Laurie Anderson – “Another Day in America” (live performance, 2012)

Laurie Anderson’s “Another Day in America: A New Solo Work in Progress” arrived as a 90-minute show in the atrium of Waterloo, Ontario’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics on Thursday January 19, 2012. Anderson’s most recent album, Homeland (2010), features quite a lot of music:  singing, synthesizers, samplers, Vocoder, strings, world music voices and instruments, and even (in one song) rock guitars and electronic dance music. She developed Homeland over several years’ worth of live shows, and I suspect she’s doing the same thing now, but for a spoken-word-with-accompaniment album. She did a similar transition from her 1994 pop-rock album Bright Red (produced by rock producer Brian Eno) to her 1995 performance-art-based The Ugly One with the Jewels (based on her stage show, Stories from the Nerve Bible).

As far as I know, in the new performance, Anderson didn’t really include anything from her previous work, although a pair of songs alluded to Homeland‘s “Another Day in America” (which she had spoken in “voice drag” to lower her voice electronically, although the new piece did not) and 1983-84’s Garden-of-Eden/snake-related “Langue d’Amour.” Musically, she mostly played samples and loops from two small keyboards and/or a notebook computer, speaking over them her often witty, philosophical, and/or political ideas about people, places, dreams, politics, and even her pet dog Lolabelle, who was shown playing a keyboard in some YouTube-like video clips (for a similar “performance,” from just before Christmas 2010, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YVnm2ZYD0s). Anderson also used several electronic effects devices and such things as pedals, triggers, and switches. On several occasions, she was much more overtly “musical,” playing her “electric violin,” which can electronically provide incredibly-dense textures and complex chord variations from only a few strings and/or pitches. Once or twice, she also played the instrument in the context of “live looping.” However, this particular Anderson work is not really concerned with the “singing” side of music at all, even though she does otherwise sometimes engage with that.

Anderson’s album Homeland includes quite a lot of Vocoder use (electronically making spoken or sung words seem like they are also being sung by an instrument), but she avoided that in this performance, possibly because she instead wanted to explore some different things. For example, she used a small pillow-speaker inside her mouth to “play” (“voice?”) a weird approximation of a violin solo. In one case, she also combined her spoken voice with a “voice drag” lowered version of it, instead of her more usual approach of keeping the two things separate (usually in different songs) or combining her spoken or sung voice with a simultaneous, electronic Vocoder part.

The audience of perhaps two hundred attentive and enraptured people consisted of a combination of middle-aged art and culture aficionados (artists, musicians, professors, etc.), science and technology professionals (some in the audience, probably from Research In Motion and various start-ups, but also including “lurking” employees of the Perimeter Institute), and younger people who were probably university students (including graduate students). Anderson knows that the audience for her more experimental and less music-oriented work is much smaller than for her pop-rock work, so it is highly commendable that she does not even remotely rest on her laurels, even though she is about to turn 65.

See also http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70eZbksZET8.

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