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tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  WHUT  February 10, 2013 7:00pm-7:30pm EST

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>> funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by the matson mchale foundation in support of public television, also by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community and from the texas board of legal specialization, board certified attorneys in your community. experienced, respected, and tested. also, by hillco partners, texas governmental affairs conservancy and hillco health, by and the alice clay burg reynolds foundation and viewers like you, thank you. >> i'm evan smith, she's an experimental musician, composer, performance artist and artist whose embrace of technology has been a defining aspect of her extraordinary career. she's lor lore laurie anderson,
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this is overheard. laurie anderson, welcome. >> thank you. >> very nice to meet you, very nice to have you here, appreciate it. >> does thht word experimental bother you. you've been described that way for so long, probably no longer makes notice, you probably never think about ii. i wonder if it pegs you in some way that you don't want to be pegged. >> i don't mind being pegged. reminds me of beakers. >> science. >> whoops, yeah, that's fine. >> what do you think that it means in a very literal
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sense for your work? if it's an appropriate way to describe you, what do you think it means? >> you won't hear it on the radio. >> yep. >> you are sort of an itinerant person, which i can really relate to. i really like going to places that -- that are a little bit off the main path. so that -- that suits me really well. >> creatively you're willing to take chances, do things that interest you, without regard o selling records or being commercial, it's just about the art. >> well, i'm kind of practical, i don't mind selling tickets or records, i really don't. i'm not like whoo. >> not sellout, i don't want to do that. >> my dad was a salesman, so i'm fine with that. >> yeah. how do you self define? i ticked on off a lot of things, i said performance artist, composer, musician, i was reminded or learned, i don't know which that you have an undergraduate degree in art history, you have a master's degree in sculpture, you actually were an artist. how do you self define when you talk about what you do?
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>> well, my passport just says artist. >> it's all encompassing. >> yeah, i think that it's [indiscernible] >> right. >> and the artist history stuff i had even forgotten about [laughter] >> yeah. sounded like a good idea at the time, didn't it? >> no, i was a terrible, terrible art historian. i taught egyptian architecture and syrian sculpture, but i wasn't, you know, keeping up with the journals. oso i would -- there would be slides, i would look at them and go i can't remember a single thing aaout this. [laughter] so i would just make things up. [laughter] and students would write it down and i would test them on it. >> assertion is truth, that's how it goes, right? much better that way, more interesting, i think. >> history is stories. you know? and so i really enjoy thinking of different ways things could have gone or perhaps are going at the moment. >> yeah. >> but that's what's so interesting to me about the elections now is that you pretty much the candidates
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are doing what i'm doing. doing stories. because that's the thread that connects all of this stuff. and they tell stories about how they see the past, what they think the future is. and you vote for the person whose story you like the best. >> right. >> and that's the way it is. and so telling a good story, one that tries to -- you know, reflect things kind of as they are, not as the wayú you think they should be or could be, but really try to make an effort in a journalistic way to do that i think is a great art work. >> of course, when you look at the you tell stories or i do listen to them, i might hearing is true. is that a mistake, actually? maybe i should say it the other way. i have less faith going into it that their stories are actually true. i wonder how you got to be this person. what was it about your upbringing that made you think if you did think i would like to do art? >> i was one of eight kids. so i was number two of eight. taae care of a lot of to
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people. and to entertain them. so that's where the stories came in. and -- >> really? >> yeah. and i had lots of different sets of stories for different kids. so it was really fun. >> had anybody in your family done performance in any way? >> um ... i think that -- one of the things that -- about that family was that it didn't really kind of matter what you did. i mean, for example, my father would just say oh, it's -- "i don't care what you do at all in your life. and you don't even have to ever decide. but i know that whatever you do, let'' say you're going to be a cashier, i bet you're going to be the best cashier ever." he was a lovely, lovely guy. >> yeah. >> and although not the authority attorney in the pair. which is how i got my idea about who men were. >> explain. >> well, it was always the
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women, teachers and moms who were like read this book, eat the dinner. you know, like sort of type a stuff. my father on the other hand was really -- he was very lighthearted, lovely person. who would do little dances and tell stories and go let's go out for ice cream. so i thought men are the most charming, carefree people [laughter] so nice and -- and the women are like -- you know, the -- so this was -- i nnvvr really got over that. >> yeah. >> you know? i always -- >> perception, even when you met actual men who were not nice, right? >> there's something nice about almost everybody in the world i would say, woulln't you? >> that's a different show i think [laughter] that's a longer conversation. reference the fact that you had studied art in college and graduate school. but at some point you went from making art of that sort to doing what yyu are doing now. what would the earliest things that you can recall about your move into
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performance? >> well, like a lot of young artists, i didn't really know. >> yeah. >> what i wanted to do. so i tried out a lot of different things. so i was doing little performances. >> yep. >> with -- film and electronics and stuff that i was making up. and i would show them in film festivals in new york. by film festivals, i mean like eight people in a lot of. >> yeah. >> we are all looking at each other's movies. i thought what if i could do something for more than eight people or like maybe bigger, what would that be. >> yeah. >> so i thought okay, i wrote to about 500 art centers in europe ann i said i'm planning a fall tour and this? i mean -- >> just said i'm doing this. >> i had no fall tour. i had no idea how to do a fall tour or a spring tour. any tour, i didn't have any idea. but i got about five answers automatiout of those hundreds ad
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went off on a tour. >> yep. >> aad did things in other languages and kind of invented a style of what -- what would be called let's say multi-media. >> back then it was probably significant that you were working in different media and the fact is back then it was significant that you were working with technology, with -- >> yeah. media meant electronics. >> the thing that i think is so interesting is that you were a techno file before it was cool to be a technoo3 file. back in those days when you began to incorporate technology and other things intooyour performance, it was not something that everybody did. >> no, but it was considered very cool by a very small group of people. very small groop of people. [laughter] may i say ou did it before it was mass. >> okay. >> what got you interested in electronics and technology, what made you think that was a good route to go. >> i think the speed of it that i really liked that you could make things work really fast, so it was kind of like thinking, you could jump very quickly from here to there without going through a lot of things.
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so the circuitry was appealing. also i lived on an electronic junk street, canal street in new york. so a lot of old stuff, you would try to fix it and make it do something that it wasn't made to o. >> in fact over time you invented a lot of things that became part of your performancess you know -- >> yeah. >> famous [indiscernible] violin and talking stick. can you talk aboot that, developing these things and incorporating them into your work. i think a lot of people associate that with you. >> well, the talking stick i did a -- something called songs and stories rom moby dick. ú&d it was -- i guess i fell in love with melville. the talking stick was a way to give musicians something very physical to do. because i love the physical instruments, you know. the ones, keyboards and laptop things, it's pretty dreedful to watch, sit there watching ppople play that stuff, you know. you are watching somebody play keyboards, it's kind of like watching somebody iron, you know.
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[laughter] it's like that -- you know, so when you throw your whole body into something, the saxophone or the violin, you know, it becomes a really physical expression of the person and i think that's what i was looking for in this case. >> yeah. >> so i made this thing called the talking stick, a really long harpoon type of thing, so you could really play it like it had some sliders on it, some buttons, access to a lot of different kinds of voices sometimes, sounds of the ocean, different sorts of things. and actually the museum of science and industry in chicago a few years ago asked me to give them the instrument. so i said great, here they are. and then i sent hem and it happened to be on thh day when george bush was giving a talk at the museum. >> yeah. >> and all of the fed-ex packages were -- were impounded. and especially things that looked -- my stuff was, you know, homemade switches and wires and -- [laughter]
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>> batteries. >> iim sure it's nothing. [laughter] yeah. and i've never seen that stick since. >> is that right?!! a casualty of the war on terror. >> they took y stick. i was always hoping ii bush's farewell speech he would whip out that stick and say -- it's going to be a great music festival somewhere by the f.b.i. -- >> i can't believe you never got it back. >> no. i never got that back. they shouldn't be able to take your stick. [laughter] >> that -- that applies in a lot of ways, actually. you can apply that to so many things. did you make another, do you have another? there were others, they are updated but that was my favorite one. >> your favoriie stick, gonee a casualty of history. >> yeah. >> what about the tapo violin, talk about the violin that interests me a lot. >> well, the violin that was an instrument that i came out of just playing so that i was -- so that i was playing and then hitting the tape recorder and then
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queuing up to the next -- to the last place so i could punch into the last thing, the old days of tape recordings. so rocking the wheels, playing the bow, rocking, playing, i thought that was a lot like bowing. maybe i should consolidate that. so i puu the -- took off the tape head. >> yeah. >> on the player and put it on the bridge of the instrument and then there was a strip of recorded audio tape on the bows that you can play palinddones or eventually i had whole orchestras doing things with rain and voices and sounds. >> yeah. >> now when you meet people who have trained their whole life to play stringed instruments, they are really like that. they are like gawww, you have to say like listen we really want to play your gimmicky thing. i said -- the thing about string players, all of the
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chops, expressive in the right hand, the precision in the left hand, but the real feeling and the -- how the notes get shaped is in the right hand. so i said you know you have super -- you have beautiful right hands that are really well trained. it's really hard to draw tape in the right way over a head and back and play music, get music to come out of it. just try it. and so as soon as they saw it was really hard, they liked -- you like to use what you've got, you know, and not just be part of somebody's silly experiment. so it was really -- it was very beautiful hearing this giant thunderstorms. the only -- i -- that just reminded me of another thing because there are a lot of dogs in that. and i just did a concert for dogs. >> you did a concert for dogs? >> i did. >> dogs in the audience? >> yes. >> yes. >> and it happened because i was back stage, was supposed to give a -- a commencement speech for
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artists, and i was feeling kind of guilty because it's hard to say to artists, you know, that student loan you have, it will be so easy to just get rid of it, don't worry about it. you know, plenty of jobs for artists in the united states. [laughter] >> you know, feeling like how am i going to say, what am i going to say to the young artists. >> yeah. >> yoyo ma is also there, he's getting an honorary degree, also making a speech. i said, you know, i have this fantasy, i'm doing a concert, i look out and the whole audience is dogs. he said that's my fantasy, too. >> yo-ono ma said that. >> so i said whoever gets the chance to do that first invites the other. so i got the chance to be the director of a big festival in sydney, australia. so i got to invite all of my favorite people and also some theater things and then i also said to the producers, and we'll also do a concert for dogs. and they didn't say concert
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for ogs? they said concert for dogs, wrote it down [laughter] >> just put it down. anything in that list, that's fine, how great. >> so it was the most wonderful show ever. because we thought only a couple hundred dogs would show up. thousands. [laughter] >> now, i assume it was a free show, you didn't make the dogs buy tickets. >> nope. but they did have to have their person bring them. we had three enormous areas set up for little medium, and big, but there were way too many, so they were all outside on the steps of the sydney opera house, like millions of them, the concert started with -- it was a short concert, 20 minutes. >> well, dogs do have an attention span problem. >> yeah, they do. and it started with a kind of invocation for whales because we were right on the harbor and all of these whales are like -- and then because, you know, i wanted aniials to sing, to find each of the whales in the ocean or dogs, like their g.p.s. system, i'm herr, i'm
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over there, you are there, you know, to make kind of map out the territory. so we began with that and then -- then there was so many rocker dogs there. it was amazing. there were dogs who wanted to rock! [laughter] and my favorites were the droolers in the front row, they were just like -- [lauuhter] -- >> it's just like a regular show, right? there are human droolers probably in the front row, too, right? >> but it was the most he could ask it sitly prepared audience because the lost week the owners have been saying we're going to a show just for you and you're going to love it! but the time they got there, their tails are like yes, yes, i'm so excited! so it was such a beautiful sound because they were all really well behaved no fights. so at the end i said let's have all of the small dogs start barking.
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so [barking]]3 >> all of the medium barton [barking, big ones [barking] the sounds of thousands of dogs doing this jjst for the hell of it was the greatest sound. it was so beautiful, it was pure joy. >> i can't help but think that you are pranking me here [laughter] i'll have to -- ú& google it. >> i will google it. and yo-yo ma also played for the dogs. >> no, he couldn't make it. >> he couldn't make it. >> he owes you. you are towering right now with a performance. would you talk about it, i want people to understand if they have the opportunity to come see you, what you are doing and why. >> it's called dirt day exclamation point, i'm never used an exclamation point in a title. you use them all of the time in email like hi! everything is like really important! anyway, dirt day is -- began just going to be wall to wall music and then little lyrics started creeping in, words and then stories, now it's a long story, overing a lot of different things.
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ideas about evolution. politics. economics. dogs. dreams. different kinds of theories. and it justtis shifting around. almost the way, you know, your mind jump cuts from here to there. and again bbck to melville for a second, baugh i was just thinking of how i started with that kind of story telling was he's the master of the jump cut. the book itself is as the structure of it is so beautiful because here you have this guy, you know, the story starts -- this guy who would like to go to sea and so well what would i do if i wanted -- if i went to sea, i guess that i could be a captain,, but i really don't like bossing people around. maybe first mate, but i don't like really the swabbing. i know. i could be the cook.
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because who doesn't like a roast chicken? the egyptians liked roast chicken, too, you can tell by their -- the mummies of their roasted chickens and roasted river [indiscernible] and ibis that they keep in their giant bake house, the pyramids. we are on page 3, you know. [laughter] so i thought like how did he get there from new bedford to ancient cairo. so this is a wonderful kind of story telling. >> it seems to me that the work you are doing right now, the stuff touring with dirt days and ssuff that you do generally combines the abstract and very much here and now. a lot of elements of what's going on in the world right now. you are obviously a voracious readdr, you mentioned to me the touring that you do, i asked you how you managed to survive all of those travel days and all of those miles and you said i read. >> yeah. >> you pretty much spend all of your time reading. >> on the plane, yeah. >> yeah. >> so this tour, it's a
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little short two-week thing. it started out in lithuania, then -- so there i was reading an incredible book, really like to recommend my struggle by karl [indiscernible] nelsgard, really our proust, a really unbelievable book, he lives in sweden, also, that was my next gig. i had finished that by then. then i had the leg of stockholm to portland and then to berkeley, so i read telegraph avenue, which is also a lovely new book by michael chabon. >> uh-huh. >> and -- >> so it's a real range of stuff. >> but i'm just trying to kind of think of where i am versus the myths of the place. >> uh-huh. >> so it's -- what's -- what's the best mythical book about austin, would you
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say? >> well -- >> or could be texas in generrl, would you say. >> the gay place by billy lee grammar would be one -hat i would say, but i think other people would have different answers, but the fact is that people engage that question intellectually. you are obviously engaging many questions intellectually. the stuff you are read being ssggests a real curious community, ou haven't given up on literature, currents events -- they inform your work. >> i love books, i'm going to a book store as soon as we're done, get the a police. >> can i ask you a personal question how is your husband. >> he's doing well. >> for people who don't know you areemarried to lou reed the great musician. how does that work, the two of you are such extraordinary perssnalties and performers, to the degree that you are willing to let us in. >> what degree do you think that would be? >> that much [laughter] how about that much. what's that like? >> well, it's kind of like i always say tto lawyers being married. you know, you -- because
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you -- you know what the other person has to do and be and say and, you know, it's not outrageous when somebody says, you know, i'm going to be at the studio uutil 4 this morning. >> yeah. >> and the other person doesn't go what?!! >> yeah. >> they go -- >> you are accepting of that lifestyle and those choices. >> and that's a big thing, that you don't have to get through that. that's a really big thing. >> you collaborated for a while, didn't you? >> i can't he. >> you have worked together? >> yeah, we're going to do a show next month in madrid together. >> i was going to ask about that, what's that like, how does that go. >> well, we were very inspired by john zorin, really a kind of improv, wonderful horn player and wonderful composer, i could never imagine going out on the stage and having no idea what i was going to do, i mean none, none and he was like yeah, we'll just go out there and we'll start playing. i was like we do? oh. and it was so much fun once i sort of began to dd that. because i had a -- he's a
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jazz musician. i'm an experimental musician, [indiscernible] rock musician, these are all just kind of silly categories. until i realized that when i was in i guess erlin or a long time ago, i was booked for some reason into a jazz festival. and it was loosely, you know -- so i was doing my story, song, little odd rhythmic things with stories over them and weird melodies coming in and impossible to count kind of thing. >> right. >> in the middle of a little pause, i hhar a voice in the back, i hear play jazz! i was like -- he's got a point. this is a jazz festival. >> alight a literalist, yeah, right. >> my second thought was i don't know anything about jazz. >> yep. >> just so -- just so -- but that thought has always stayed with me. i always feel a little bit fraudulent on a stage, though, i have to say. >> you do? >> yeah, i do.
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like whyment am i here? that was not my plan to be on a stage ever. >> but you can respect people who do jazz, play jazz, obviously what your husband does is rock and roll and more -- >> i like all music except for one type. >> okay, what's that. >> broadway musicals. >> you don't -- may i say that louder, broadway musicals, you don't like broadway musicals? >> no because they are so [whisper] happy. >>ing wouldn't want to be ú&ppy, i agree. >> no, i do want to be happy. >> but their happiness is not the kind of happiness -- >> well, i don't know. i can't listen long enough to find out what their kind of happiness is. >> so irritated that's the end of it. >> i did go to one for a technical reason because i was working with a production manager who i was trying to do a magic trick with strings. he said come to cats, the musical. [laughter] >> cats has ruined many a fan offbroadway, that's okay. i'm sympathetic. >> i was in the middle of row k, but three bars into cats, dah-dah-dah cats, i
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was like excuse me i have to go, down the row of like 17 ú&ople. >> let me out now. >> what, what, getting out was -- i was hysterical to get out. >> you understand the headline of this will be laurie anderson hates cats. [laughter] >> but loves dogs. >> but loves dogs [laughter] >> good! [ applause ] >> mine was good, yours was better. i like that, that was actually great. well, we're out of time, much more that we could talk about, this has been so charming, i really appreciate your being here and congratulations on all of your success. >> thanks so much. >> and good luck and come back. >> thank you. >> laurie anderson. >> thank you very much. [ applause ] >> wonderful. >> we would love to have you join us in the studio. visit our website at to find invitations to interviews, q ann a's with our audience and guests and an archive of past episodes. >> i find this idea that art should make the world a better place very 19th century, slightly british, you know. because when you
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say that -- that better place, better for who? for you? and your friends? people you know? better for who? [ ♪ music playing ] >> funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by hillco partners, and by the mattsson mchale foundation in support of public television. and also by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community. and also by the alice and from the texas board of legal specialization, board community, experienced, respected and tested. also, by hillco partners, texas government affairs consultancy and its global health care consulting business unit, hillco health and by the alice kllberg reynolds foundation and viewers like you. thank you
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