Two weeks ago, I visited Laurie Anderson in her Tribeca studio. This is the same loft where Anderson lived and worked for 30 years beginning in the 1970s (she now lives with husband Lou Reed in the West Village), and I felt like I was stepping into a chapter of New York City history. Visiting Anderson there, where she has done much of her groundbreaking work, was a bona fide cultural thrill for me. That said, the place is not a museum, and Anderson is not its keeper. In her 60s now, Laurie is still vibrantly at work creating new sound and performance pieces, and she’s at the studio most every day.
The day I’m there is the official release date for her new album, her first in ten years. Titled Homeland, the album picks up where past Anderson works have left off, examining (and critiquing) America’s social and political landscape. I’m a spy, Anderson has said about what she does. I just observe and ask the question, why do we do what we do? Homeland applies this question to the last decade: from the security-obsessed years following 9/11, through two ongoing wars, and into the economic meltdown of the last two years. Anderson is especially good at seeing the absurdity in American culture and, setting it to music. The first single released from the album, Only an Expert, is a brilliant example of this, reminding us exactly how brainwashed we’ve become regarding our own powerlessness. Another Day in America, her monologue in “audio drag” as alter ego Fenway Bergamot, is an eerie, prophetic and often profound reflection on life in America now. In any case, I’m not here to write an album review, but my personal take after several careful listens is that Homeland is art of the highest order; daring and poetic it speaks truth where other important artists of the day have not, and, ultimately, shows us that Anderson is still at the top of her spy game.
Laurie invites me downstairs to her work studio, which is the entire loft beneath her original apartment. She purchased it in the 80s, she says, and turned it into a sonic playground — outfitted with all the latest sound technology, audio libraries, and a recording studio — and connected it to her apartment with a spiral staircase. She is in the middle of a new project, a sound park at the site of a new Frank Gehry building on the Novartis campus in Basel, Switzerland, which will open in August. While Basel has become known the world over for it’s annual art fair, it’s also the scientific centre of Switzerland and, by extension, a nexus of the pharmaceutical industry. The irony of this isn’t lost on Anderson, who has spent her career decrying the corporate takeover of everything good and free. Ah, she says wryly about the commission, one of the advantages of living in a corporate state. While she and Bruce Odland, a well-known sound artist who is collaborating with her on the piece, work on the sound editing, she lets me photograph the images included here.