant garde artist was playing on MTV. That must have been strange to have that kind of commercial success dangled before you.
Laurie Anderson: I knew enough about the pop world to know. It was extremely fickle. So I said okay, um I’m not going to be tricked by this.
Anderson Cooper: A chance meeting with a rock and roll legend. She had vaguely heard of changed her life. His name was lou reed and he asked her out
Laurie Anderson: and we went over to the convention at the Javits Center. Super key key thing to do. We were looking at two microphones.
Anderson Cooper: So for your first date you went to the Acoustical Society Engineering convention, it doesn’t sound very romantic.
Laurie Anderson: I didn’t think of it as romantic. You didn’t know it was a date. No, I did not. He said let’s go get a let’s go get a coffee. I said okay. And and I was like Kind of like this guy. We weren’t really apart for 21 years after that. Uh huh. Yeah. Yeah. My best friend,
Anderson Cooper: They shared Buddhism Tai chi and boundless creativity and finally got married in 2008. 5 years later, Lou Reed died after a long battle with liver cancer. You wrote about his death. I’ve never seen an expression as full of wonder as lose as he died. He wasn’t afraid had gone to walk with him to the end of the world. Life. So beautiful, painful and dazzling does not get better than that
Laurie Anderson: as a person who had thought about this and head head Prepared himself for it and it was 100% there.
Anderson Cooper: Laurie Anderson still lives in the apartment they shared in the West Village and every day walks her dog, little will to the studio she’s had since the 1970s when we dropped in on her. She was rehearsing with cellist Rubin co It’s an opera she wrote about Amelia Earhart’s doomed attempt to circumnavigate the globe. She’s
Laurie Anderson: on this crackly radio and she’s going like I can see you but I can’t hear you. And they’re going, I can hear you but I can’t see you.
Anderson Cooper: She’s in perpetual motion playing with technology and images fascinated by language and sound.
Laurie Anderson: What was really fun about this. Like she’s
Anderson Cooper: working with an Australian University on an artificial intelligence program loaded with everything she’s ever written said or sung. You can ask it a question or give it a photograph and the algorithm creates an original poem in the words and speech pattern of Laurie Anderson
Laurie Anderson: half of it is really terrible poetry court of it’s kind of interesting in a court of it is really kind of great
Anderson Cooper: to see how it works. We uploaded a photograph of my newborn son Sebastian,
Laurie Anderson: the mouth, the eye, the hand, the face, there’s nowhere to go. No place to hide it. It’s everywhere. Now that I’m here, I can’t believe it’s me who did this? Who are these people? Why are you here?
Anderson Cooper: I’m like crying. I find it’s really
Laurie Anderson: emotional thing is it really shows us more how how much of ourselves we put into language. There’s a story in an ancient
Anderson Cooper: Play last year. Anderson delivered six virtual lectures as the northern professor of poetry at Harvard. You
Laurie Anderson: know, the best way to see the city is at night from the air
Anderson Cooper: following in the footsteps of robert frost, Leonard, Bernstein and Toni Morrison. Not surprisingly, Anderson’s lecturers were very different. Yeah,
Laurie Anderson: that’s it. Oh, you’re in the conga room.
Anderson Cooper: Perhaps the closest anyone can get inside Laurie Anderson’s mind is this virtual reality world she created with a collaborator in Taiwan.
Laurie Anderson: It’s a world that looks spatial, but it’s made of words and drawings.
Anderson Cooper: Whoa! It feels as though you’re flying inside a work of art. You’ve been working with technology for 40 years now. Does it still fascinate
Laurie Anderson: you? Yeah, it does. I’m still geek. I like it. I don’t think I worship it.
Anderson Cooper: It’s not the savior that oh no,
Laurie Anderson: no. And this was sent to me by a cryptologist. If you think technology is going to solve your problems, you don’t understand technology and you don’t understand your problems and they like that very much because, you know, people just go, oh yeah, that’s gonna fix it. Really,
Anderson Cooper: Laurie Anderson’s largest ever US exhibition is currently on display at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum on the national mall in Washington, D. C. It’s an odyssey through her singular creative life. This seems very ominous to me.
Laurie Anderson: There’s so much flag waving these days and it becomes quite mechanical in some ways and I guess I’m terrified of the rise of fascism around the world, frankly,
Anderson Cooper: wow. In one room, she’s painted words and images that seem to explode onto the walls and floor. It’s a kind of multidimensional sketchbook of her thoughts. Dreams and stories. Did you map this out? Should have new ideas are built on older works. She first came up with this concept in the 1970s.
Laurie Anderson: This is called citizens. I’ve
Anderson Cooper: never seen anything like this miniature clay figures with video of people projected onto them. And they all, I feel like want to kill
Laurie Anderson: me. They think this one is sharpening knives because I think it’s like people like elves, right? You know, and fairies. So I think that’s that’s for me is the fascination.
Anderson Cooper: These are some badass ferries.
Laurie Anderson: I mean for miniatures to monuments, we didn’t see the sun, we didn’t see the fresh air for weeks in another room. Another story. This one told by a giant video projection of Mo held for seven years in Gu as a teenager without charge until a judge released him. For me, I gave this person a microphone to say, it’s your turn. What do you have to say? This is not about my opinions of what happened here. This is Mo story.
Anderson Cooper: Laurie Anderson is 74 now and still conjuring up new stories and new ways to tell them.
Laurie Anderson: I’m not an artist to make the world a better place. This is not my goal, you know at all, except like secret. It’s very quietly. That’s your quiet because I really love beautiful things because it’s thrilling to two. Put your mind somewhere else and be somewhere that you could never have imagined and then suddenly you’re imagining and then you’re there, it’s magic.
Laurie Anderson’s advice to creatives