terça-feira, 13 de dezembro de 2011

A Supernova Named Laurie Anderson (2) Art and Technology: Laurie Anderson Interview with Charles Amirkhanian (1984)

"We're so nice..." The smile of a new Monalisa. Anderson is not afraid to step in a new aesthetical territory, bravely alone in the World of Things...

LAURIE ANDERSON: I want to cover a few things [this evening] particularly some ideas about talking and performance and a little bit about TV and some things about artificial intelligence. To begin with I'd like to talk about the song "KoKoKu," which is a song from the Mister Heartbreak record. Sometimes I find it hard to talk about music. Steve Martin once said, "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture." But you can do that. Recently, I saw an Oscar Schlemmer revival of some Bauhaus dance work, and you actually can dance about architecture—volume, space, and construction. I wrote "KoKoKu" because I was invited to a Bean Festival that was going to happen in the Southwest last year about this time. It was an Indian Festival, and the idea was basically to try to come to terms with some of the Earth's wobble. The leaders of this particular group of Indians felt that they had been getting some signals from out there, and basically the message that they had received was, "You have such a beautiful planet, please be very careful."

I never made it to that festival, although this Saturday I am going to a full moon Zuni Festival. It's an all-night drum festival out in the desert presided over by some characters called The Mudhcads who have been rehearsing for a year, learning the creation myth backwards. So I don't know if they start with everything and go back to zero or if they talk backwards or what. . . .
In the song "KoKoku," there's motion on several levels. It begins with a percussion track, the word shake, which is done on a harmonizer, put into the repeat mode. The harmonizer has a very short memory, pathetically short—point five seconds, that's it—but once you register it in the machine it will continue indefinitely until it's unplugged or until it explodes.

So the word shake is then put into a random mode which turns it into a Möbius Strip. This is a rhythm which is very precise over about a 17-second pattern. So, that's the bottom motion, a very small shaking. Above that on the next layer are various kinds of vibrato. Phoebe Snow's vibrato, which is already very slow, I slowed down further using a Syn-clavier. Then there's the kayagum, which is a Korean zither, played by several motions—you damp a string, you pull it, and you also pull long threads—so it's a beautiful action, and it also has a very very wide, slow vibrato.

So there are those motions that happen over the others. And then the lyrics themselves are about a wider, broader motion: people looking up and people looking back down. The words in Japanese are fake haikus that I made up—which are more or less grammatically correct in Japanese. They are place words, still images.

Mountain with clouds. I am here. A voice.

Another verse is—

Birds are there.
A cry, my voice.
Mountain with clouds

The English turns and moves around these Japanese freeze frames. . . .

CHARLES AMIRKHANIAN: What do you think about improvised music? You don't seem to use it very much.

LA: I never really understood what improvised music really is. When does the happy accident become a plan? When it can be repeated? When I start working on a piece everything is improvised, and because I work with tape, a lot of those chance events, those happy accidents, end up being saved as is. So in a sense, this is improvisation. Also, I've tried to leave room for improvised solo. In "KoKoKu," the kayagum player is basically improvising around the bass line. Through repetition, improvised lines become parts.

CA: DO you feel that the ambiguities in your work that resonate and then aren't resolved are a way to make people think?

LA: Well, it's true that very few of these ideas are spelled out in no uncertain terms. I really try to leave a lot of room and a lot of air so that people can draw their own conclusions. It's not that I don't have my own conclusions, but it's the process I'm interested in. For example, a lot of the rhythms are created visually. The music is going, and the pictures are going . . . and that creates a kind of counterpoint between what you're seeing and what you're hearing, a kind of polyrhythmic situation that you put together yourself. It's the same way with some of the ideas and issues that are raised in the work. My greatest fear is to be didactic, and even if I had "answers" I would never try to foist them on people. I think I've gradually learned to respect other people a little bit more and let them, in a sense, let them make connections themselves.

CA: DO you feel you have to seduce the machine in order to get it to do what you want?

LA: I have a real personal relationship with machines. It's true that even though I've been very very critical of technology in terms of what I say, I find that I make those criticisms through 15,000 watts of power and lots of electronics. And that says a couple of things at least, that I hate it and love it.

CA: I remember you said something to me once. You said, "Get the machine and work with it a lot before you go out and try to use it in your pieces."

LA: It's true, you have the thing and you have to fully understand it before you use it. The machine is an instrument. Occasionally, I talk to people in art schools who have problems with this. For example, let's say you're a painter and you want to use video tape, which is a very expensive medium. Not a lot of art students can afford it. So you're in a funny situation of trying to plan something without actually working with your material. You have to think the whole thing out and then get the equipment to accomplish it.

It's as if you were a painter, and you had to just think of this amazing painting and then one day go out and rent a brush and come back and paint the thing real fast, and return it to the rental place clean the next day. It's very difficult to work like that. Anyone who uses any kind of material—words, or stone, or notes—knows you have to work with your material.

It will teach you things. When I get really stuck—when I think, "This is it! This is the last idea I'm ever going to get," I try to shake it by just playing with things. I try to let the material suggest the shape. Otherwise, it feels forced . . . jammed together. So, I suppose I'm just saying something about having a kind of respect for the material or the equipment that you're working with, and taking the time to learn about it. . . .

CA: DO you get into a trance during performances and if so, what kind of experiences do you have?

LA: I think that I probably do, in a way, but also I'm so aware of what could possibly go wrong. And things always do. Things always break down, little red lights on the harmonizer go dead, and I usually have a small screwdriver so that I can surreptitiously try to do something else while I'm talking, and be trying to fix whatever's going wrong. I actually like that probability because I find it very exciting to have to improvise. When something breaks down, you really can't say, "Can we turn the houselights on, please, we have some problems here." So, I probably am thinking about a couple of things, and that probably is a trance-like state. . . .

CA: In the performances, how do you put them together technically, what's live and what isn't?

LA: This is a giant sort of puzzle and the scores for these things are done in huge columns and it shows you what exact image is being used at that second. A lot of the basic tracks are on tape and I try to record those things so that they have as much to do with the live sound as possible. So I do several mixes and if the hall is a certain size, I use one mix that has a little bit of reverb on it. If the hall is very large I use something that has no reverb on it. I really try to tune the tape to the room and mix with the live instruments so that it doesn't sound like live musicians playing with tape. If you listen real hard, it does, and those of you who work with that sort of thing, I'm sure, know what's going on. . . .

Now, when things break down, everybody starts looking over at everyone else, and we try to get out of it. That is, as I said, the most exciting part, it's a lot of fun to try to do that. . . .

CA: Did you pick up a background in analog and digital electronics?

LA: At one point I thought, well, I could stop working for three years and really try to learn some things about electronics. But I was afraid to do that really, because I thought, what if after three years I couldn't remember why I was learning this stuff? So, I try to learn only what I need to know at the time, and I also work with an electronic designer, Bob Bielecki, who can do a lot of rather elaborate designs. I'm pretty good on emergency maintenance, that's my specialty. . . .

CA: Could you talk about how your storytelling works into music, and how long it takes to get there.

LA: I think often the case is that words are just hanging around and I don't really know what to do with them, I can't quite throw them away yet. I always try to start things differently, sometimes with music, sometimes with an image. But I'd say the main focus of it is really words. I try to establish a very simple rhythm and then on top of that language drifts around with its own rhythms. I rarely write in stanzas or things that rhyme or things that scan or things that count out in a certain number of syllables. I think I like talking rhythms more than musical rhythms. . . .

And in terms of your question, about my spiritual reaction to it, I think of electronics as being, in fact, in a sense closer to that side. It doesn't go through the hands the way an instrument does. I love the violin because it's a hand held instrument, it's a very nineteenth-century instrument, something that you hold as opposed to a keyboard which reminds me of driving a car. But electronics is very connected, of course, in terms of speed, to your brain. It's very very fast. So there's a kind of immediate freedom that you have. . . .
The point I'm trying to make is that, in a sense, as these two life forms—human and machine—begin to merge a little bit, we're talking about technology really as a kind of new nature, something to measure ourselves against, and to make rules from, and to also investigate.

One of the things that is most encouraging about this is that kids who begin to work with computer systems when they're real little aren't intimidated by them as opposed to adults who actually become more dogmatic if they work with computers. Instead of having a phone conversation or a meeting, they talk to each other through their terminals, and one of the things that happens is that people use a lot more foul language. Because you can't do that really very easily on the phone, but when you abstract it like that, it's a little bit easier.

Also people become, strangely, more sure of themselves. They reach a decision more quickly and they become more sure that they're right, and less willing to give and take, when it's done through a terminal. Which I think has something to do with when you write something down and try to work it out, and then type it, it has real and sudden distance. It's almost as if somebody else did it when you see it typed out, you have a kind of distance from it. It's a Little bit like that working with a terminal. . . .

I think there's a strange longing to talk to machines. There's a parking lot in Zurich. You drive up to this booth, and you hear this voice that says, "It's going to be so and so many francs to park here," in this kind of mechanical voice, and it shoots this ticket out. But, there's something a little bit too odd about the voice. There's a cable running out the door, and you can see this guy in the adjoining room doing the voice, you know, kind of mechanically, making the parking lot seem a little more high tech.

CA: Assuming that you would like an effect on mankind as a whole right now, what effect would you like your music to have?

LA: I can never predict what other people will like. I can't even predict what I will like. I suppose that the effect that I want from myself from music is, in a way, to scare myself a little bit, to surprise myself, to wake up.
About continuity. I don't know how many of you have spent time in New York but you can really lose track of that there because it really is, "Hey, what's hot this week?" That can become very deadening after a while. I'm thinking particularly of an evening that I mentioned before, the work of Oscar Schlemmer, the Bauhaus designer/choreographer. In this reconstruction of his work, Andreas Weininger, who used to play trumpet in the Bauhaus band, showed up at the Guggenheim to talk. This guy was 85 years old, and it was a Saturday night, and he came out and he said, "Hi, I'm from the nineteenth century." And we go, "Whoa." He said, "You know, we had Saturdays in the nineteenth century too, and what we did was . . ." and he proceeded to describe these insane long-ago evenings. It really seemed so alive and exciting. So wonderful. It was a kind of real continuity, and you really felt that, yes, there have been artists, and there is a long line, and we can learn from each other, and we can go forward, and try to be as generous as possible with each other.

*Laurie Anderson and Charles Amirkhanian, excerpts from "Laurie Anderson Interview with Charles Amirkhanian," Speaking of Music Series, San Francisco Exploratorium, 6 December 1984; published in Melody Sumner, Kathleen Burch, and Michael Sumner, eds., The Guests Go in to Supper: John Cage, Robert Ashley, Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, Charles Amirkhanian, Michael Peppe, K. Atchley (San Francisco: Burning Books, 1990), 147-57. By permission of the author and the artist.

I come very briefly to this place. I watch it move. I watch it shake.
Kumowaku yamano. Watashino sakebi. Watashino koewo.
Ushano kokoku. Watashiwa sokoni. Watashiwa asobu.
Mountain with clouds. A cry. My voice.
Home of the brave. I'm here now. And lost.

They say the dead will rise again. And here they come now.
Strange animals out of the Ice Age. And they stare at you.
Dumbfounded. Like big mistakes. And we say: Keep cool.
Maybe if we pretend this never happened, they'll all just go away.

Watashiwa sokoni. Watashiwa asobu. Mewotoji. Mewotoji.
Kikunowa kotori. Watashino sakebi. Watashino koewo.
I am here in this place. Losing. My eyes are closed. Closed.
Birds are there. Hearing something. Shouting. My voice.
(And yet, we could all be wrong. Wouldn't be the first time.)

Kumowaku yamano. Watashiwa sokoni. Watashiwa asobu.
Kumiwaku yamano. Kikunowa kotori. Watashino sakebi.
Mountains with clouds. I am there. Lost.
Mountains with clouds. Birds are there. Hearing something. A shout.

They say the world is smaller now. Small world.
They say that man is taller now. Tall man.
They say the stars are closer now. Thank you, lucky stars.
You come very briefly to this place.
Jikanwa tomaru. Ushano kokoku.
Time is stopped. Home of the brave.

And on a very distant star, slimy creatures scan the skies.
They've got plates for hands. And telescopes for eyes. And they say: Look! Down
They say: Watch it move. Watch it shake. Watch it turn. And shake.
Watashiwa sokoni. Watashiwa asobu. Kumowaku yamano.
Watashino sakebi. Watashino koewo. Mewotoji. Mewotoji.
I am there. Lost. Mountains with clouds.

A cry. A shout. My eyes are shut. Shut.
And we say: Watch us move. Watch us shake. We're so pretty.
We're so pretty. We say: Watch us move now. Watch us shake.
We're so pretty. Shake our hands. Shake our heads. We shake our feet.

We're so fine. The way we move. The way we shake.
We're so nice.

To be continued in A Supernova Named Laurie Anderson Part 3. "Kokoku"...

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