In a secluded corner of the Hirshhorn’s Sculpture Garden, framed by pine boughs and other living greenery, Grammy Award-winning musician and multi-media artist Laurie Anderson recently performed a four-hour drone-based sonic experience in celebration of her late husband Lou Reed’s 80th birthday.
Using the power and energy of harmonic drones as first developed by Lou Reed and the Primitives for the song, “The Ostrich” (1965), Anderson’s powerful performance on June 3 was enlivened by her sly smile, playfulness, and sense of humor while entreating the audience to “do your worst work” when struggling with lack of inspiration. For Creatives like Anderson, and a lesson for all of us, doing one’s “worst work” is better than doing nothing and inevitably opens the imagination, leading to greater inspiration, and further creativity.
The pre-Velvet Underground “Ostrich” was the first known commercial composition to make use of trivial guitar tuning, a regular tuning based on the unison musical interval, with no semitones and assigning exactly one pitch class (for example D, A#, F or B). With all guitar-strings tuned to the same note over two or three octaves, an intense, chorused, and sustained melodic drone is created. In Anderson’s vision, violin, keyboards, flute, percussion, and Lou Reed’s guitars combined to create moving and immense soundscapes, filling the Hirshhorn’s Sculpture Garden with lovely, unique, and emotional music.
Watch Laurie Anderson perform a Tiny Desk Concert at Home for NPR via YouTube:
With guitar technician Stewart Hurwood expertly curating a circular bank of Lou Reed’s amplifiers, guitars, and electronics, an ever-present sonic drone saturated the Sculpture Garden. Kaoru Watanabe’s imaginative percussion and flute provided an added layer of musical diversity. And at the center of it all was Anderson herself, an electronic violin mounted on her shoulder and a small keyboard positioned before, who directed the proceedings with an ease that belied the mesmerizing, melodic, and orchestral sonics that enveloped the spectators.
The 75-year-old Anderson stood for the entire four hours save for a few minutes near the end when she rested on a small amplifier case. Her other “break” came while she practiced Tai Chi after making a point about how Chi (Qi or Ki) connects us all to the energy of life itself, and how sound helps to achieve that bond.
The Hirshhorn’s program warned “Please note that the performance will be loud” and was presented as part of Sound Scene, an annual sound festival presented in partnership with DC Listening Lounge. The Hirshhorn hosts ever-evolving arts events that are free to the public. Visit the Hirshhorn Museum website for more information.
Here are some more photographs of Laurie Anderson performing at the Hirshhorn Museum on June 3, 2022, copyright and courtesy of Mark Caicedo.