Laurie Anderson intensive

  • by Roberto Friedman
  • Tuesday December 4, 2018
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Performing artist-musician Laurie Anderson was Resident Artistic Director at SFJAZZ Center last week, during which she appeared in five consecutive nights of programming. Out There was there for all five events, as Anderson is our favorite living artist, our guiding light, our inspiration.

At a "Listening Party" for SFJAZZ members last Wednesday night, she talked about her music, her art practice and her work process. She played excerpts from a recording to be released next spring, "Songs from the Bardo," a setting of texts from The Tibetan Book of the Dead; and from a collaboration with Brian Eno commissioned by the Royal Danish Library.

Anderson also regaled us with stories, her specialty. She recalled touring with a troupe of Tuvan throat singers who are able to project multiple pitches from their vocal cords through natural harmonics, overtones and some very developed throat muscles. She described performing at a castle some hours' drive time from Lisbon. The Russian tour manager had neglected to provide transport back to the city, so after the show Anderson saw the Mongolian troupe begin the long walk back there. They would get there by morning. They were, after all, nomads. It got her thinking differently about time, she said, and about music.

In last Thursday night's "Songs for Women," Anderson improvised on electric viola accompanied by Bay Area jazz pianist Tammy Hall, and told stories. The songs were written with specific women in mind — her mother, choreographer Trisha Brown — hence the concert title. Spotted in the audience: photographer Danny Nicoletta, chanteuse Connie Champagne.

Friday night's "Lou Reed Drones" was an installation-performance piece performed at Grace Cathedral, curated by her late husband Reed's former guitar technician Stewart Hurwood. Reed's vintage guitars were placed against amplifiers in the cathedral's chancel to create some very! loud! tuned feedback. We were encouraged to walk around the space as the harmonic drone changed according to our location. Anderson added her viola to the mix along with violist Eyvind Kang and saxophonist Ulrich Krieger. The four-hour piece was otherworldly, hypnotic. They handed out ear-plugs at the door.

Saturday night's "Songs for Men," LA accompanied by drummer/signal-treater Scott Amendola, was even darker, more textured. "I have a small jar of men's tears, from the last war," Anderson said. "It's one of my treasures." She sang "Love Among the Sailors," and we realized it was World AIDS Day. "There is a hot wind blowing,/Plague drifts across the oceans./And if this is the work of an angry god,/I want to look into his angry face."

She told the story of Aristophanes' play "The Birds," about an earlier asinine scheme to erect The Wall — this time, a wall between the Earth and the sky, so that birds could charge a toll for traversing it. This plan was not formulated by birds, but by greedy humans on their behalf.

Finally, last Sunday night brought "Songs from My Radio Play," a collaboration with avant-garde guitarist Fred Frith that was essentially one long guided meditation. While Frith made spacey music with his instrument, Anderson's texts invoked "hypnosis, memory, old juke joints, canoe trips and love."

With her genius for music, visual art, invention, storytelling and performance, Anderson is an arts icon for our time. She is like Charlie Chaplin, Thomas A. Edison and David Bowie all rolled up into one. If our society had its values in the right place, to paraphrase her late husband Reed, we'd be putting up statues of her.

Life of Riley

Other Minds launched their 25th anniversary season on Wed., Dec. 5, at YBCA with a selection of piano works by Terry Riley, the composer himself performing alongside his longtime collaborator, Grammy Award-winning pianist Gloria Cheng. The program featured both notated and improvised works that spanned and offered a snapshot of Riley's illustrious career. The highlight was "The Heaven Ladder, Book 7," a 1994 work that marked Riley's first return to notated composition in 35 years. Cheng featured on the world premiere recording of this work in 1998. The program also included the Bay Area premiere of "Cheng Tiger Growl Roar," a newly composed work that Riley wrote for the pair. For info on the rest of their season, go to