Laura Phillips “Laurie” Anderson is an American composer, musician and performance artist who is known for her exceptional experimental music. She is also widely known as the inventor of the tape-bow violin and the talking stick.
Laurie Anderson was born on June 5, 1947 in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. She graduated magna cum laude from Barnard College with a major in art history. She also studied for an MFA in sculpture from Columbia University in 1972. She was initially interested in performance-art pieces, and the first such piece was a symphony that she put together using automobile horns in 1969. Anderson worked for most of the 1970s as an art instructor and as an art critic for ‘Artforum’.
It was in New York City where Anderson first held a performance of her highly successful act, ‘Duets on Ice’. As part of the act, Anderson played the violin while ice skating with blades that were fashioned out of ice, Anderson continued performing until the blades had melted completely. In 1977, two of Anderson’s songs, “Time to go Away” and “New York Social Life”, were included in “New Music for Electronic and Recorded Media”, both of which were originally recorded for an art installation.
A number of Anderson songs were also included in releases by the Giorno Poetry Systems, these included “You’re the Guy I Want to Share my Money With” and “Born, Never Asked”. In 1981, Anderson’s popularity skyrocketed when her single, “O Superman”, hit No.2 on Britain’s National Pop Charts. The single was such a success that it led to her signing a seven album deal with the Warner Bros. recording label, due to which two of her albums, “Mister Heartbreak” and “United States Live”, were released almost instantly.
Anderson also starred and directed the 1986 film “Home of the Brave”, which was marked by thrilling performances by William S. Burroughs and Adrian Belew. Following the film, she composed the soundtracks for “Swimming to Cambodia” and “Monsters in a box”. In 1988, Anderson took singing lessons for her 1989 album, “Strange Angels”.
Anderson is credited with inventing two monumental devices for electronic musicians. She invented the tape-bow violin in 1977, which featured magnetic tape on the bow instead of horsehair, and the bridge featured a magnetic tape head, later versions of the device would feature a MIDI based device on the bridge instead of a tape head. Anderson used the later version of the violin in the film “Home of the Brave”. She is also credited with inventing the talking stick. She described it as “a wireless instrument that can access and replicate any sound”. It was, essentially, a six foot long MIDI stick that could replicate sound fragments and replay them in many different ways. Anderson was also popular for her use of voice filters which helped thoroughly deepen her voice. She described it as a way to construct “a voice of authority”. Anderson’s use of filters can be seen in her 2010 album “Homeland”.
Anderson was married to American Rock Sensation Lou Reed from 2008 to his death in 2013, and she had multiple collaborations with him. These included songs for “The Raven”, “Ecstasy” and “Hang on to your Emotions”.
Laurie Anderson won the 2007 Gish Prize for her ‘outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world’. She is also a winner of a Residency at the American Academy in Rome.