Laurie simply tells stories

Performance artist Laurie Anderson is renowned for her versatility, using singing, dance and more during her shows.

One of the many performers during the sold-out 2012 Vancouver Island Music Festival in Courtenay next month

One of the many performers during the sold-out 2012 Vancouver Island Music Festival in Courtenay next month

Avant-garde performance artist Laurie Anderson is renowned for her versatility, using singing, dance, visual imagery and electronic manipulation during her shows.

They’re all just tools to help her tell stories, Anderson says in an interview with the Comox Valley Record.

Anderson, who started as a sculptor, says the various media she employs “are just ways of telling stories.”

One of the many performers during the sold-out 2012 Vancouver Island Music Festival in Courtenay next month, Anderson says she creates to avoid boredom.

“I love finding things out, from anywhere,” she says in response to a question about her inquiring mind.

For example, she learned recently from Science Times that mosquitoes can ride raindrops. Anderson was keenly interested to hear that Vancouver Island is on a different tectonic plate than the North American Plate, toward which it is inching.

“The world is so bizarre. You don’t have to make one single thing up, so I’m not a fiction writer. I’m just a kind of journalist.”

While she’s hardly a household name, Anderson was recognized and honoured twice recently.

The Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at the Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute in her New York City home named Anderson its first distinguished artist in residence, with a three-year term.

The RPI studio is much bigger than Anderson’s own studio, and “is ideal for working on really big projects.”

“It’s an incredible place. I’m working now on some music for the Kronos Quartet (a daring string quartet). I have a really cool piece of software that … triggers projected text in a way I’ve never seen.”

She was an honouree last year at the Guild Hall Academy of the Arts Lifetime Achievement Awards, which is interesting since she’s still creating.

“I’ve been making art for many decades. I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing … and I still do things that I have no idea how to do.”

The award was presented by New York musicmaker Lou Reed, a founding member and main songwriter of the seminal rock band Velvet Underground – and Anderson’s husband.

She works with him sporadically, describing Reed as “an incredible collaborator, super generous, really intuitive. It’s really amazing to work with him.”

Anderson, whose 2012 tour schedule includes Austria, Taiwan, England, Portugal, Slovenia and Belgium, says she’s been to Vancouver Island several times.

“I really love it. When I was invited, I said, yes! Yes! It’s one of my favourite places in the world. It’s really beautiful and I love it.”

Anderson will be solo when she appears July 10 on the final evening of MusicFest at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds.

Thanks to the mysterious creative process, the show she will present turned out very differently than she intended.

“It started out as mostly music, but turned into a very, very long story. It goes veering into a lot of worlds … evolution … it’s a shaggy dog story. It ended up being mostly talking.”

Her true fans appreciate her talking at least as much as her singing.

“Each time, something different takes over. Like the last show, Delusion, the images took over. Then this one, the words took over.”

The end result is what really counts, she explains.

”The process really doesn’t matter that much to me. I really don’t care whether it shows up in one form or another.

“Just because I’m a so-called multi-media artist, I’m often in a position where it starts as one thing and turns into another form. I start maybe an opera and it turns into a potato print, which is not a problem unless you’re the person who commissioned the opera.”

In addition to her other talents, Anderson paints. At the time of the interview, her exhibit Boat had a couple of days left as her first New York painting show.

“I have to say, it was with a lot of trepidation because I’m not a painter really. It’s a funny thing in New York – supposedly, there’s a lot of freedom as artists, but as I’ve noticed, the art police are out pretty often, and they don’t like it if you get out of your bin.

“So I’m in the bin of music and performance and film, not in the bin of making paintings … I hadn’t expected it.”

Anderson says she began painting because she was tired of “trying to fit everything into a computer.”

She found some striking similarities between painting and making music.

“It’s like the same kind of gestures I would use as a violinist. It’s sort of like you’re leaving skidmarks, but it’s the same way of composing and the same way of trying to put energy into another form.”

For more about MusicFest from July 6 to 8, visit


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