Laurie Anderson - Big Science
“This is the time. And this is the record of the time.”
Laurie Anderson’s 1982 debut album, Big Science, returns to vinyl for the first time in 30 years with a new red vinyl edition on Nonesuch Records.
In the early 1980s, Laurie Anderson was already respected as a conceptual artist and composer, adept at employing both high-tech and homemade gear in her often violin-based pieces, and she was a familiar figure in the cross-pollinating, Lower Manhattan music-visual art-performance circles from which Philip Glass, Arthur Russell and David Byrne and many others also emerged. While working on her now-legendary seven-hour performance art/theater piece United States, Part I–IV, she cut the spare ‘O Superman (For Massenet)’, an electronic-age update of 19th century French operatic composer Jules Massenet’s aria ‘O Souverain’, for the tiny New York City indie label 110 Records. In the UK, DJ John Peel picked up a copy of this very limited-edition 33⅓ RPM 7” and spun the eight-minute-plus track on BBC Radio 1. The exposure resulted in an unlikely #2 hit, lots of attention in the press, and a worldwide deal with Warner Bros. Records.
"Cause when love is gone, there's always justice. And when justice is gone, there's always force. And when force is gone, there's always Mom. Hi Mom!"
At the time of its original release, the NME wrote of Big Science, "there’s a dream-like, subconscious quality about her songs which helps them work at deeper, secret levels of the psyche." With instrumentation ranging from tape loops to found sounds to bag pipes, Big Science anticipated the tech-savvy beats, anything-goes instrumentation and sample-based nature of much contemporary electronic and dance music. On the album’s 25th anniversary, Uncut noted, "the broader themes of alienation and disconnection still resonate, while Anderson’s use of loops and traditional/synthesized instrumentation is prescient."
“In the ’70s I traveled a lot,” Anderson recounts. “I worked on a tobacco farm in Kentucky, hitchhiked to the North Pole, lived in a yurt in Chiapas, and worked on a media commune. I had my own romantic vision of the road. My plan was to make a portrait of the country. Big Science, the first part of the puzzle, eventually became part two of United States I–IV (Transportation, Politics, Money, Love). My goal was to be not just the narrator but also the outsider, the stranger. Although I was fascinated by the United States, this portrait was also about how the country looked from a distance. I was performing a lot in Europe, where American culture was simultaneously booed and cheered. But the portrait was also a picture of a culture inventing a digital world and learning to live in it. Big Science was about technology, size, industrialization, shifting attitudes toward authority, and individuality. It was sometimes alarmist, picturing the country as a burning building, a plane crash. Alongside the techno was the apocalyptic. The absurd. The everyday. It was also a series of short stories about odd characters - hatcheck clerks and pilots, preachers, drifters and strangers. There was something about Massenet’s aria ‘O Souverain’ – which inspired ‘O Superman’ - that almost stopped my heart. The pauses, the melody. “O souverain, ô juge, ô père” (O Lord, o judge, o father). A prayer about empire, ambition, and loss.”
From the Air
Walking and Falling
Born, Never Asked
O Superman (for Massenet)
Let X=X/It Tango
- Limited edition LP pressed on heavyweight 140g high-performance red vinyl
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