12 Songs, 56 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Avant-garde visionary or subversive interloper? In 1982, no one was quite sure what to make of Laurie Anderson after the release of her debut album Big Science. The veteran performance artist applied new rigor and insight to minimalist music-making with this influential work, a paired-down version of her theater piece United States. What makes Big Science such an enduring cult classic are the cleverness of its sonic stratagems and the austere wit of its lyrics. Anderson’s poker-faced recitations dissect suburban banality, parent/child relationships and the simmering paranoia of modern life. The mordant humor of “From the Air” and “O Superman” compliments the clinical alienation of “Born, Never Asked” and the romantic angst of “Let X=X”/”IT Tango.” Though a pop music outsider, Anderson proves herself adept with her chosen tools, whether she’s intoning through a vocoder, laying down a hypnotic keyboard line or wielding a demonic violin bow. The strangest thing about the album is how poignant much of it is — beyond all their sardonic observations, there’s a tragic sense to these fractured fairy tales. Big Science showed how the aesthetics of visual art could reshape contemporary music in startling ways. The results still make for a transformative experience.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Avant-garde visionary or subversive interloper? In 1982, no one was quite sure what to make of Laurie Anderson after the release of her debut album Big Science. The veteran performance artist applied new rigor and insight to minimalist music-making with this influential work, a paired-down version of her theater piece United States. What makes Big Science such an enduring cult classic are the cleverness of its sonic stratagems and the austere wit of its lyrics. Anderson’s poker-faced recitations dissect suburban banality, parent/child relationships and the simmering paranoia of modern life. The mordant humor of “From the Air” and “O Superman” compliments the clinical alienation of “Born, Never Asked” and the romantic angst of “Let X=X”/”IT Tango.” Though a pop music outsider, Anderson proves herself adept with her chosen tools, whether she’s intoning through a vocoder, laying down a hypnotic keyboard line or wielding a demonic violin bow. The strangest thing about the album is how poignant much of it is — beyond all their sardonic observations, there’s a tragic sense to these fractured fairy tales. Big Science showed how the aesthetics of visual art could reshape contemporary music in startling ways. The results still make for a transformative experience.

TITLE TIME
4:33
2 6:22
3 2:23
4 2:13
5 4:56
6 8:25
7 2:59
8 3:54
9 3:02
10 5:51
11 3:36
12 8:26

About Laurie Anderson

After briefly entering the mainstream pop radar in 1981 with her lone hit "O Superman," Laurie Anderson enjoyed a public visibility greater than virtually any other avant-garde figure of her era. Her infrequent forays into rock aside, Anderson nevertheless remained firmly grounded within the realm of performance art, her ambitious multimedia projects encompassing not only music but also film, visual projections, dance, and -- most importantly -- spoken and written language, the cornerstone of all of her work. Born in the Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn, Illinois on June 5, 1947, she studied violin as a teen; relocating to New York City at age 20, she later attended Barnard College, graduating with a B.A. in art history in 1969. After earning an M.F.A. in sculpture from Columbia University in 1972, Anderson taught art history and Egyptian architecture at City College; she mounted her first public performances a year later.

By 1976 Anderson was regularly mounting performances in museums, concert halls, and art festivals throughout North America and Europe; claiming to base all of her projects on the power of words and language, her work also emphasized visual imagery and cutting-edge technology, with pieces like 1980's "Born, Never Asked" written for both orchestra and electronics. A year later, Anderson recorded "O Superman" for the tiny New York label 110 Records; an 11-minute single built around electronic drones and featuring opaque lyrics half-spoken and half-sung (in a voice sometimes electronically treated), this most unlikely hit became a smash in Britain, where it reached the number two spot on the national pop charts. Warner Bros. soon signed Anderson to record a full-length LP, and in 1982 she issued Big Science, a work drawn from a much larger project, the seven-hour multimedia performance United States.

With 1984's Mister Heartbreak, Anderson produced her most overtly pop-oriented work, teaming with artists including Peter Gabriel and Adrian Belew; the end result even reached the American Top 100. That same year, she also issued United States Live, a recorded document of the complete performance spread across a five-LP set. Anderson's next project, Home of the Brave, was a concert film; a year later she also scored the Jonathan Demme/Spalding Gray film Swimming to Cambodia. A proper studio album, Strange Angels, did not follow until 1989; the next several years were devoted to performance tours, including 1990's Empty Places, 1991's Voices from the Beyond, and 1993's Stories from the Nerve Bible. In 1994 Anderson teamed with producer Brian Eno for Bright Red, also featuring her then-boyfriend Lou Reed (they would marry in 2008); the following year she released the LP The Ugly One with Jewels, as well as Puppet Motel, a CD-ROM confirming her ongoing interest in the latest technology.

In 2001 Anderson issued Life on a String, which contained songs from her large musical theater pieces Moby Dick and Strange Angels. Also in 2001, just over a week after the attacks on the World Trade Center, Anderson recorded a live album at Town Hall in New York City (on its cover were the poignant words "New York City, September 19-20, 2001"). It was released as Live at Town Hall NYC in 2002. Anderson continued her appearance schedule but didn't record for another seven years when she began working on Homeland, which was released by Nonesuch in 2010. Anderson continued to work on multiple projects, though she took time off from her work to care for her husband Reed when he fell ill in 2012. After Reed's death in October 2013, Anderson returned to work on her second feature film, Heart of a Dog, a meditation on love, loyalty, and loss, seen through the filter of the death of Anderson's dog Lolabelle. The film and its soundtrack album were both released in October 2015. ~ Jason Ankeny

  • ORIGIN
    Chicago, IL
  • BORN
    June 5, 1947

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