Laurie Anderson is a rare kind of artist, one who works hard to make her art without being contained by it. In the 1980s it seemed implausible that a spiky-haired, violin-playing, post-punk spoken word performance artist with unmistakably calm vocal register would carve out a place for herself on the charts, but not only did she manage that feat, she made an entire career out of it, paving the way for contemporary musicians like Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Jenny Hval who share Anderson’s penchants for bold experimentalism.
At the center of Anderson’s work is her role as a storyteller. She says stories were a huge part of her life growing up and that she originally started telling stories to appease her younger sister who always had trouble sleeping. “I’d love to climb to the top of a tree and read a book,” she said. “I remember so many worlds opening up that way.”
Anderson sees her transition from sculptor, to building her own instruments, to filmmaker, to musician as a natural progression of her art practice. In fact, her multidisciplinary approach to art helps to make sense of her career as a musician, as her music has often straddled the lines between the avant-garde and pop. Across seven albums the now seventy-year-old has collaborated with figures as diverse as Nile Rodgers, Adrian Belew, Bill Laswell, William S. Burroughs, John Zorn, and her late husband Lou Reed.
Her latest collaborator is the Kronos Quartet, and together they released Landfall, a project three years in the making, last week. Between the new album and the fact that Anderson also published a career retrospective book earlier this month entitled All The Things I Lost In The Flood, there really is no better time to look back at the span of her career, here are ten songs that serve as a primer for Anderon’s expansive, stunning career.