Talking Music - Laurie Anderson / Pauline Oliveros

There are some things that these two women say that I wish I could burn into my memory. To me that’s one reason to make art - catchy ideas - and I think they share an interest in that. 

I was definitely struck by how scattered their trajectories were. Both Laurie Anderson and Pauline Oliveros sort of bummed around different interests...obviously drawn by deep curiosity but indifferent to how these things might be perceived narratively from the outside. Which is refreshing and reassuring. Laurie started with violin, studied biology for a year, moved to Barnard as an art major, then went to two different schools for like a year at a time. Got kicked out multiple times. Pauline was obsessed with the accordion, dropped out of music school to be an accordion teacher, went back to school in SF with Terry Riley, and started improvising with a small group of friends.

These are both artists who led with their pieces - whose ideas came first, and the methods were put together after the fact. In the Oliveros interview the interviewer identifies this: “So in your music, each piece becomes its own model. Which explains why your pieces have been so different over a period over time.”

A carrier bag, if you will.

Laurie in particular had some ideas about technology that spoke to me.

“When you have too much equipment, that’s a real limitation. It’s a strange sort of paradox. I use old electronics as well. I like trying to push them into other modes - use them for things that they were not supposed to be used for. That’s satisfying. But you can get into a trap. I think a lot of musicians are in that trap - trying to get the latest thing that’s going, to fix everything up. It won’t. You have to read the manual, first of all, in order to understand it. And work with it; it’s an instrument. You have to work with it intimately, not just go off in a studio and plug it in to fix up your music. You have to try a lot of things with it, experiment with it. You can’t force it to do things. It won’t work that way for you.

She also has a blurb in which she describes how label success was not something her friends complained about, but perhaps people outside her social circle might have. And she understands that reasoning, since there is a certain necessary exclusivity to the avant-garde. But the work itself will stand on its own, the criticism is more about the system of distribution.

Pauline was such a hoot to read, her voice and opinion are so strong in the interview! So much of her interview resonated with and deepened my interest in music as ritual, and beyond.

The fact that her musical choices are led more by her own ear than by any tradition. How she played with tape music like an instrument. How she gathers sounds she wants to hear and finds ways to recreate them. The way her personal experience gives her confidence to know others will like it. 

“I think of composition as a slowed-down improvisation, and improvisation as a sped-up composition.”

She even talks about the function of these pieces, how they can direct energy...and that it doesn’t need to be a religious or political thing to be effective and powerful. 

“The whole issue of music as entertainment is something I have trouble with. Although I’m as happy to be entertained as anyone else, I don’t think of these things as entertainment. The meditations, and some of the other things that I do, are opportunities to change and to explore who we are, and what we do, and how we do what we do with each other. Tools. They have a different function from just entertaining.

The interview ends with her describing her excitement about some ongoing performance series taking place in her local community, and how that’s much more exciting than whatever academia is up to.

“Almost every night there’s been somebody there doing something. It was very special, somehow. It’s an easy walk over to Niblock’s loft, and it’s very comfortable, and you sit there and get a closeup of someone’s work for the evening. Afterwards there’s a lot of camaraderie and an easy walk home. That’s very nice.”