A Conversation With Nominee Laurie Anderson

(For a complete list of 53rd GRAMMY Awards nominees, click here.)

In June 2010 multimedia artist and avant-pop icon Laurie Anderson released Homeland , her first solo album in nearly 10 years. "Flow," the album's final track, is a meditation for digitally processed solo violin that provides a melancholy, yet serene conclusion to the album. The song received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Pop Instrumental Performance, her third career nomination. Anderson is among the artists scheduled to perform at the GRAMMY Pre-Telecast Ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 13. GRAMMY Community Blogger Miss Music Nerd conducted an interview with Anderson last month.

"Flow" is so beautiful in its simplicity. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind it?
I think I wrote that on my birthday. I was trying to make a lot of very short pieces. My idea was there would just be two or three thoughts in each piece. For example, it would move from observation to doubt to some other emotion. I was trying to make it almost like talking.

I heard notes in "Flow" that are lower than a standard violin can play. Is that a five-string violin you're playing?
It is. It's technically a viola. It was designed by Ned Steinberger, who [also designs] basses and guitars. I contacted him because I really wanted to hit some low notes on the violin. I told him, "It needs another string."

I'm curious about the electronics you used in "Flow." Did you use a harmonizer?
I used to use harmonizers. Now I'm designing my own software processing for violin. I was invited by [Pulitzer Prize-winning author] Toni Morrison to go to Princeton to work on any project I wanted, so I decided to try to write some plays. Well, I spent a semester there and I realized I don't really know how to write plays, and I never really figured out how.

But I did meet some really interesting students, and one of them was a brilliant software designer, Konrad Kaczmarek. We had the most fun working together. As a violinist, you've got your head to the instrument, and you're hearing all of this stuff that the audience will never hear — gritty, crunchy stuff, and overtones and harmonics that are so beautiful. I [wanted to make] those more audible for people, and make it part of the sound — because by the time it gets to the audience, it's mostly this pure vibrato stuff, and doesn't have all the other things around the notes that I find really, really beautiful.

Is there any music you like to listen to that people might be surprised to know about?
I'm pretty eclectic. I just love that I can download anything. Right now, I'm listening to some [Gustav] Mahler. And Kanye West — I think his new work is just great. Like most people, I'm very across-the-board, because it's very easy to get stuff now.

It's January, and I always start again completely in January. One of the things I want to do this year is listen to a really different piece of music first thing each morning. It's the time of day when nothing has started, so you can listen to music in a very innocent way. That's helping me a lot to hear in another way than if I was more awake and critical.

What is it like to be nominated for a GRAMMY for Best Pop Instrumental Performance?
I'm super-flattered! If I were nominated in something more "downtown New York," I would be less surprised. But it's gratifying.

You can read an expanded version of this interview here.

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