The desire to research Laurie Andersons 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 Andersons 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.
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The always-emergent process of constructing meter in "O Superman" bears similarities to what Mark Butler describes in relation to rhythm and meter in electronic dance music (EDM). Butler argues that "an ongoing dialectic between fully formed 'meter' and pure, unadorned 'beats'" is characteristic of EDM. Positing this feature as a reason why listeners find EDM interesting despite its repetitive structures and rhythms, Butler argues that in EDM, the "construction of meter is foregrounded as a process. Often just one or two layers are present, especially at the beginning of tracks." When two rhythmic layers are present, they are typically "the first interpretive layer and the pulse layer." This formulation can be neatly traced onto what occurs in "O Superman": the solo pulse layer initiates the song and is then joined by the melody in Example 2, the "first interpretive layer." Given these analytic parallels, it is plausible that in "O Superman," as well as in EDM, listener interest arises in part from an inclination towards metric entrainment. In other words, we get interested in the unfolding of underdetermined metric streams. Future investigations might consider more fully extending Butler's discussion of EDM—which draws on Hasty's theory of projection—into the analysis of metric ambiguity, the potential of melodic and rhythmic phrases to project meter, and listeners' experiences of metric entrainment in Anderson's music.
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 Andersons 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.
Secondary sources are the main references for this essay and in order to research to the appropriate level, studies of Laurie Andersons 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.
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.
Some sources were particularly responsive to the authors 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.
The reception history of "O Superman" is certainly implicated in the ideological concern over selling out evident in the articles by McKenzie and Auslander. Anderson's eight-and-a-half-minute song was initially part of her large-scale live performance art opus United States, and the music video for the song—which is now on permanent exhibition at MOMA—closely follows its staged presentation. The track was recorded in 1981 under a contract with the major corporate label Warner Brothers and subsequently released both as a single and on Anderson's 1982 album Big Science. While reception in the United States was aligned with Anderson's position as an avant-garde performance artist, "O Superman" spent six weeks on the UK Singles Chart, reaching a peak position of number two in October 1981. As RoseLee Goldberg states in her biography of Anderson, "such a leap into the mainstream was unimaginable before that time, and for an avant-garde artist it was considered something of a contradiction." Following McKenzie and Auslander, I want to investigate what is productive in this contradiction, considering especially how Anderson traces lines of flight away from the dominant discourses of both popular/mainstream and experimental/new/avant composition by becoming a technologically masterful female composer/performer. While the computerization of popular music in the 1980s is generally seen as excluding women, Anderson's work consistently challenges the alignment of masculinity with technological expertise and the cinematic place of women as objects of the male gaze. Further, I want to stop worrying about selling out, which is a concept so indebted to that illusive notion of (white, male) authenticity that it is hardly worth debating whether or not mainstreamed recording artists have sold out.
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.
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)