Picks and Pans Review: Big Science
A native Chicagoan, Anderson went to New York in 1966, made Phi Beta Kappa at Barnard, and later earned an M.F.A. in sculpture from Columbia. She quickly abandoned teaching art history at City College for conceptual art. Now, at 34, after winning considerable renown in progressive art circles in the U.S. and Europe, she has landed a major-label recording contract. Commercial, in the sense of conventional, she's not; but as the surprising British success of her 1981 single O Superman (included in this LP) showed, accessible she is. In From the Air, the opening piece, the captain of a plummeting airliner calmly instructs his passengers, "Put your head on your knees." A moment later, he adds soberly, "Put your head in your hands." Then, "Put your hands on your head. Put your hands on your hips." He snickers, and Laurie Anderson is off to a sardonic and evocative start. She compresses Richard Simmons, Simon Says, fear of flying and general technodread into the one comically illuminating moment. This kind of image sandwich is Anderson's specialty. In her multimedia performances she uses a smorgasbord of slides, films, taped sounds, live musicians, and texts spoken, chanted or lightly sung, often through a distorting voice synthesizer. With minimal instrumentation and rhythms rooted in rock and various ethnic musics, she focuses attention on her coolly enunciated lyrics, which are spare and haunting. "Your eyes," she says in It Tango. "It's a day's work just looking into them." Though there are a few flat spots created by the loss of visuals in the translation to records, the album is a complex, memorable experience. As the passenger in From the Air says to herself as the plane goes down, "Uh oh. This is gonna be some day."