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Laurie Anderson Concert Wrapup

David Nunez
David Nunez
4 min read

Let me go ahead and talk about the concert I went to last night while it's still fresh in my mind.

I was reasonably pleased with my seat.  I had a good enough view from the very back.  The Paramount is a very tall theatre (in that the seats are very steep).  So even though I was "far back," I really wasn't that far at all and could see over the person in front of me as well.  I couldn't make out her facial expressions, but that's fine; this show was an audio experience mostly.

I was definitely disappointed that there was absolutely no multimedia stuff going on.  The stage was an experiment in minmalism.  In the center, she had her keyboard, an electric violin, electronica instruments.  That's it.  Colored and patterned lights created the scenary and mood of each of her pieces, but to me, they were mostly just effective at marking transitions.

A lot of her set was improvised (which, I imagine, would be more difficult to do as you add layers of complexity).  She came out and played a song on her violin.  The instrument was piped through an electronic device that warbled and echoed the sounds.  I can't explain it, but it was very beautiful.

She went on to tell many stories about what she has been doing in the past year or so to explore storytelling, silence, technology, and naturally, happiness.

What was interesting was that I don't think any of her stories were happy at all.  Funny, definitely, but not happy.  For example, she told a story of an Amish family she stayed with to experince farming with very old technology.  Instead, it rained most of the time so they stayed inside literally staring at each other in complete silence.  She told us how the only time the silence was broken, it was very clear that the family was extremely disfunctional.  The parents were fighting, but their responses were hours apart- thereby dragging out this torture.

She told a story about her experience as a child when she broke her back and had to stay in the burn unit of a hospital.  The night was filled with screams of children.

"Silence" and the lack of it was one of the nice themes running throughout her stories and poems.  Throughout her entire performance, she would be twisting and tweaking the dials on her devices thereby providing an ambient wash of percussion and electonic tones and noises; there wasn't silence.  All except for one moment when she said, "Imagine if THIS happened in the real world."  She then turned off all her equipment and had the audience sit in silence for an awkwardly long time... I have to admit, I shifted in my seat a bit after the first minute or so.

She was making a point that as our lives increasingly integrate technology, they become more noisy...  In fact, she said that there was no such thing as noiseless technology: 1's and 0's... either it's on, and therefore delivering information, doing activity and making a rucus, or it's off... and therefore it doesn't exist.

She said that technology was the greatest marketing tool because it was so noisy... and the message it shouted was one of fear: fear that if you do not have the smallest cell phone or the slickest web page, then you will no longer be able to compete; you'll become inadequate.

September 11 definitely figured promenantly into her performance. She talked about how her studio was just a few blocks from the World Trade Center and how she was amazed that all the pictures and the videos of the falling buildings seem to lack in audio...

So, I made a criticism of artists that use 9/11 or other world events as fodder for their art (see comment)... I don't think her use of 9/11 really offended me as much as I would have expected.  Probably the difference was that her show wasn't about 9/11 or even her reaction to it.  Instead, it had other very strong themes and 9/11 was simply one story out of very many that supported her theme.

She finished off her performance with a description of large ships that pass by on a body of water by her window every morning.  These ships are so far away and really don't make a sound... but they are like these large, silent mountains moving slowly... and they wake her up.

She didn't know why she always woke up as they passed by, but she suggested that there is some instinct of fear in all of us that triggers whenever we are near something very large that makes us so very small... Even when we think we are in complete silence, maybe there is something that our minds and bodies "hear."

I think there was some parallel being drawn between these large, moving, silent objects and falling skyscrapers, but I'm not sure.

So I was happy I went.  I think it would take a lot of guts to stand up for two hours, not move from one spot, and try to command the attention of a large audience with sound and words.

She was successful.  I certainly was riveted throughout the entire performance... I wish I brought a notebook because even though her speaking voice was slow and methodical, she was spitting out ideas and clever wording too fast to capture it all.

Now, of course, the bad part.

Apparently, there wasn't a rule in place for "no late entry."  During her opening song, which was easily my favorite, streams of people were making their way to their seats!  The Paramount seats are pretty compact, so that meant people had to get up to let the latecomers sit down.

If that wasn't bad enough, what I found most rude was people around me sitting down late and then talking!  TALKING LOUDLY about how "pretty the theatre is" or "these are great seats!"

I would probably forget about the first 5 minutes and chalk it up to bad parking or bad service at dinner before, but it didn't stop there! I have never in my life seen an audience that was so mobile.  Up and down, up and down, particularly one gaggle of women going to get more drinks and use the restroom and announcing as much to everyone in their section.

From my crow's nest vantage point, I saw people walking up and down the aisles in the entire theatre throughout the whole performance... so this wasn't an isolated, nosebleed section problem.  Why pay so much money to not pay attention?

Grrr... Rest assured that any robot show I produce will have very strict guidelines on what happens if you arrive late (sorry, you can watch on this video monitor until an appropriate break).

David Nunez Twitter

Dir of Technology at the MIT Museum • Writing about emerging tech's impact on your life • Speculative insights on the intersection of humanity and technology 🤖


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