voice of the digital future

Friday was art day at MILIA. The onslaught started at noon with a keynote
address by Laurie Anderson, who spent exactly one hour telling stories
about technology. On the way out I heard a guy in a suit say that it was
the most disorganized talk she'd ever heard. I kinda liked it.

She talked about the net and the Unabomber, about Moby Dick and Star Trek,
about RAM and bandwidth and about our fear of losing control. She talked
about road kill and beaver tails and useless information. About a crashing
airplane: "the captain says, 'we are going down, we are all going down

Last time I saw Laurie Anderson perform was a year and a half ago in San
Diego. I liked her much better this time. She was loose, almost like she
was improvising. By contrast, her big stage show seemed stale, like she
figured out a few cool tricks fifteen years ago and is methodically working
them to death. A beautiful and very expensive death.

This happens to a lot of successful artists. They hit it big with something
and just sort-of stick with it, coming up with little variations,
introducing a new theme every decade or so. Gradually progressing toward

So I was pleasantly surprised when, toward the end of her scheduled hour,
she brought out a small "pillow speaker" and popped it in her mouth. Pillow
speakers are used for "sleep learning." Once time she tried to learn German
this way, playing language tapes while she slept. She said it didn't do
much for her German, but did make her nervous and paranoid.

In the video close-up that was projected on a huge screen behind her, the
little plastic pillow speaker looked like one of those microphones you can
put on top of your computer to record funny alert sounds: a little beige
device. The skinny cord emerged from her mouth like a long tail, connecting
her mouth to the computers and sound system. Then the pillow speaker played
buzzy sounds and she opened and closed her mouth to vary the pitch and
volume, producing lovely bizzaro effects. I liked the fact of her saliva
all over the little plastic device, plainly displayed before hundreds of
corporate straights.

One thing she said stands out in my mind. She said that a couple years ago
she started to notice little writing on all the stuff in her house:
trademarks, serial numbers, product information:

"When I noticed this starting to happen on the net I got sort-of nervous.
When the logos move in: 'the party's over; let's get down to business and
figure out how to make some money here.' I'm not naive. But my dream is
that the net would be a giant totally free multimedia library. I'm a
romantic. So shoot me. More likely it'll be a giant shopping mall with
little coin-operated special interest corners."

She hopes artists and musicians find ways to keep the net from becoming a
giant trade show. Meanwhile her audience is trying to do just that.

** thanks to: Catherine Billon, Niko Waesche, Jane Prophet**