Watch and Listen: Laurie Anderson "Kokoku"

You want know what kind of music inspires me? I like multi-layered compositions that push the boundaries of what we think is possible with music. If it's done within a pop-like idiom, even better. Laurie Anderson has been pretty influential in my music development. What she has done for the technology and acceptance of electronic instruments is rather remarkable. For starters, she invented a violin that plays using magnetic tape technology. She can string an infinite number of bows with an infinite number of recorded tape reels and play them on a special violin that contains a magnetic tape player in the bridge. The result is the ability to play sounds--natural, synthetic, spoken word, other instruments, entire musical passages--with all of the various bowing techniques of a traditional violin. It pushes the boundaries of what sounds constitute music, which allows people like me to experiment with how we structure, write, and record sounds to create music.

More importantly to me, she really experimented with the combination of acoustic and electronic instruments. In this track, you can see she combines traditional Japanese folk instruments with multiple synthesizers and her Tape-Bow violin. She also combines a sort of beat-boxing in the introduction to establish the rhythmic patterns of the song (she returns to it in the end) with a repetitive melody in Japanese and dramatic spoken word elements.

This seven minute song, as performed in the concert film Home of the Brave*, is almost a meditation on the balance between tradition and innovation. While Laurie Anderson is bouncing from space to space onstage to reach various apparatuses, the rest of the musicians barely move. Her words drive the entire composition. However, the composition is what connects her various thoughts together. It's a rather lovely balancing act that is a tribute to her creative process.

Give it a watch and listen for yourself.

While Laurie Anderson is undoubtedly a performance artist, I think it's almost a disservice to her skills to only view her in that light. Her music, even in the early and less melodic years, is legitimate and engaging. A song like "Kokoku" will mean something different for everyone who encounters it. For me, it's all about the balance between the various sounds and layers.

What do you think? Is this just experimentation for the sake of experimentation or something more? Sound off below.

*Any chance this sees the light of day on DVD or Blu-Ray? I want better quality than the YouTube rip and I want it yesterday.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

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