Laurie Anderson is one of those New Yorkers who reassures other Manhattanites that their city is officially cool. Like rare, indigenous birds, a mere sighting of her and her mate, Lou Reed, is proof the downtown wildlife is not yet extinct. And whether the outspoken, iconoclastic duo has sought it or not, the two have been elevated to patron saints of a certain order, lending their support to creative institutions from The Kitchen to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Tonight and Friday, Anderson brings her unique blend of performance art and music to the David Bowie-curated High Line Festival before she jets off to Europe for a summer tour.
WWD: How did you get involved with the festival?
Laurie Anderson: I heard it was going to happen and I was really excited about it. I was talking to David Bowie and I was saying, ‘I hope I can be in it.’ I basically tried to invite myself.
WWD: How do you and David know each other?
L.A.: I am more a fan than a friend, but we once did a mind-reading project together. It involved drawings and a fax machine — it was a really fun project.
WWD: What will you be performing?
L.A.: It’s an early version of something called “Homeland” [which is scheduled for release next year]. But these things are always in the middle of changing. I stop predicting that kind of stuff. In rehearsal, we will take these pieces apart and put them back together. I work in my own studio. I used to go to big studios but then I realized all my toys are here — what if we used pennywhistles, or if I want to switch to the hurdy-gurdy? Although that is always a bad idea.
WWD: You are rereleasing your seminal 1982 album, “Big Science.” What was it like to go back and revisit those tracks?
L.A.: When we were remastering it, at first I didn’t see the point, and I thought it was just another thing you do to sell something. But I listened to the CD and it was just awful. And I thought, That’s been out. It’s awful that it sounds like that. It was early and it was low-end. When we went back to master it, I was in tears.
This story first appeared in the May 17, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
But I don’t hear records like that anymore and I don’t make records like that anymore. The most exciting thing is that you can hear the air — we recorded using beautiful ribbon mics, and you can hear fingers lifting off the skin of the drumhead, you can hear people sweating, it’s like a jazz record. It feels like it was made yesterday. It doesn’t feel dated — and I’m really proud of that.
WWD: What made you decide this was the right time to bring back “Big Science,” which is being released in June?
L.A.: Probably the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo on June 18. The idea of the release with Waterloo is just that one of the songs, “O Superman,” was written in response to the Iranian hostage situation — when we went in with these helicopters. It was about how big technology was meant to conquer everything, but it was gigantic humiliation and loss. And I realized that that war is still going on: the world of Western technology versus Islam. What a con — people don’t realize that we are on the edge of coming into the 30th anniversary of this war. And there is no way to win that war — there is no point at which you say you won and you lost. “Homeland” is about that, too. I guess I’m always in some way talking about technology and culture, no matter how hard I try to get away from it.