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Page last updated at 06:18 GMT, Saturday, 30 April 2011 07:18 UK

Laurie Anderson's life of musical experimentation

Laurie Anderson
Laurie Anderson is touring around the world with her show Delusion

Experimental music lovers in the UK may know Laurie Anderson best for her 1981 hit O Superman, the eerie minimalist piece which peaked at number two in the UK chart.

Born in Chicago and married to the Velvet Underground's Lou Reed, her music career has spanned five decades.

The fact that everyone makes records now is both dazzling and horrifying
Laurie Anderson

The Laurie Anderson sound has evolved as she grasped new technologies, adapting instruments and software to suit her genre-defining artistic vision.

In more recent times, she became Nasa's first ever artist-in-residence and was part of the team behind the music for the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games in Athens.

Speaking to the BBC's Colin Grant, Laurie reflected on a career ever-defined by the technology available to her.

"Many years ago, in the 70s and 80s, the equipment I used was studio equipment.

"It was delicate, and broke all the time, and was a bunch of boxes. I put those boxes on stages - no-one else was doing that. They were just made for the studio."

Much of her early work was intended as part of theatrical performance or to accompany artistic installations.

Her first single, It's Not the Bullet that Kills You (It's the Hole), was used for an installation at the Holly Solomon Gallery in New York in which Laurie's music played from a jukebox.

Hacking instruments

Modern times have given Laurie room to lose those early constraints and bring her experimental sound to more places than ever before.

"I swore I would love to travel with no boxes.

"What I've been doing in the last year is writing a lot of software to replace those boxes."

As well as creating software, Laurie hacks her hardware too.

In the 1970s, she re-jigged a violin, replacing horsehair with magnetic tape which triggers audio samples when the bow touches the strings.

Laurie Anderson
Laurie created her own software to pursue her artistic vision

Another invention involved adapting a wooden table so it plays music… through your arms.

But her affection for adapting and improving technology has its limits.

"Does it really affect how people make music? Yes! It does.

"Does it affect it in the most important way? Probably not.

"Although if you ask me that on a different day I would probably give you a different answer because frankly the fact that everyone makes records now is both dazzling and horrifying."

Equally horrifying, she insists, is our contentment with sub-standard music compression, particularly the mp3 file format.

"First of all," she said. "Half the parts are missing.

"You would put two guitars, and the compression would erase the separation - so the guitars were gone. It's just unbearable to hear a record that I have spent forever working on."

Her latest work, Delusion, heads to the Brighton Festival next month as part of a worldwide tour and is described as a personal meditation on life, language, memory and identity.



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