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March 8, 2005 / gus3

Big Science: A Review

BIG SCIENCE BY LAURIE ANDERSON
Warner Bros. 3674-2

Three years ago, I caught the tiniest sliver of “O Superman” and was instantly mesmerized. The steady honk-honk-honk introducing it laid a very plain foundation, upon which an exquisite structure would be built… and then the sliver ended under a voice-over with Suzanne Vega. Nothing against Ms. Vega, but I wanted more.

Well, I got my “more” last weekend. I got this thing that was meta-avante-garde, if there can be such a thing. You see, Laurie Anderson wants to create an impression. She doesn’t throw out the rules of music. She takes them to a new level, with a healthy dose of irony (not the wimpy post-modern stuff—yes, I get it), social commentary, and cerebral engagement. She wants her audience to be angry (“From the Air”), worried (“Let X=X”), tender (“O Superman”), dismissive (“Sweaters”), and just plain scratching their heads (“Example #22”). In short, this isn’t something a typical stoner would listen to while lighting up.

Not to be missed are Ms. Anderson’s innovative instrument mods. For example, she replaced the horse-hair on a violin bow with magnetic tape, then mounted a recording head into the violin as an electronic pick-up. Every track demonstrates this ingenuity for those interested. Yes, I like this album. In a time when ABBA was breaking up, social commentary had to be political, and subtlety was hibernating, she refused to spoon-feed her audience. This commitment to communication—her craft—has kept her work as fresh and relevant now as it was in 1982. Her more-popular peers became passés, but Big Science could have been released yesterday. My rating: Supreme!

3 Comments

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  1. John Simmons / Mar 9 2005 2:07 am

    I was very much enchanted with the movie Home of the Brave When it came out in 1986. I may still have the VHS somewhere. I slogged through a lot of “performance art” in the 80s (now WHY did I do a silly thing like that?) and still think that Anderson/Eno/Michael Peppe/Spaulding Gray were the best. I can still see her dancing with William S. Burroughs on stage.
    I went to some art event in SF where Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson, and Spike Lee all gave presentations on various forms of off-center art, which was followed by a party. Laurie Anderson had just been interviewed in “Wired”, explaining how all restaurants were closed whenever she got done performing, and so she typically unwired a hotel lamp and stuck both ends into a sausage and plugged it in for a few seconds to cook it. She was leaving the party, and I grabbed a platter of pineapple slices and handed it to her saying “here, this might be safer.” She laughed and left anyway.

  2. gus3 / Mar 9 2005 10:37 am

    You ACTUALLY SPOKE with Laurie Anderson?!?!?

  3. John Simmons / Mar 9 2005 9:09 pm

    Da, but only about pineapples :-)
    Talked to Wm. S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and lots of other off-center poets and artists at the “Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics” in Boulder in the late 80s.
    However, I was reminded last week (as a result of having a sendoff event at the Tonga Room) that no encounter was as cool as chatting with Uma Thurman at the Tonga Room (polynesian bar with rain storms every half an hour).

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