MUSC 1300 - Music: Its Language, History, and Culture
Vocals, Vocoder, Electronics: Laurie Anderson
Farlisa, Casio: Roma Baran
Flute, Sax: Perry Hoberman
Performers on the Live in New York recording (Town Hall, Sept. 19 & 20, 2001) of
Vocals, violin, keyboards: Laurie Anderson
Bass, concertina: Skúli Sverrisson
Drums, electronic percussion: Jim Black
Keyboards, samplers: Peter Scherer
And the voice said: Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
Your petrochemical arms. Your military arms.
Moon rises and sets
Me I keep my distance
Statue of liberty
I was in Chicago on September 11th and even though there was a lot of chaos we did the show anyway and then continued our tour -Toronto, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia and then finally New York. The fall weather was gorgeous - delicate and mild - and every day I was struck with the incredible beauty of all these cities. It wasn't like a normal tour, more like a panorama.
The show was meant to be a live version of Life On A String. I had also planned to combine these songs with some new stories but during the first rehearsals it seemed awkward to stop playing and suddenly start talking. So Lou [Reed] said, "Why not play some of your old songs too?" This had actually never occurred to me, mostly because I usually write my music as part of multimedia pieces and I have rarely done them in concerts.
I chose several songs that I hadn't played in a long time - ten, fifteen, twenty years. There was "Let X=X," "Sweaters" and "O Superman" from United States 1-4; "White Lily" from Home of the Brave; "Strange Angels," "Poison" and "Coolsville" from Empty Places; and "Love Among the Sailors" and "Puppet Motel" from Stories from the Nerve Bible.
The musicians learned the songs really quickly and invented new parts so fast that I kept adding pieces and it was great fun to bring these older songs back to life. I was worried that they would sound strange with the songs from Life On A String. But sometimes I think my work has changed more than it actually has and they all fit together well. The only thing I had to do was change some of the sounds. Many of the songs from the '80s were from analog synthesizers and the digital versions sounded just too pristine. So I had to put some analog dirt back in.
Rehearsing and playing was an incredible experience for me on several levels. Working with Skúli [Sverrisson] and Peter [Scherer] and Jim [Black] was inspiring. All three are wonderful musicians and composers and brought a lot of new ideas to the music. Also we were able to improvise on the spot. This was really the first tour I have ever done with a band and I found it exhilarating. Our tour continued through September and then we played in Europe in October. I'm really hoping to play with them again sometime soon.
I know many artists had the feeling last fall that their work took on new meaning. For me, singing lines from "0 Superman" like "Here come the planes. They're American planes. Made in America." felt like I had written it yesterday. In fact, I wrote that song in 1980 during the Iran-Contra affair, which now seemed like part of a longer conflict that continues to rage between the worlds of Islam and the West. It wasn't that the songs were "prophetic" as several reviewers pointed out. It was simply that this war was still going on. Loss, betrayal, death, technology, anger and angels, these have often been the things I have written about. At Town Hall in New York I was singing for once about the absolute present.
Q: Will The End of the Moon feature new music and new tools?
Laurie Anderson: Definitely new music. Music will be a big part of this work, bigger than in the last piece, Happiness. Partly it's because I've been working with some great new systems. Technically my rig is shrinking at incredible rates and I'm so excited at how much power there can be in this software. I hate to sound like a salesman, but really it used to take two huge trucks to carry what I can now put into two briefcases. Now suddenly I have a huge amount of flexibility, I can play so many gorgeous new sounds. It's like I'm finally learning how to improvise. There are still a couple of analog things in my set up but basically it's almost invisible now.
Q: Is there a general theme to The End of the Moon?
LA: I would say that time is the overall general theme. Our perception of time and how it affects us, how it changes us. That, as well as stories, the stories we tell ourselves so we can go on. And of course this is such a good time for stories!
Q: How did the title come about?
LA: The End of the Moon is, I guess, a phrase that has some of the melancholy I feel at the moment. Not just melancholy... more like loss. Like I lost something and I can't quite put my finger on what it is. Actually I think what I lost was a country. The last three years have been pretty tough, pretty alienating for a lot of people. And in this piece I'm trying to look at some of those things. On the other hand I see this as sort of a report that I'm making to wind up my time as artist-in-residence at NASA. So there are lots of colors in it.
Q: Elaborate on the NASA residency. How did it happen? What kind of experience did you have? How was your presence received by the staff? NASA has had a roller coaster year. Was this a good year to be working with them? How do these experiences figure into the new work?
LA: I am going to talk a bit about my experiences at NASA in this work. It was really a big honor to be the first NASA artist-in-residence. Obviously my first question was, "Can I go up?" I would give anything to go up there. Really anything! The answer was no. But I loved meeting the scientists and designers and of course I got to see a lot of amazing things. Drawing conclusions? Probably a lot of what I do over the next few years will be influenced by what I saw on all my travels around the NASA sites, and who I met, and what I saw and thought about.
Q : Where do you draw your inspiration? How do you decide which stories will be included in your work?
LA: I keep huge notebooks filled with stories and fragments. I've kept these journals since I was twelve. I check these out and then I decide what to work on based on things like-would make somebody laugh? Maybe because it’s incredibly sad. Almost never because I think it expresses who I am. I'm not trying to express myself. That's not my goal at all. My collaboration is truly with the audience. Maybe part of that is flirting with the audience; part of it is having a kind of rapport with them. I try to imagine this collaboration and based on that I edit it.
Q : The first time you said you wanted to write an "epic poem"... what attracted you to this? Is it the sense of an oral tradition? You as troubadour going around singing and telling stories? Or is it the structure you like? The fact that it doesn't really have to have an end? What made you think of this?
LA : Endlessness is certainly appealing. Of course aspiring to write an "epic poem" is on the one hand inspiring and also utterly pretentious. Who do I think I am? But I like to be inspired in that way. Why not? I'd love to be able to write something with enormous scope. But epic... what does it mean? How does it start?
Often these huge poems are about a trip, about trying to get somewhere, getting lost on the way, and also about motion. There's a protagonist of sorts, sometimes the narrator. Me? I'm trying to do that. Also I'm trying to jump quickly in and out of these imaginary scenes, absurd scenes. Just because it's fun. Just because I can.
Q : Would you still be doing this performing even if you didn't have an audience?
LA : I can't imagine producing a show entirely for myself. That would verge on the insane. I like it when audiences understand what I do. It makes me feel less lonely. And being in the studio day in and out can be excruciatingly lonely.
Q : How do you relate to the feedback from the audience?
LA : Well, I like it when we fall into that communal dream.
* BAMBill – February 2005 – p. 12-13. Laurie performed her solo work End of the Moon at BAM from February 22 to March 6, 2005.