The Polaroid Interview: Laurie Anderson

Laurie Anderson

Laurie Anderson

While in Prague for a tour date, Laurie Anderson sat down and plugged Velvet Magazine publisher Michael Wayne Jr. into the multimedia world of caves, concerts and the quest for the new underground…


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You’re only in town for an afternoon and a night. Why don’t you stay longer?

I was going to come yesterday, but I had a chance to check out some caves on the Slovak Hungarian border. The reason I went to the caves was that I’m a friend with the ex-Minister of Culture, who had a brief reign a couple of years ago. Quite an interesting character. He’s the one who convinced me to go to the caves. He told me that they are covered with scribblings or, should we say, prehistoric musical notations. They were supposedly done by blind cave people. He said ‘Come and transcribe these and then come back and play a cave concert.’ I was like, ‘Yes!’ Now that’s my kind of project!

Is that why you’ve got dirt all over you?

Yeah, I’m still in my cave boots. I would never turn down the chance to transcribe prehistoric music.

So how would you pull that off? Would you use prehistoric method?

Well, that’s part of the transcription process. Does a triangle constitute a C-major cord or does a squiggle? Now as a transcriber I have certain…


… and certain restrictions as well.

Are there any restrictions to art anymore? Maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I have a tough time swallowing the whole multimedia thing as art.

The problem is that you, like most Americans, had all this stuff driven into your head about what art is supposed to look like. To me it doesn’t matter what material you use. Whether it’s a pencil or a marble or software. Whatever. It has to be something primarily sensual that you get through your eyes or ears. It doesn’t go directly into your brain. If I just had a bunch of ideas about what art was supposed to mean or what I wanted to communicate to people, I would do it in the simplest, most economic way, which would be to write it down, Xerox it, and hand it out. Or put it up on the Internet. I wouldn’t go through all this trouble of making images. So, for example, this particular show, The Nerve Bible, is a whole series of stories about how we go through time and how the human body is sort of a living book and the voice is a kind of opera.

It’s not just showing off ‘tech’?

I don’t think showing off ‘tech’ is really a good thing. I certainly don’t think that it’s the art of the future, but who doesn’t do multimedia shows now? Rock stars, fashion shows, etc. We don’t understand technology because it’s so powerful. What do we do instead? We worship it like any god. All this voodoo is connected to it. It’s bad. It’s good. It’s nothing. You would never pick up a pencil and say that’s evil.

Some are just worried about technology being too antisocial.

People always say that the people of the future will be glued to their monitors and they’ll be so lonely and antisocial. Well, reading a book is antisocial.

So are there any problems with all this multimedia stuff?

The problem is that culture in general has gotten incredibly corporate.

How do you get around that?

I’m on tour because I’m looking for a coherent underground of people who look at mass media and say ‘Fine, but no thanks. That’s not for me.’ Mass media and politicians want everyone to be perfect. Who is the perfect American family? That’s like saying, ‘Who is the perfect Russian or Czech or Mexican family?’ Anyone who is in a family knows that it can never be perfect.

Is this underground you’re looking for counter-mainstream? An underground cannot be defined by the mainstream.

So it’s not ‘us against them’?

No I don’t think so. Lack of interest doesn’t mean you’re in a war. War is used to describe everything these days, the war on drugs, the war on poverty, the information war in cyberspace. I don’t think that’s a useful model of war. I see that as a big opera. A bunch of people yakking at once and, yes, its chaos and, Yes, I certainly prefer that.

What will you do after your tour?

My plan is to throw a bunch of darts at a board.

Originally published in Velvet Magazine, archived here.