Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Laura Phillips Anderson, 5 June '50) Violinist, composer, singer, performance artist. Resident of lower Manhattan loft scene early '70s; began as sculptor, presented twelve-hour-long audio-visual experience The Life And Times Of Joseph Stalin at Brooklyn Academy of Music '73. 'I got completely ostracized after I signed my first record contract.' All her arty pals said '''How low, disgusting and commercial. Warner Brothers, ugh!'' Then two years later it was like, ''Ah, crossover. Smart move''.' The eight-minute hypnotic single 'O Superman' (from album Big Science) was voted 'most likely to clear dance floors' by the brain-damaged disco generation in UK, but reached no. 2 there '82. EP Mr Heartbreak was expanded to an album '83; it is a good introduction to her work for the fainthearted, co-prod. by Bill Laswell and Peter Gabriel, also incl. Adrian Belew, Daniel Ponce, Nile Rodgers, Phoebe Snow and others. Much of this work was part of the spectacular United States, recorded live in four parts -- transportation, politics, money, love - - in Brooklyn '84, first issued on five LPs; picture-book published '83: 76 titled sections contain multi-tracking, synthesizers, accordion, visual puns, bagpipes, digital electric violin, backing vocalists and much else; compelling or repelling, depending on the listener. Her work reflects the difficulty of portraying the modern USA; she is also interested in the other mysterious 20th-century place: a visit to the then-USSR with Harry Belafonte and Leonard Bernstein was cancelled '84. 'There are numerous themes in Anderson's work but no arguments. She appears to be obsessed by the passing of time, about dreams, technology and its threat, communication, language, and about her status and function as an artist.' Concert/soundtrack Home Of The Brave '86 co-prod. by Rodgers, with Ponce, Belew etc; 'Each song, according to Anderson, is as much about camera movement and artistic effect as it is about music' (quotes from Robin Denselow in the Observer). Single from Home Of The Brave, 'Language Is A Virus From Outer Space', has its title taken from novelist William S. Burroughs. She toured with show Natural History '86; she has been with WB throughout despite the fact that she can't promote albums on tour, refusing to perform a record on stage: 'A stage show ought to be a completely different proposition'; thus her one-woman show/tour Empty Places '90 was not plugging the latest album, Strange Angels. Empty Places was about the disintegration of New York City, which she was watching from her doorstep: 'I used to wonder why the mailmen would ring all the bells in my apartment house when they had a delivery for me; then I found out they didn't know how to read.' Bright Red '94 was prod. by Brian Eno, who also played on it, plus Belew, Joey Baron, Lou Reed and several others; The Ugly One With The Jewels And Other Stories '95 also incl. Eno and Baron.

She has compiled a book Stories From The Nerve Bible about her career. She says that people think she invented what she does because they have no idea what the avant-garde had been doing for generations, and paradoxically so much has been appropriated from the avant-garde by pop culture that nothing can be new any more. She uses harmonizers and pitch shifters to disguise her voice, e.g. sometimes turning it into a deep masculine voice of authority, but her tools are at the service of story-telling. She was the artistic and musical dir. of the annual Meltdown festival on London's South Bank, an annual concert series that tries to bend genres. An interactive installation 'Dancing In The Moonlight, With Her Wigwam Hair', was sponsored by the clothing chain Hugo Boss, the deal requiring her to design a window for their Regent Street shop; she planned an animatronic parrot, among other things. 'For me, technology has always had a kind of primitive magic connected to a deep longing for elsewhere. And it's that longing I'm really talking about.' The concerts incl. multimedia 'Speed Of Darkness' and fiddle marathon '100 Violins'. She was a romantic item with Reed, who was presenting new work at Meltdown (see his entry). They jam together at home: 'Lou plays real loud. We play together for fun at home and I have to crank the electric violin up so I can hear it,' she told Robert Sandall.