MARCH 1999



A broad definition of Laurie Anderson does exist: that of ‘Performance Artist’. Such a definition incorporates Laurie Anderson’s work as an eclectic post-modern performer; an inadequate definition that does not acknowledge the importance of her fundamental role, a storyteller.

Her storytelling strength, incorporating visual and technological effects make it possible to define her as a storyteller of the 20th Century and for the 21st Century. Storytelling has always existed through fables, folk tales, legends and myths. The growth of technology and the diversity of the arts enable Laurie Anderson to make storytelling contemporary and futuristic. Post-modernism has facilitated variation within the traditions of music, theatre and other genres. Laurie Anderson has taken this liberation and modernised the tradition of ‘storytelling’.

Anderson’s style of storytelling can be maintained because of the constant growth of technology and its innovative incorporation within her performances. However, this is not to say that storytelling cannot be created without technology; audience expectation is a large artistic responsibility and must be handled sensitively. Anderson has proved that she is capable of challenging audiences whilst maintaining her creativity within a contemporary context.

Laurie Anderson has the ability and experience to develop her work in myriad directions because of the eclectic nature of her work. It is her intelligent mixture of storytelling, technology and spontaneity that will enable Laurie Anderson to enter the next Century as a leading exponent in the world of contemporary arts. This is the key to Laurie Anderson maintaining her status as a contemporaneous storyteller of the 20th Century and into the 21st Century.










Table of Contents

Page 1. Title Page

Page 2-3. Abstract

Page 4-5. Table of Contents

Page 6-9. Introduction

Page 10-25. Chapter One

To define the indefinable

Page 26-28. Footnotes

Page 29-42. Chapter Two

The notion of the storyteller

Page 43-45. Footnotes

Page 46-53. Chapter Three

The maintaining or enhancement

of artistic status

Page 54. Footnotes

Page 55-58. Conclusion

Page 59. Bibliography (A) Primary

Source Material

Page 60-63. Bibliography (B) Secondary

Source Material

Page 64. Appendix A

Page 65. Appendix B

Page 66. Appendix C

Page 67. Appendix D





















This extended essay explores the notion of Laurie Anderson as being a 21st Century storyteller within the performing arts. This will take the exploration of Laurie Anderson beyond the context of a ‘Performance Artist’ and attempt to place her into one category: that of a storyteller.

The focus will be on defining Laurie Anderson as a storyteller, who employs a variety of artistic mediums to enhance her work rather than Laurie Anderson as a multi-media performer. However, the artistic mediums used in Laurie Anderson’s work cannot be ignored because they are relevant to her work as a whole and will be referred to where appropriate.

The interest in writing an extended essay on the subject of Laurie Anderson as a storyteller evolved from a combination of factors: a personal interest in her work; her originality of style; the constant reference to Laurie Anderson being a ‘Performance Artist’ simply because her work is so eclectic. Personal experience by the author in creating music and stories has, in turn, created a desire to research other artistes’ methods of performance creativity. Laurie Anderson is of particular interest as her work is perhaps one of the most original in the performance art field, enhanced by her use of multi-media technology.

The greatest incentive to write about Laurie Anderson is due to her work being such an eclectic, artistic form, which, in turn, gives her the ability to tell stories or relay songs through many channels, especially technology; hence the generally used term for her, ‘performance artist’. It is because Anderson has the ability to work in many artistic fields that the author felt it would be a genuine challenge to research Laurie Anderson and try to define her work to one category, the one she herself insists on being, that of a storyteller.

Defining Laurie Anderson would not be an easy task. Consequently it was necessary to select the most relevant areas to explore. The first stage was to explore Laurie Anderson herself - the performance artist and establish the reasons for her work being put into a specific category. The second stage was to establish the link from Laurie Anderson the performance artist to Laurie Anderson the storyteller. The third stage would evaluate how Laurie Anderson could maintain her status as an artiste and consider the efficacy and future influence of her work within the performing arts environment.

The desire to research Laurie Anderson’s work was strengthened due to the originality of her work as opposed to the more traditional work of the singular musician; multi-media theatre maker; dancer or storyteller; which in comparison to Laurie Anderson can appear somewhat restricted. The difficult element of this research is that Laurie Anderson is based in America, making it difficult to obtain a primary source, either through travel or interview. It is on this basis that links and contacts via people known to Laurie Anderson were sought and used within the formulation of this essay.

Varying sources of information were found through different channels which included: the official Laurie Anderson Internet Site ‘Homepage of the Brave’; the Alternative Laurie Anderson Fan Club; journalists that have interviewed Laurie Anderson; and The official Warner Bros. (Laurie Anderson’s record company) Internet Site. These sources provided knowledge and information of Laurie Anderson and were vital secondary sources, which form the basis of this essay.

Some sources were particularly responsive to the author’s prepared questionnaire on Laurie Anderson and storytelling; A copy of which is attached as Appendix A. Kate Bornstein, an American performance artist, and James Yarker, director of the British theatre group, Stanscafé, were amongst those who responded and are referenced where appropriate. Copies of replies to the questionnaire are attached as Appendix B and C.

Secondary sources are the main references for this essay and in order to research to the appropriate level, studies of Laurie Anderson’s work since 1972 were evaluated. The research covered a combination of CD discs, interviews, articles, books, biographies, informative fans, artistes, journalists, and secondary source quotes from Laurie Anderson herself.

The first chapter explores Laurie Anderson as a performance artist and considers the reasons why she is put into that category. The second chapter explores the notion of Laurie Anderson as a 20th Century storyteller. The third chapter evaluates Laurie Anderson’s status as a storytelling artiste and examines how she could enhance her artistic status and push forward the boundaries of her art into the 21st Century.

This essay could not have been formulated without the help of many people who know or have knowledge of Laurie Anderson, particularly those in the USA. Mr Karl Berry has been of great assistance in supplying books by Laurie Anderson found only in the USA. A copy of an e-mail offering assistance is attached as Appendix D.


Chapter One

To define the indefinable…..


Laurie Anderson is an actress, a comedian, a poet, a dramatist, a photographer, a film-maker, a sculptor, a painter, a composer, an instrumentalist, a vocalist, a director, an electronics freak and several other things. She is, in short, something called a performance artist…Anderson is the superstar of the genre… (1)

Laurie Anderson’s work is of such an eclectic nature that it is hard to categorise her as anything other than a ‘performance artist’, and indeed, in part, she welcomes the non-defining title. Of such a title she said: "The best thing about the term ‘performance art’ is that it’s so ambiguous. It includes just about everything you might want to do" (2). Definitions are useful because they allow a subject matter to be put into a category, in this instance, an artist in a performance category. However, the generality of the reference and a lack of genuine definition may become too broad or in itself, somewhat meaningless.

Laurie Anderson could be categorised as an ambiguous non-definable eclectic performer of the art world, but is this definition adequate for a performance artist? When asked on a television show what a performance artist was Anderson answered: "...just like what the New York Post says in its editorials — gay black men with holes in the backs of their pants...Or some person smearing chocolate on herself." (3) One wonders whether Anderson is answering with tongue in cheek, or whether performance art is really so liberal in its definition.

Rosalee Goldberg put the notion of a performance artist more into context in her book ‘Performance Art’. She said: "Performance became accepted as a medium of artistic expression in its own right in the 1970’s." (4) This indicates that ‘performance art’ is a fairly modern concept and something that emerged as an independent art form. Anderson’s work with experimental art and inventive performance began in this era.

As Anderson falls into an almost indefinable category it is useful to look at a dictionary term of ‘performance artist’, one being: "the act or process of performing or carrying out; the execution or fulfilment (of a duty, etc); a staging or production (of a drama, piece of music, etc.)" (5) Thus, we have anybody within the field of the arts can fall into this category. A dictionary term for artist is: "a painter, a person who practices any of the arts." (6) Therefore anyone who works/performs within the field of theatre, music or other performing arts that incorporates some type of artistic (finer arts) display must be a performance artist. Laurie Anderson falls into this overly generalised and very liberal category. Her work has generally contained visual imagery integrated into a performance.

Is this why Anderson is consistently categorised so generally? As she has been quoted many times in the media as multi-vocational, it is perhaps easier for the media or performing arts environment to regard her in that way, than suggest or argue an alternative perspective.

Anderson studied art and sculpture at University. The reason she plumped for these subjects was not only because she liked drawing but for another important reason: "I chose to do that because I thought that I could express myself better." (7) She chose an all-woman college (Barnard, New York) to begin her studies of art-history. Anderson chose this college for a reason: her thoughts on it emanate a strong sense of being a force against the male dominated society of the time. Women making a career in this decade were not so common. When studying for her Masters Degree in Fine Arts in Colombia she observed: "…when there were men in the classes, they were definitely favored. And I really, really didn’t enjoy that." (8) Anderson was pushing herself into another box: the category being - Feminist. Feminism at that time being one of the strongest movements of the 1970’s.

However, Goldberg argues another line of thought on the movements of that era. She says of the content of performance art:

Indeed, no other artistic form of expression has such a boundless manifesto, since each performer makes his or her own definition in the very process and manner of execution. (9)

Goldberg also contemplates the notion that anarchism lies at the heart of performance art. Performance art detracts itself from the more traditional format of theatre, opera and music. Goldberg is suggesting that it is the non-conformist performer that has brought about the term performance art. It is interesting to note that in this era such movements as radicalism, feminism, racism, anarchism and other social trends were strong influences. It is relevant that Anderson had immersed herself into a group of like-minded people that worked within the arts, who were looking to be pioneers of the future art world. Anderson commented on a piece of work from 1974, ‘Anarchitecture,’ a group show at 112 Greene Street summed up the anarchistic obsessions of the group: "We were very aware that we were creating an entirely new scene... Gordon Matta Clark was the center of this scene, which ended with his death." (10) Anderson’s philosophy of the arts of this time is a similar philosophy to that of Goldberg; therefore Anderson must come under the jurisdiction of a performance artist.

Anderson has never been content to stay in one occupation. Her yearning for knowledge and life experience seems to be quelled only briefly by each new situation. Anderson, although a part of the pioneering art groups, accepted the definition of ‘performance artist’ as long as it did not restrict her artistic creations.

Anderson has worked as a teacher of art and photography, a writer of reviews for an art magazine, a writer of her own books (including an autobiographical and picture books), a film-maker, a musician and many other things generally related to the arts. Anderson’s eclecticism does not infer that she is not dedicated to the craft she uses at any specific time. One might call her an explorer or researcher, a category the likes of Bill Bryson, American traveller, might usually be labelled with. Her constant curiosity has taken her to live in Mexico and Berlin. Her sense of adventure has sent her hitchhiking to the North Pole, working as a migrant cotton picker in Kentucky, going through winter without a coat, trekking in the Tibetan Hamalayas and nearly expiring from altitude sickness. These events are valuable inspirations for her performances. Travelling is not solely for her own satisfaction as she has also travelled all over the world with her performances and collaborations with other artists.

Anderson has also been headlined as a multimedia performer. Is there a difference between that and performance art? One dictionary term for multimedia is: "Using more than one medium of expression, communication, etc." (11) The performance is not mentioned in this definition but it is correct inasmuch as Anderson does use more than one medium of expression. Anderson uses a multi-layered format, in which she incorporates inter alia: visuals, spoken word, lyric, music and choreography. In this she is by no means unique. Robert Lepage, the French-Canadian theatre director, writes, directs and produces plays that he acts in and is labelled a multimedia performer. But are they the same? Lepage tends to work with texts, especially historical texts because the concept of theatre in Western Canada is relatively new and therefore there is not a preconception of theatre style allowing Lepage a freedom of expression. In contrast, Anderson tends to work from her own text, whether autobiographical or invented. Her freedom of expression comes from knowledge of the history of theatre that allows her to create in opposition to those preconceptions. Lepage is not simply a theatre maker. He uses a text and transforms it into something resembling a theatrical film. He has a great interest in the excitement of film and looks for technological possibilities within theatre to create some similarities between the two. It seems that text for Lepage is only the basis for creating a technological masterpiece. One biography said of him;

For Lepage, theatre has the logic of a dream, and he uses the technology of the stage, and film and video to achieve his ends, which are often concerned with intuition rather than literal ideas and themes. (12)

Anderson is also concerned with theatricality. The creation of a theatrical story through the mediums of visual imagery, music and voice is her most common format. Home of the Brave, the concert/film epitomises her skill in successfully combining many mediums. One of her primary concerns with her work has always been to invent, or create a performance, albeit art or music, that has something beyond plain theatre, whether through technological or inventory means. However, this does not define whether multimedia or performance art is one and the same thing. Whether the technological mastery of Lepage, within his work, can be classed as artistic as opposed to theatricality is debatable. Both Lepage and Anderson have created multi-dimensional performances from the use of technology to good theatrical effect.

However, Anderson does more than create technological theatricality. She does not just use technology to create a non-literal performance, she is using artistic expression to portray the story she wants to communicate, and something that Goldberg maintains is the accepted medium for performance art. It can be seen that multimedia and performance art have many similarities but are not entirely the same thing.

One of Anderson’s first performances in 1972 gives an indication of her will to experiment with performance. Automotive was a work written for cars. Her inspiration for this piece came from a visit to a town where people sat in their cars to watch a small concert, rather than get out. Incensed by this apparent lack of enthusiasm, Anderson created a car concert. The drivers/occupants needed a great deal of encouragement to join in with the idea: the idea being to write down cues for people to honk their car horns. Anderson based the cues on the musical tone of people’s car horns, in theory so it might be tuneful. (13) Although the performance was not a resounding commercial success it shows that Anderson has the ability to create a performance from small ideas.

Anderson was beginning to establish her own definition on performance. Her artwork was and still is important to her. Her inventiveness with artistic design has been the one thing that has defined her as a performance artist as opposed to soley a musician, or a multimedia performer. In the early 1970’s, Anderson was constantly experimenting with design for performance including talking boxes on stilts, and sculptures for installations. However, one of her biggest inspirations in 1973 was the work of American artist, Vito Acconci.

Acconci, labelled as a performance artist, enthralled Anderson with the degree of emotion he created within a performance. The basis of Acconci’s work was to shift the ground rules of art. Instead of using words, he shifted the importance of the word to his body. Acconci attempted to destroy evidence of the maleness of his own body and project the body of the woman. For example, burning body hair, hiding his penis between his legs and pulling at his breasts - Conversion (1970). During another performance the emphasis was put on bodily sounds that emitted while he was masturbating under a ramp on stage. Acconci’s early experimentation of the genre’s and his work was seen then as ‘body poetry’. (14) Anderson was inspired by the concept of Acconci’s work and utilised his perspective of using the transposition of gender. Anderson achieved this by evolving an androgynous character and through her electronic wizardry, changing the octave of her voice to that of a male. Another example is the body suit, created by Anderson, in which each part of the body is given its own sound. These particular aspects are discussed in chapter two.

Throughout her career Anderson has performed picture shows and created installations. In the early 1970’s she performed in various alternative spaces, such as museums, colleges and cultural centres, rather than the more traditional stage/stadium. These alternative spaces were used to enable accessibility to audiences who would not normally be attracted to a traditional status conscious, high art establishment. Another consideration for the use of the alternative space was financially led. The cost of staging a performance in high art establishments was prohibitively expensive to most ‘avant garde’ exponents. The experimentation aspects of ‘avant garde’ performances always made financial backing a commercial high risk. Experimentation of the genre’s is also be key to the term performance artist, as Goldberg implies.

It is not only performance art Anderson offers but also musical performances. After many years of learning the violin, she gave up the notion of becoming a concert violinist, but instead integrated music into her performance. One of her first performances incorporating the violin was Duets on Ice (1972) the idea borne from her observation of her own cold feet. She placed blocks of ice on both feet, in the summer, and played a violin that was fixed with a gadget to make it appear to ‘cry tears’ until the block melted. (15) Such innovation was indicative of things to come, within the experimental elements of performance.

It was possibly her move to Soho, New York, after qualifying from University that took her on the road to becoming a ‘performance artist’. Soho was a place for many of the struggling painting fraternity. The Sixties and Seventies were a time of significant experimentation. Theatre was becoming more radical with the likes of Julian Beck’s ‘Living Theatre’. Trisha Brown was moving dance forward to a more contemporary movement. Music was becoming more diverse from popular ‘glam rock’, to the more abstract musicians such as Frank Zappa, (a man sometimes compared to Anderson because of his innovative music and lyric). Other artists such as Andy Warhol were challenging middle class American values with his art. There was now an alternative to the traditional that was exciting and fresh. Experimentation, innovation and the desire to move the art world forward was a driving force for this era of the "Arts" which greatly influenced Laurie Anderson.

The decade of the 1960’s was also a period of experimentation with the loosening of social constraints and moral values. A reinvention of social and artistic convention - an artistic revolution was beginning to emerge. A time when ‘Joints’ blew out Marlboro cigarettes, not wearing clothes became an option in theatre and feminists brandished notions of burning their bras. This was a time when experimentation was definitely in: the birthing of the ‘avant-garde’? Anderson said in 1974:

New York in the early 70’s was Paris in the 20’s. I was part of a group of artist/pioneers that included Gordon Matta-Clark, Gene Highstein, …Phil Glass, Keith Sonnier and several other sculptors and musicians. We often worked on each other’s pieces and boundaries between art forms were loose… (16)

Perhaps ‘performance artists’ is a convenient label for the people experimenting with gadgets, inventions and dabbling in many art forms from the 70’s onwards rather than a specific genre. Anderson says of her work in this era:

During the mid-70’s I performed in every single ‘alternative space’ in the United States. This was a great way to see the country. I travelled alone with a big black case of violins, tapes and various gadgets and gradually began to feel more or less like a salesman. (17)

Philip Glass (composer) worked with Robert Wilson (director and scenographer) in the 70’s, and was another inspiration to Anderson. Glass/Wilson produced an epic opera that lasted many hours, called Einstein on the Beach (1975) and some people have regarded it as a landmark in this century’s music theatre. It is no surprise Anderson went on to produce an epic work by the 1980’s. United States ran for 8 hours. There are some similarities in both works. Glass/Wilson incorporated visual themes with music; Anderson incorporated visual themes with the spoken/sung. Again, there is the necessity to experiment and turn away from conformity. Glass and Wilson have also been labelled multimedia performers. On their latest collaboration of work, Monsters of Grace, the duo’s work is described as: "…. A multimedia opera melding high art and utilizing advanced digital technology that unfolds in a three-dimensional computer images." (18) As they are incorporating high art with technology that then should make it performance art, according to Goldberg.

The performance United States was a big boost to Anderson’s career. One musical track from the show, ‘O Superman’, reached number 2 in the UK pop charts and heralded the rise from avant-garde to ‘pop star’ for Anderson. There was unrest about her definition at this time as the avant-garde movement was concerned that her work was becoming too commercialised. Anderson felt that she could no longer be part of the ‘fringe’ element continually taking grants to fund her work. She recognised that the grant system should help those experimenters just starting out. She had the experience to earn from commissions and felt justified in being commercially viable.

Her passion for technological advancement has been utilised fully into to Anderson’s work. Glenn Ricci, an American reviewer of one of Anderson’s later autobiographical tours, ‘The Nerve Bible’, said: "Watching Ms. Anderson, one gets the sense that she eats silicon chips sprinkled over her shredded wheat for breakfast." (19) Anderson uses technology alongside her performance, rather than to make the performance. Ricci also said: "Up there on stage, she appears as the ideal future human living in perfect harmony with all sorts of electronically synchronised equipment." (20) An example of this is in her concert/film ‘Home of the Brave’ where at times she is dressed in white with a mask that emphasised the eyes and mouth. She had the look an androgynous android, using the body suit that was electronically engineered to have different sounds to different areas; she gave the impression of an alien attempting to converse in a rhythmic score of sound. (21) But is technology a valid way to make a more fulfilling performance? Or does it subtract or detract from the message being conveyed to the audience?

Laurie Anderson transported 33 tons of equipment for ‘The Nerve Bible’ tour, a far cry from one gadgetry adapted violin of previous days. Being concerned with a financial burden and the logistics of trundling mounds of technology around she cut right back on equipment for her last tour, ‘The Speed of Darkness’. "I’m going to be the avant garde of the technological backlash"; (22) Anderson told David Holthouse of ‘Tweak’ radio. For this tour she had no set or visuals, just her adapted violin, (a violin she invented early on in her career that plays tapes when the bow crosses the string), a keyboard and a digital processor. Demonstrating that a large technological infrastructure is not always needed to make a more fulfilling performance. Anderson is being retrospective, to a certain extent, when minimalism was the crux of her performances.

Whether a performance artist, multimedia extraodinnaire or multimedia art performer, Laurie Anderson produces innovative technology almost as a hobby. At home she spends many hours tinkering with technology to discover new uses and then incorporates them into her work, although on occasions she will have a concept and then tinker until she perfects the effect that she wants. The complexity of mediums in her multi-layered approach cannot detract from the story or message that Anderson wants to communicate; indeed they are used to expand and substantiate the content of Anderson’s stories. Kate Bornstein (American transsexual performance artist) in response to the author’s questionnaire (See Appendix A) suggests that: "…Anderson is a storyteller who’s telling her stories through a medium she basically invented: performance art…." (See Appendix B). Without the story Anderson would have no performance and de facto would not need complex mediums. Consequently, it is the story that is the heart of Anderson’s work and Anderson’s definition is that of the storyteller.

How she perfects and hones her craft to express her stories is explored in the following chapter. To the author, the most appropriate and credible definition of Laurie Anderson is that she is essentially a storyteller of the 20th Century, and for the 21st Century.



















Footnotes — Chapter One


  1. Howell J. Laurie Anderson. (American Originals) Thunder Mouth Press. New York. 1992. Quote from ‘Newsweek’. 1992. Back cover
  2. Howell J. -------------Ibid------------- Foreward
  3. Howell J. -------------Ibid------------- P. 35
  4. Goldberg R. Performance Art (From Futurism to the Present). Thames and Hudson. 1988. P. 7
  5. The Concise Oxford Dictionary (Ninth Edition). Clarendon Press Oxford. 1995. P. 1015
  6. --------------Ibid------------- P. 70
  7. Howell J. Laurie Anderson. (American Originals) Thunder Mouth Press. New York. 1992. P. 36
  8. Howell J. -------------Ibid------------- P. 38
  9. Goldberg R. Performance Art (From Futurism to the Present). Thames and Hudson. 1988. P.9
  10. Warner Bros. Official Biography (Anderson L) Internet web page: http://d1o202.telia.com/~u222500056/laurie/biograph.htm 31.5.98 (Anderson L.)
  11. P.10 of 11

  12. The Concise Oxford Dictionary (Ninth Edition). Clarendon Press Oxford. 1995. P.893
  13. Huxley M and Witts N. The Twentieth Century Performance Reader. Routledge. 1996. P.246
  14. Howell J. Laurie Anderson. (American Originals) Thunder Mouth Press. New York. 1992. P. 41
  15. Goldberg R. Performance Art (From Futurism to the Present). Thames and Hudson. 1988. P.156
  16. Howell J. -------------Ibid------------- P.19
  17. Warner Bros. Official Biography (Anderson L.) Internet web page:
  18. http://d1o202.telia.com/~u222500056/laurie/biograph.htm 31.5.98 (Anderson L.)

    P.10 of 11

  19. Warner Bros. ---------Ibid------------ P. 9 of 11
  20. Schirmer G. April 1998 Schirmer News headlines. Internet web page: http://www.schirmer.com/news/apr98/glass.html ("Monsters of Grace") G. Schirmer Promotion Department. 2.11.99. P.1 of 2
  21. Ricci G. Music Review by Glenn Ricci (The Nerve Bible: Laurie Anderson Live.) — Lisner Auditorium, Washington D.C., April 11, 1995. Internet web page: http://glyphs.com/music/95/laurie_a.html 6.10.98.
  22. P. 1 of 2

  23. Ricci G. --------------Ibid-------------- P. 1 of 2
  24. Anderson L. Home of the Brave (Film/Concert). Warner Bros Inc. and Talk Normal Productions Inc. © 1986.
  25. Holthouse D. Strange Angel (Laurie Anderson breaks her own rules — again. Story by David Holthouse — Self-Portrait by Laurie Anderson. Internet Web Page: http://www.tweak.com/phonetag/anderson/ (Tweak Radio — America)

31.5.98 P. 1 of 5


















Chapter Two

The notion of the storyteller

"I remember being terrified I would run out of stories."(1)

Storytelling has always been important to Laurie Anderson. During her childhood she spent many happy hours using her imagination to make up her own stories. Her father was a great inspiration to her; she likened him to a salesman because he was full of anecdotes and stories. When he died she felt that "a whole library burned down." (2)

Anderson distances herself from the broad category of performance artist when describing herself she says she is: "…. Just a storyteller. What I do is just the world’s oldest art form." (3) Anderson explains her use of technology by comparing herself to the original storyteller that gathers around a fire, which helps create an atmosphere of power, mystery and magic. She uses technology to create or enhance such an atmosphere. In her production ‘Halcion Days — Stories from the Nerve Bible’, (1992) she wanted to create a stormy atmosphere and she spent much time developing columns which emitted a tornado-like swirl of dry ice, because to her knowledge, it had never been achieved on stage.

However, a collection of special effects does not in itself, create a story. The story gives the meaning; it is the relationship between the words, imagery, music, special effects and movement. James Yarker of Stanscafe theatre group, stated that: "... Anderson is whatever she calls herself. She is a musician who tells stories…a writer who tells stories…and a performer who tells stories…". (See appendix C) While it may be true that a story can be about any subject from atomic fusion to dragon slayers, there always has to be a special relationship between the words to make it a story and not a text book exercise. Such a relationship depends upon the emotional attachments with which it involves the audience. Any story would be incredibly boring if it had no reader/audience expectation and yet again, to keep interest, these expectations have to be challenged by the storyteller in order to bring about a surprise. The management and manipulation of the relationship between the mediums in storytelling (whether it is building a fire large enough to last for the performance of a story, using the voice to give inflection and timbre, or by producing the required effects through other mediums) is the storytellers art. Even the best myths and legends, parables and anecdotes can be greatly enhanced if the delivery is such that it captivates, enthrals or stimulates the listener/audience.

Anderson’s desire to create the right atmosphere and to be recognised as a storyteller led her to evolve atmospheric styles of clothing. In the early stages she wore a long flowing white dress with her long hair tied back in an attempt to look the part of an ethereal storyteller. This evolved into wearing a white trouser suit, so that images could be projected onto her. This was her attempt at hiding herself behind the storyteller: "I wanted the main thing to be the words." (4) In her later work the suit changed to black so that she could hide in the shadows; at this time her hairstyle also changed to short and spiky, giving the appearance alongside her jerky movements of an androgynous automaton. For Anderson: "disembodied stories were more interesting (5) but Anderson also said: "Don’t you dare get near me I’m an automaton." (6) Another way she "disembodied" herself was to create a different voice through the invention of the vocorder, (an electronic method of changing vocal octaves), to create an archetypal "voice of authority". (7) To achieve this she electronically mixed the voices of Ronald Reagan, former President of the United States and William S Burroughs, the American author. This technique evolved to enable her to have many different character voices.

To Anderson a story is not expected to be a full description of an event or series of events. She sees a story as being one thread, one perception. She expects her audience to fill in the gaps between the keywords, images and sounds. This is not to say that her storytelling lacks structure; for her: " A song or story has to have three things: what you’re saying, the color of the word, and the pace or tone." (8) This can be illustrated by part of the performance of Home of the Brave. Images are projected onto the back of the stage (e.g. a house, car, tree, chair, aeroplane) and along with seemingly disjointed phrases (e.g. "Shouting, … my voice")(9) they lead the audience through a train of thought. The interpretation however is often different for the audience. For Anderson, a sign of her success is when members of the audience approach her after a performance and tell her that she was thinking exactly the same as them but when they describe what they thought she was thinking it is something completely different. Likewise, when artists tell her that she has been a great influence but when she sees or hears their work it bears little resemblance to her own, she feels this is a measure of the great diversity within mankind. Anderson believes that every person’s perception is different and therefore cannot be the same.

In her later work when she talks about the Gulf war (Empty Places —1989) her emphasis changes when she wants to give her opinion, her perception, to the audience.


Perception depends upon many things, gender and personal circumstances being two of the main areas. Anderson acknowledges that being a woman does sometimes necessarily influence her work but that she attempts to be a narrator first before exploring both the females and the male point of view. It is interesting that her ‘voice of authority’ is male and Anderson sees patriarchy throughout the arts as well as within storytelling. Anderson’s political opinions - from her feminist perspective - has also tackled the second class citizenship of women (United States l-lV. Voices from the Beyond — 1991). Anderson sees the woman’s cause as back tracking because women still have low self-esteem. Anderson feels very strongly about this and in her early works was careful not to be seen just as a ‘political’ performer: "I really have to be careful about getting too strident." (10) However, despite her reluctance to be classed as a ‘political’ performer/storyteller her later work (Strange Angels 1989) is recognised as being a "significant"(11) contribution to the political debate. Anderson herself admits that she is not sure anymore that what she is doing can still be called art and says of it: "It goes forth between story-telling and advocacy."(12). Anderson is now more concerned with opening political debate and encouraging her audience to think, rather than them being impressed by her spectacular electronic wizardry. Anderson is gaining more satisfaction from this type of minimalist performance: "As a story-teller, I find this really exhilarating". (13). Anderson used to see her work not as something significant enough to change the world, more to make the world a: "…delightful place."(14) But with her developed political awareness her attitude has altered, she now feels that: "the purpose of art is the free expression of the artist, whatever that may mean."(15).

Strange Angels (1989) has been one of her most openly political works. In one of Anderson’s songs from this work she tackles the subject of genetic engineering, warning of the dangers of playing about with nature (Monkey’s Paw — "BUT NATURE’S GOT RULES AND NATURE’S GOT LAWS AND IF YOU CROSS HER LOOK OUT!").(16) The subject of equality of the sexes (or rather the lack of equality) is addressed in Beautiful Red Dress — "YOU KNOW FOR EVERY DOLLAR A MAN MAKES A WOMAN MAKES 63 CENTS".(17) Other story/songs have not such overt messages, such as The Day The Devil. In the author’s view this is about female sexual abuse and the helplessness that is felt when someone in authority is oppressive; this message can be found within the repeated chorus " GIVE ME BACK MY INNOCENCE GET ME A BRAND NEW SUIT GIVE ME BACK MY INNOCENCE OH LORD! CUT ME DOWN TO SIZE".(18) A number of "public service announcements about various political situations" (19) were distributed instead of a music video with this album. Anderson’s method of story-telling became more relaxed while dealing with these political subjects especially during (Voices From Beyond 1991) where there was just one image projected onto a screen and Anderson simply sits on a stool and talks, even at times referring to a notebook.

Throughout Anderson’s stories, including her more political works, there are often repeated themes. During Voices from Beyond, Home of the Brave and Nerve Bible, amongst others, Anderson uses one of her favourite themes: that of time and in particular, time going backwards. Anderson recognises that the population (especially the U.S.A.) has a fascination with time as the Millennium approaches (20) and that time has become very important within everyday lives, both consciously and sub-consciously. There are many people, individuals and groups, secular and religious, that are expecting the year 2000 to be the ‘End of the World’ and Anderson acknowledges that there is a feeling of insecurity and dread as this time approaches. Anderson also uses time to emphasise a structure that regulates an otherwise chaotic world. Images of time in her works include clocks (In the Nick of Time-early 1970’s) The metronome for its regular beat (Songs and stories for the Insomniac-1975), windscreen wipers and making regular arcs with her violin bow and the sound of heart beats are often incorporated into the performance. In Home of the Brave she incorporates time (the time it takes to rig up a new set) with the Binary system of using 0 and 1, explaining that: "nobody wants to be a 0 but everybody wants to be a 1"(21 ). Anderson then goes on to link this Binary system to one of her other favourite themes, that of language. Anderson illustrates this with the help of projected examples, that Binary can be used as a code for language: (projected onto the backdrop is a phrase coded into a binary and then a small example from the work of William Shakespeare). Anderson is a polyglot and has enjoyed the challenge of performing in other languages although she admits that it can be exacting: "if you want to say "withered magazine" (22) you must find the right word to convey the meaning. Anderson also finds word association of great interest and incorporates this into much of her work; an example of this is in ‘Home of the Brave’ when Anderson connects Frank Sinatra’s "blowing smoke rings" (23) to "a staircase". (24) To Anderson, the connection is made because both words lead upwards. Anderson sees the use of language not limited to Planet Earth and is also fascinated with the theme of communicating with alien beings and with what form of language that might take. Anderson develops this idea in Home of the Brave where she used an image of radar picking up sounds from out of space and creates a communication through these sounds. Although in Home of the Brave it is unclear exactly what the language from outer space is saying. In other works Anderson often refers to: "language is a virus",(25) sometimes in the context of language being a virus from outer space. William S Burroughs, who originally used this phrase, inspired this idea. One interpretation of this phrase is that language can be something to be feared not necessarily used for ‘good’. In Anderson’s works she suggests this when she talks of the voice of authority, (during wars) and how language is used as propaganda; the general population is so used to a hegemonic voice of authority that it does not recognise the subversive element within the message. These themes have inspired storytellers from the beginning of time when man first looked up to the stars and first understood the concept of the day lasting as long as one sunrise and sunset.

Although language is an essential component of Anderson’s works, she realises that language has its limitations. Anderson has admitted that to get some messages across to her audience words alone were not enough. They had to be reinforced with both image and music to attain the required emotional impact: "If I could just say it, I would write it down on a piece of paper and stand on the street corner and hand it out. I wouldn’t bother to make songs or pictures." (26) This is not to say that the image and music is there simply to back up the text; to Anderson they must say something in their own right: "Visuals didn’t merely illustrate text, music didn’t merely support lyrics." (27) Anderson’s use of this multi-layered approach to her storytelling is her method of providing adequate stimulation to her audience, with the aim that the audience will be participatory through their thought processes: "I always wanted to have an emotional impact on my audience." (28)

The images and pictures that Anderson uses are often repeated through several of her works. These include images of her favourite themes, for instance, outer space and flight, both mechanically and naturally. Within Home of the Brave Anderson refers to: "the higher you fly the further you fall" (29). This is reinforced through the projected images of an aeroplane and birds in flight. On the album, Big Science (1982) this theme is explored in a story/song called ‘From the Air’, where a captain of an aeroplane announces that a crash is imminent. This falling from height can also be interpreted as, the aeroplane is the USA, with the passengers aboard being the citizens; the Captain being the voice of authority (the government or the president). The Captain’s manner is reassuring even though the situation is clearly hopeless. Anderson is suggesting that America is in decline but the citizens are being falsely reassured. Towards the end of the story/song the pilot has ejected, leaving the passengers to their fate. This may relate to the betrayal of the citizens by those in authority. There seems to be an inevitability about the scenario as one line suggests that the situation has been repeated since the beginning of mankind: "You know, I’ve got a funny feeling I’ve seen this all before. Why? Cause I’m a caveman." (30) This allegory could also be interpreted as another warning that the ‘End of the World’, as we know it, is near its end, where the plane represents the world which is tumbling, out of control to its inevitable end. As already stated this has been a familiar theme for storytellers, and holds an almost subliminal attraction for insecure listeners.

Anderson combines two of her favourite themes (language and water) within a series of short stories with illustrations (1976-7). She created a picture show of cards, where each card had two words hyphenated and a picture relating to water. By taking away a particular card in a particular order Anderson led the audiences thinking processes to reveal a story.

Memory has a constant intrigue for Anderson and is used many times during different stories. In As:If (1975) Anderson tried to create a story that was so boring it would fade from people’s memory within minutes. The subject that she thought was capable of being so boring was her own religious upbringing. She wanted to assess how the brain patterns worked when trying to remember a story. Her thought when doing it was: "I just want to exist in people’s memories and then when they forget, that’s it." (31)

To Anderson the performance needed to be live, not to be experienced through a detached medium:

I myself was very proud that I didn’t document my work. I felt that, since much of it was about time and memory, that was the way it should be recorded — in the memories of the viewers — with all the inevitable distortions, associations and elaboration’s…when live art is documented through film or audio recordings it immediately becomes another art form… but live art is continually elusive… images and texts are presented in the spirit of the work itself; ever evolving and reinventing. (32)

This evolution and reinventing of Anderson’s work is echoed throughout all her themes and all her work by appropriate repetition. Anderson’s own memory is one of her major resources. Her memory and the ability to evolve her work is in keeping with the traditional storytellers of old, the best storytellers were those who, while maintaining the truth of the story embellished it to make it more vivid for their audience.

Anderson’s fluctuating personal financial situation has always played a major part in her ability to create her desired storytelling atmosphere. In the 1970’s when Anderson was relatively unknown and financially insecure, she had to buy second-hand electrical equipment from stores on Canal Street near to where she lived. Anderson saw this as an important resource: "If it weren’t for Canal Street… there might have been no visual or performance art during that decade". (33) So appreciative was Anderson that she called her own production company Canal Street Communications. When Anderson was no longer restricted to the size of a grant, her productions became more complex and on a grander scale. This continued until after the production of The Nerve Bible (1994) as described in Chapter 1. This change in style is further evidence of Anderson’s willingness to risk experimentation. Her audience would be expecting electronic wizardry, would they remain loyal when all this was stripped away? There were some murmurs of discontent but Anderson was not only driven by the need for financial success. It was at this time that Anderson’s storytelling took on a different style. No longer was it the more comfortable, reminiscences from Anderson’s own past experiences or the messages enclosed within a parable to make it more palatable for the audience. Anderson now had the confidence to realise that her opinions had a value, not just the opinions on the past but her conjecture upon the future. In the live performance of Speed of Darkness (1998) it is the wit alongside the message; thus enabling the audience to appreciate and stomach the political and prophetic content. An example of this is when Anderson recounted a personal experience. Along with much electronic equipment, which contained mini bombs for effects, Anderson was searched at customs as she entered into a Middle-East country where she was to perform. There was great interest in her use of the small explosives after she had put on an impromptu performance to prove they were necessary. Anderson was then later invited to a car park by a cultural minister, where she was given a demonstration of bigger and better bombs that could be made available to her. It occurred to her that the second largest buyer of ‘arms’ was entertaining a citizen of the largest producer of ‘arms’ in the world. This incident reminded Anderson of a phrase that she had previously read that terrorists were the world’s last true avant garde artists as they were the only one’s "capable of truly surprising people"(34). This black and bleak subject was enmeshed into a story that lost none of its irony but was made entertaining through the manner in which Anderson designed the performance.

Evidence and research has been given of Anderson’s storytelling techniques, themes and approaches. It has also shown that as Anderson has matured, so has her personal outlook and the content of her storytelling performances. Is their scope available for Anderson to further develop her work, when to her own admission there is a backlash against the huge technological extravaganza? Is it possible that experimentation has run its course, given that some people suggest that terrorism and war are the only way to surprise? How can Anderson take forward her work; is it possible for her to intrigue and attract audiences by her storytelling, or is she running out of stories, as she fears she might? These issues are evaluated in the remaining chapter.


Footnotes — Chapter Two

  1. Howell J. Laurie Anderson. (American Originals) Thunder Mouth Press. New York. 1992. P. 50 (Artist in Dialogue)
  2. Anderson L. The Ugly One With The Jewels (Long Play Disc). Warner Bros. Records Inc. for the US and WEA International Inc. for the world outside the US. © 1995. Track 18 (Same Time Tomorrow)
  3. Howell J. Laurie Anderson. (American Originals) Thunder Mouth Press. New York. 1992. P.9
  4. Howell J. --------------Ibid------------- P.60
  5. Howell J. --------------Ibid------------- P.59

6. Howell J. --------------Ibid------------- P.69

7. Howell J. --------------Ibid------------- P.22

8. Howell J. --------------Ibid------------- P.90

9. Anderson L. Home of the Brave (Film/concert). Warner Bros Records Inc. and Talk Normal Productions Inc. © 1986.

10. Howell J. --------------Ibid------------- P.76

11. Huxley M and Witts N. The Twentieth Century Performance Reader. Routledge. 1996. P.8

12. Huxley M and Witts N. -----Ibid----- P.15

13. Huxley M and Witts N. ------Ibid----- P.17

14. Howell J. Laurie Anderson (American Originals). Thunder Mouth Press. New York. 1992. P.75

15. Huxley M and Witts N. The Twentieth Century Performance Reader. Routledge. 1996. P.18

16. Anderson L. Strange Angels (Long Play Disc). Warner Bros. Records Inc. for the U.S. and WEA International Inc. for the world outside of the US. © 1989. Track 2 (Monkeys Paw)

17. Anderson L. ------------------Ibid------------- Track 6 (Beautiful Red Dress)

18. Anderson L. ------------------Ibid------------- Track 6 (-------------Ibid---------)

19. Huxley M and Witts N. The Twentieth Century Performance Reader. Routledge. 1996. P.15

20. Huxley M and Witts N. ------Ibid------- P.16

21. Anderson L. Home of the Brave (Film/Concert). Warner Bros Records Inc. and Talk Normal Productions Inc. © 1986.

22. Howell J. -----------------Ibid---------------- P.45-46

23. Anderson L. Home of the Brave (Film/Concert). Warner Bros Records Inc. and Talk Normal Productions Inc. © 1986.

24. Anderson L. -----------------------Ibid------------------------------------

25. Howell J. Laurie Anderson. (American Originals). Thunder Mouth Press. New York. 1992. P.24

26. Howell J. --------------Ibid-------------- P.19

27. Howell J. --------------Ibid------------- P.21

28. Howell J. --------------Ibid------------- P.19

29. Anderson L. Home of the Brave (Film/Concert). Warner Bros Records Inc. and Talk Normal Productions Inc. © 1986.

30. Anderson L. Big Science. (Long Play Disc). Warner Bros. Records Inc. for the US and WEA International Inc. for the world outside the US. © 1982. Track 1. (From the Air)

31. Howell J. Laurie Anderson. (American Originals). Thunder Mouth Press. New York. 1992. P.44 (Artist in Dialogue)

32. Goldberg R. Performance — Live Art since the 60’s. Thames and Hudson. 1998. P.6-7

33. Howell J. Laurie Anderson (American Originals). Thunder Mouth Press. New York. 1992. P.15

34. Anderson L. The Ugly One With The Jewels (and other stories) (Long Play Disc) Warner Bros. 1995. Track 17. ‘The Cultural Ambassador’.




Chapter Three

The maintaining or enhancement of artistic status.

What if I’ve just done my last work of art for the rest of my life? I’m going to be a lonely, isolated person with no pension. I have to keep producing — I don’t have an employer. (1)

If Anderson’s art depended upon creating something totally new each time it may be feasible that this fear of running out of stories could happen. However, Anderson’s stories often have their foundation in retrospection, in observation of the world around her and her hopes for the future. With her ability to reinvent previous material to be included in a present production and as we exist in a world that is ever changing, it is certain that Anderson will never run out of available inspiration. Anderson has proved her adeptness at radically changing her style, and continues to successfully challenge the audience expectation both in form and content. Her audiences have come to expect the unexpected and are left in suspense at the end of each production/performance with an anticipation of her next.

Anderson’s use of technology is clever and innovative. As there has been no slowdown in new technology - indeed the developments in technology seem to be ever quickening - there appears to be no limitation on Anderson’s electronically creative future. Anderson belongs to a futuristic computer working party called ‘Global Business Network’ (2). This group’s aim is to "design for the future" (3), therefore Anderson is assured of maintaining her premier position within the electronic performance field. In the last few years Anderson has produced a CD-ROM call ‘Puppet Motel’, which has caused great excitement amongst her fans, because it is something innovative and demands a greater interaction between the audience and the performance. Anderson does express concern at the speed of technological change in as much as she sees a lot of people being left behind. For example, digital T.V. and other media products may become so advanced that the proletariat groups may miss out on futuristic movements. It is possible that in the future she may develop two or more sections of fans — one that appreciates the less technological, more melodic work and the other who prefer her more abstract modern performances. Glen Ricci said of her performance of Stories from the Nerve Bible: "What kept the audience entertained for a full 2.5 hours (including intermission) was not the pile of electronic contraptions so much as the content and context Anderson gave to them." (4). It is the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ Anderson is telling that will be the crux and the success to her longevity?

One important element of Anderson is her eclecticism. She is perhaps a ‘Jill of all trades’ who has the ability to plumb her finger into many a pie and keep the work coming in, rather like the generalist worker as opposed to a specialist. The broad base of her interests will enable Anderson to adopt and use an appropriate medium for an appropriate subject. Anderson has proved that she is successful in knowing what her audience will find acceptable. She is not afraid to fail as she has shown by the risks she has already taken in changing the expectations of her audience. (As in her departure from grand technology during Nerve Bible and Speed of Darkness tours.)

Part of this broad base of Anderson’s interests and talents is her accomplishment of a more traditional musical field. "Americans on the Move" was the first performance in this category, performed in 1979. She said of this:

This was the first performance I did strictly as a musician/composer rather than a performance artist. I quickly realized that the music world had stricter interpretations of what was acceptable and I began to appreciate the art world even more. Met the conductor Dennis Russell Davies who encouraged me to try to write works for the orchestras.(5).

Although the strict regulations of traditional music is not what Anderson’s audience has come to expect, it is well within Anderson’s capabilities to incorporate more of this type of performance: if it was the most appropriate medium to get her message/story across. Anderson generally works with the sounds that can be created in music to exemplify her storytelling and she has the ability to create something of orchestral quality. This in itself is a means of work and something she can place in a more central role in future performances. Anderson thrives on diversity and to diversify into this more specialised field could be a challenge and a new option for her.

It is clear that Anderson prefers to work as a multimedia performer. She has experience in comedy when she worked with American stand-up comic and performance artist, Andy Kaufman and often incorporates a wit and black humour in her works. It seems unlikely that she would expand comedy to such an extent that it becomes central to her work, because the essence of Anderson’s work is the story, not making her audience laugh, although laughter may be a by-product and adds texture. There is no doubt that her witty deliverance of her stories (even the most black) endears itself to her audience and is part of what will keep the audience coming back time after time.

Anderson’s interests also include dance. She composed the music for Set and Reset (1984) for the contemporary choreographer/dancer Trisha Brown. Contemporary dance is likely to have a place in Anderson’s performance for some time in the future. Anderson has been termed as a dancer herself but although she incorporates dance movement on stage, by her own admission this is only for the timing of each piece of work, rather than a contemporary display of talent. Anderson admits that: "Many of the dances began as signals to technicians — hand cues, foot cues, head cues." (6) It will be interesting to see her choreograph future dance performances whilst acknowledging it is likely, based on past experience, that the story will remain central to any performance.

Anderson studied art and sculpture at University and her artistic designs have been integrated within her performances. She has created installations throughout her career at various times, the latest one being in a cell in an Italian prison where Anderson’s technological mastery developed a hologram that caused the optical illusion of allowing a prisoner freedom of movement.

One of the most challenging and intriguing aspects of Anderson’s work is that it is always changing and moving forward. Throughout the 1970’s Anderson moved performances between alternative performance spaces and art museums, from the ‘fringe’ to the ‘establishment’. She combined installations with performance as opposed to using a basic artistic design (visual imagery) within a performance. Within this context Anderson has the ability to provide future stories for whatever field she cares to go into performance, theatre, even the media.

Anderson’s latest project is an opera based on the book, ‘Moby Dick’. This performance is due to tour in 1999, but there is an indication that it will be based on the book and will contain a lot of water themes. To some extent it could be seen that she is moving into the style of Robert Lepage by taking the essence of a text and creating a multimedia performance from it. However, as it would detract from her unique style of performance it seems unlikely.

It will be interesting to see Anderson experiment further. Indeed, she has always been interested in unusual or quaint projects. For example, going around aged caves and creating music in line with the age-old drawings, performed, of course, in the dark - because this is the atmosphere they would have been drawn in. She is keen on freedom of speech and this is perhaps why she enters into controversial lyrics, looking at authority and its effects on the world. Anderson has enough talent and knowledge to give more to the artistic world via the media. She could create for television to reach a wider audience. She could create interactive educational CD-ROM’s for both children and adults. Anderson has the ability and courage to be an intrinsic part of the future of technological storytelling.

With such a political interest she could be experimental with styles similar to Augusto Boal (political theatre maker). Using audience participation, Anderson could create Invisible theatre (theatre that is manipulated without the audiences knowledge or permission). The ethics of such practice may be debatable as it may be deemed unfair to practice such theatre while the public is oblivious to it. Anderson has always been an avid observer of the public, these observations have inspired much of her work albeit in a covert context. To use Invisible theatre more overtly would, however, be pushing the boundaries of Anderson’s theatre that bit further and it would be an added dimension to her work.

Anderson has enough political knowledge to provide her with the capability to concentrate on a political career alongside/instead of performance. Although Anderson’s political voice has been discussed, it is unlikely that Anderson would become a dedicated politician as she has said that she likes to hide behind the voice/character/story.

Anderson’s eclecticism makes her resource material never ending, her multifaceted talents and interests ensure that she is capable of both maintaining her important artistic status and influence well into the 21st Century.

It has been rumoured (on various Anderson sites on the Internet) that one of her forthcoming projects will be to open an amusement park with collaborators Brian Eno (producer) and Peter Gabriel (member of the rock group Genesis) in Spain. This park will supposedly emphasise technological achievements. If true, this will be another huge artistic risk for Anderson.

The author has admired Anderson’s work for many years and is eager to follow the progress of this innovative artist/performance-artist/musician/theatre-maker/dancer/choreographer (among other labels). Above all, audiences can look forward to experiencing many more of Anderson’s stories as she is unique, exciting, challenging and above all, amongst the best storytellers of our lifetime.


Footnotes — Chapter 3

1. Howell J. Laurie Anderson. (American Originals). Thunder Mouth Press. New York. 1992. P.101

  1. Howell J. -----------------Ibid---------------- P.81
  2. Howell J. -----------------Ibid---------------- P.81
  3. Ricci G. Music Review by Glenn Ricci (The Nerve Bible: Laurie Anderson Live) — Lisner Auditorium, Washington D.C., April 11, 1995. Internet Web Page: http://glyphs.com/music/95/laurie_a.html P. 1 of 2
  4. Warner Bros. Official Biography (Anderson L). Internet Web Page: http://d10202.telia.com/~u222500056/laurie/biograph.htm 31.5.98. P.8 of 11
  5. Howell J. Laurie Anderson. (American Originals). Thunder Mouth Press. New York. 1992. P.15










The whole reasoning behind this extended essay was to give Laurie Anderson’s work a definition. The author believed that Laurie Anderson was worthy of a greater insight into her work rather than being constantly pushed into the broad category of performance artist. There is a personal feeling that the effects of post modernism has brought about such liberality within the world of performing arts, that adequate specification of artistes no longer exists. Broad categories do not necessarily define the work of the artist and the reason behind this is because art forms have become more eclectic. The author felt that there had to be an essence that the artist fundamentally bases his/her work from and to pinpoint this essence became the origin of this essay: the notion of Laurie Anderson the storyteller.

Although Laurie Anderson can be loosely categorised as a performance artist, this definition does not adequately describe the complexity and innovative work that has been created by Anderson over the past 30years. Although there is an eclectic nature to the performance there needs to be a more adequate definition; a definition that explores the common denominator of all her work. To reach this common denominator the author explored other labels that have described this artiste in the past, as well as the labels that Laurie Anderson has adopted herself.

It was this focus on the fundamentals of Anderson’s work that inspired the author to expand her research on the subject of Laurie Anderson and work towards a specific context; that is the definition of Anderson as a storyteller within a contemporary context. The research entailed broadening the knowledge of the author by exploring the influences that surrounded her (both in everyday life and specifically those within the contemporary field) thus providing a greater insight to Laurie Anderson’s work. The conclusion that Laurie Anderson was essentially a ‘storyteller’ has been based on that insight.

Once the definition of a ‘storyteller’ was established the author then examined Laurie Anderson’s works to establish how the ‘story’ was told; how different mediums were used; and how extensive technology used by Anderson was related to storytelling. The author explained the significance of Anderson’s adaptation of clothing as relating to her ‘storytelling’. Anderson’s own perspective on the relationship between the ‘storyteller’ and the audience was considered and it was discovered that for Anderson, ‘storytelling’ was a joint exploration where the audience had to participate by not only following a train of thought but adding to it when required.

It became evident that Anderson had favourite themes that she revisited. Among the most often used themes were water, time, language, memory and space.

Anderson’s maturity became visible through her work, from the performer who happily left the interpretation of her work up to the audience and critics - to a person who now shows strong political arguments and fully intends to get her opinion across to the audience.

Anderson’s courage in pushing forward the boundaries of art and theatre has been exemplified by the risk taking elements within her work. Her knowledge and understanding of her audience has resulted in an awareness of how much change will be accepted without too much compromise, allowing her need to continually challenge both herself and her craft to constantly evolve.

Laurie Anderson has been shown to have the ability to incorporate humour, dance, invented gadgets, music and visual effectiveness within a performance. This provides her with tremendous scope for changing the format of each performance and still introduce something new to the visual eye and the listening ear whilst still challenging her own creativity.

The strength of Laurie Anderson’s storytelling was discovered to be the ability to look at the world around her and convey a personal perspective of it through words and lyrics in a way that was refreshing, complex and exciting. Her use of analogies suggests a manipulation of her comprehensive knowledge of complex socio-cultural themes to a format that will be acceptable without being bland.

Laurie Anderson has pushed forward the boundaries of the performing art environment. The material available for her future works is endless. Her ability and experience of the arts combined with her intelligence and integrity give Anderson wide-ranging opportunities to move in many different directions. Anderson’s abilities in many fields were noted and suggestions made as to how they may be incorporated to maintain her status in the 21st Century. However, it is the fundamental notion of storytelling that is the compelling crux of Laurie Anderson’s work.


Bibliography (A) Primary Source Material

Questionnaire - On storytelling and Laurie Anderson. Appendix A

E-mail reply from Kate Bornstein. 12.1.99 Appendix B

E-mail reply from James Yarker (Stanscafé) 1.9.99 Appendix C

E-mail reply from Karl Berry 26.2.99 Appendix D















Bibliography (B) — Secondary Source Material

Anderson L. Empty Places — a performance. Harper Perennial. 1991.

Goldberg R. Performance Art (From Futurism to the Present.) Thames and Hudson. 1988.

Goldberg R. Performance — Live Art since the 60’s. Thames and Hudson. 1998.

Howell J. Laurie Anderson. (American Originals) Thunder Mouth Press. New York. 1992.

Huxley M and Witts N. The Twentieth Century Performance Reader. Routledge. 1996.

Microsoft Encarta 97 Encyclopedia (The World’s Leading Multimedia Encyclopedia) © 1993-1996. Microsoft Corporation.

Morrisey L. The Kitchen turns Twenty: A retrospective anthology. Philip Morris Companies Inc. 1992.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary (Ninth Edition). Clarendon Press Oxford. 1995.


Anderson L. Big Science (Long Play Disc.) Warner Bros. Records Inc. for the US and WEA International Inc. for the world outside the US. © 1982.

Anderson L. Bright Red Tightrope (Long Play Disc). Warner Bros. Records Inc. for the US and WEA International Inc. for the world outside the US. © 1994.

Anderson L. Mister Heartbreak (Long Play Disc). Warner Bros. Records Inc. for the US and WEA International Inc. for the world outside the US. © 1984.

Anderson L. Strange Angels (Long Play Disc). Warner Bros. Records Inc. for the US and WEA International Inc. for the world outside the US. © 1989.

Anderson L. The Ugly One With The Jewels (Long Play Disc). Warner Bros. Records Inc. for the US and WEA International Inc. for the world outside the US. © 1995.

Anderson L. Home of the Brave (Film/Concert). Warner Bros Record Inc. and Talk Normal Productions Inc. © 1986.

Anderson L. United States live (box audio set — 5 LP discs). (Recorded live at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. New York City. February 7-10, 1983. A Warner Communications Company. © 1983.




Davies J. Official Online Laurie Anderson Fan Club. Internet Web Page: http://clubs.yahoo.com/clubs/laurieandersonclub (ongoing)

Davies J. Official Laurie Anderson web site. Internet Web Page: http://www.cc.gatech/edu/~jimmyd/laurie-anderson/ (ongoing)

Davies J. Official Laurie Anderson web site (link page) — Laurie Anderson’s Nerve Bible — Full Performance text. Internet Web Page: http://www.prism.gatech.edu/~psg95jd/stories.html 1995.

Gluck J. Laurie Anderson Frequently Asked Questions. (latest) Internet Web Page: http://www.contrib.andrew.cmu.edu/usr/thomasl/faq 27.1.99 jgluck@slip.net

Holthouse D. Strange Angel (Laurie Anderson breaks her own rules — again. Story by David Holthouse — Self-Portrait by Laurie Anderson. Internet Web Page: http://www.tweak.com/phonetag/anderson/ (Tweak Radio — America) 31.5.98 Pages 1-5

Jones telecommunications and multimedia encyclopedia (Update) 10.7.98

Laurie Anderson, Story Teller and Performer . Internet Web Page: http://www.digitalcentury.com/encyclo/update/anderson.html Pages 1-7

Netscape. (Newsgroups — usenet.alt.fan.laurie.anderson) (ongoing) Internet Web Site: http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=laurie+anderson

Ricci G. Music Review by Glenn Ricci (The Nerve Bible: Laurie Anderson Live) — Lisner Auditorium, Washington D.C., April 11, 1995. Internet Web Page: http://glyphs.com/music/95/laurie_a.html

Schirmer G. April 1988 Schirmer News headlines. Internet Web Page: http://www.schirmer.com/news/apr98/glass.html Pages 1-2. ("Monsters Of Grace")

Silicon Valley Radio. Laurie Anderson Interviewed by John Papageorge. 13.5.98. Internet Web Page: http://www.transmitmedia.com/svr.vault/anderson/index.html


Warner Bros. Official Biography (Anderson L) Internet Web Page: http://d10202.telia.com/~u222500056/laurie/biograph.htm 31.5.98. Pages 1-11

Wired Digital Inc. Hotwired Pop Interview — Laurie Anderson. Internet Web Page: http://www.jimdavies.org/laurie-a…hy/interviews/hotwired-pop-interview.html Wired Magazine. 7.6.96. © 1994-99 Wired Digital Inc.

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Yarker J. james@stanscafe.force9.co.uk (Stanscafe theatre group —questionnaire)

Berry K. karl@cs.umb.edu (supplier of books)

Bornstein K. nytegyrl@earthlink.net (Performance Artist (USA) —questionnaire)