Friday, November 29, 2019
Laurie Anderson: All the Things I Lost in the Flood
I first ignored this book for cost reasons ($75!) and because I thought it would only be an addition to Laurie Anderson's album Landfall with Kronos Quartet (see here). But when I found a used copy for less than half the amount, I couldn't resist.
And I was wrong; this book has much more to offer than just Landfall. "All the Things I Lost in the Flood" (left: book cover, right: slipcase) is Laurie's personal retrospective -- not on all her works (that would be too much), but on many of them. As the subtitle says: "Essays on Pictures, Language and Code". She lost a lot of things when her basement got flooded, but she doesn't whine after them, she takes the misfortune as an opportunity to look back, sometimes with a touch of irony, sometimes with a touch of melancholy, usually not deadly serious. She offers views on her life and family background and her start as an artist, and what we get here is more than Roselee Goldberg's Anderson biography from 2000 had to offer.
Laurie speaks about the first-person narrative in her performances which, as she puts it, might be personal but never private. We hear about some important collaborators without whom she wouldn't have been able to design and assemble several of her technical works -- like sound designer and technician Bob Bielecki who built several of Laurie's modified violins and other stage gadgets, the Headphone Table (1978) or the Talking Statues; or Hsin-Chien Huang who collaborated for the interactive virtual room installation Aloft (2017). She talks about how and why she uses projections and stage gadgets.
Every chapter starts with a short text in a computerized phonetic alphabet Laurie developed herself. She writes about and documents not only the works itself in essays and pictures, she also gives some information about their making, sometimes spiced up with nice little anecdotes. In one of her earliest performances, Duets On Ice (1975), she played a modified violin while her shoes where frozen into two blocks of ice; the performance ended when the ice was molten away. She performed this at some public places in a couple of Italian cities. An Italian guy obviously traveled after her and was always present at her appearences and unaskedly and rich in gesture explained to the (usually small) audience what she was doing and why she probably did it. Must have been an early fan.
She tells how at the Nova Convention in 1978 she met William S. Burroughs who, with his unforgettable voice, later appeared in "Sharkey's Night" on her album Mister Heartbreak. A sample from this track (the lines "listen to my heartbeat") were transformed into a tune in the film Home Of The Brave (where she also slow dances with him across the stage). Alas, she does not tell us why this film was never released on DVD although it was announced. However, on Youtube you can watch a full version, technically perfect because obviously taken from the laser disc. The Nova Convention was also the place where Laurie discoverd the harmonizer which she used to transfer her voice into a sort of male voice, "the voice of authority", as she calls it. Later, Lou Reed gave this character the name "Fenway Bergamot". Other parts of the book are about the "United States" performance, her works as artist in residence at NASA, her latest film Heart Of A Dog.
I have to admit that not everything Laurie did becomes completely clear to me, but that might be my problem. Her concerts for dogs, to name an example, doesn't make much sense to me. But obviously it was her beloved rat terrier Lolabelle who put this idea into her brain. Laurie's increasing connection to Buddhism is a permanent companion in the book. In the end, after the passing of Lolabelle, in the chapter "Time To Go", she fills several pages with chalk drawings of her dog's way through all stations of the Bardo (a topic she dealt with earlier already, see here).
The book, it has to be said, is physically heavy and formatted in square, which makes it unpleasant to hold; the text in small print makes it even worse ... well, you can't have it all. The best idea probably would be to put it on a table to read it. It's a very nice book, 320 pages, I enjoyed it, and probably it would also make a great Christmas gift, in case you still need one.
All the Things I Lost in the Flood
Rizzoli Electra, 2018
(This post was first published on manafonistas.de)