Tag Archives: Laurie Anderson

Weekly Vinyl – Superman

15 Apr

O Superman (maxi-single)
Laurie Anderson
(1981)

SONY DSC

The infuriating thing about this album (maxi-single actually) is that there are only two songs on it. The songs are not remixed or dub versions of the original songs – just the original songs themselves, on a large record, meant to be played at 45 r.p.m.
I would like the songs to be longer. I would like there to be more songs. (I can always just pop in the album…) I don’t want to get up every few minutes to stop the record player, switch sides… (My Thorens turntable is a fully manual beast – no automation.)
The two songs are lengthy by pop standards but not long enough, for me.
O Superman was Laurie Anderson’s big breakout. It is a fantastic subtle song, that still can entice and enthral me after all these years. It is a timeless composition.
The B side is Walk the Dog which is a quirky tune that really reveals Anderson’s humour and musical sensibility.
A fun record … but I have to go and swap sides again.

Weekly Vinyl – United States Live

20 Feb

United States Live
Laurie Anderson
(1984)
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This is not a trivial album. This album makes you listen. Forget about doing anything while it is playing on the turntable – your consciousness will be focused on what is coming out of the speakers.
It is a long album. 261 minutes and 57 seconds. (I looked this up online.) Covering five albums, this is a melange of spoken words, music and performance art. This is a recording of her piece United States Parts 1 – 4 and it is a real seminal work. It was repackaged somewhat to the more accessible Home of the Brave a few years later.
I have been an Anderson fan since I saw and heard her song “O Superman” on a video channel. It was amazing. Still is.
I heard about this album and was on a search for it for several years. Found it. Paid a not insubstantial, but not unreasonable, amount for it. And I now enjoy it very much.
The music herein is very hard to categorize. Experimental, avant-garde, electronic, pop music, spoken word can all be used to describe the music. And these genres can be even applied all at once to individual songs.
But I can go on and talk about the music and songs and movements and emotions and technology that makes this album great. Instead I will mourn for what is lost. The state of the music industry is such now that this album would never be released these days. This was not an independent release – this is a Warner Brothers record. The music industry used to take chances on great artists who performed great works, even though they might not be too commercially viable. It was a risk. This album and many of Anderson’s subsequent recordings were very successful.
An alternative review is here.

Weekly Vinyl – Big Science

9 Aug

Big Science
Laurie Anderson
(1982)

SONY DSC

It is fashionable to say that some piece of music, or movie, or event, changed your life forever. I don’t believe in that simplistic view of humanity.
I do remember sitting riveted in place when I first heard Laurie Anderson’s O Superman (For Massenet). My mind was blown. I quickly acquired the album and listened to the whole thing. Amazing stuff. This was in the day when radio DJs were not robots and they would often play something that the listener needed to hear. And we needed to hear this.
It is still a wonderful collection of music 30 years later. The sparse sound is filled with soul and emotion. Each note leads into the next perfectly. The array of musical textures you get on this album is overwhelming, from raspy synthesisers to hear-wrenching violins. This album is a masterpiece.

Helicopters — good or evil?

17 Jun

The Luminato Festival in Toronto had a great evening double bill under the open sky. DakhaBrakha (www.dakhabrakha.com.ua), a brilliant quartet from Ukraine that plays fantastic music that is uncatogorizable and the Laurie Anderson.
I’ve been a fan of hers since I first saw the video for “O, Superman” on MuchMusic in 1981. This night she was connecting with noted Chinese artist Ai Weiwei via Skype in, “Greetings to the Motherland.”
In this work she talks about the surveillance controversy in the US while he talk about his arrest in China. As the music and text were reaching a crescendo, a helicopter started hovering above. I’m not sure if this was part of the performance but it did ad to a dramatic feeling.
For some reason, helicopter sounds are perceived as evil. When conspiracy mongers start fulminating their evidence they always shout about helicopters — black helicopters especially. In music there are countless of examples of helicopter sounds being used for a dramatic and foreboding effect.
But … is this fair? Yes, helicopters have been used in the Vietnam, Afghanistan and many other wars to rain misery down from the sky. Helicopters are a prime source of putting in troops to kill specific people — Bin Laden for example.
Yet, helicopters are used for search and rescue. The sound of these machines nearing you as you are lying with a broken leg in the middle of a forest or clinging to a life raft on a storm swept sea are not terrifying but one of salvation.
So why did the helicopter hovering over the Laurie Anderson have this doom-like effect on the audience?