Laurie Anderson’s seminal work, O Superman, 1982 depicts issues of technology and communication through lyrical repetition and the distortion of sound. The opening sequence introduces Laurie’s voice stating the word ‘Ah’, which is amplified through the use of technology and looped throughout the entirety of the song to infer representations of one’s pulse “provid(ing) a rhythmic tactus.” (Bourland, 2006) This evokes a bizarre and an uneasy experience for the audience.
Laurie’s voice is altered through a vocoder, a device invented by the US Government in the 1980’s. Moreover, it is manipulated into an automated tone, with the layered compositions of harmonic shadows and auras. Not only does this generate an eerie and industrialised response for viewers but also comments on political unrest happening at the time the song was written and released concerning the war and scandal between America and Iran.
If I was to describe the underlying beat of the song to a death person, I was say this:
Visualising a clock hand ticking back and forth repeatedly for a period of eight minutes, twenty-seven seconds. The movement is mesmerising but somewhat irritating. The room turns dark. A single spotlight appears on the wall and starts spinning—the song progresses. The light turns on abruptly and a person is standing directly in front of you. They are maintaining serious eye contact with you as they open and close their mouth at a reduced speed. Shadows and silhouettes are created as there is a change in light. You are welcomed with hand gestures pointing back and forth at you. Anderson is speaking to you. It is a rather confronting experience.
Anderson was also influenced by the Minimalism movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s and has carried it through to contemporary society. Simplistic, yet subtly intense in its delivery with aspects of harmonious repetition. Imogen Heap’s song Hide and Seek, 2005, shares a similar sound to O Superman. The vocoder, now commonly used as an instrument in sound production has been used in this piece. Techniques have been employed with the distortion of keyboard synth and altered a cappella sound to infer the aching loss of someone. Technology and war has been an ongoing crisis affecting the public worldwide. Musicians and artists have been influenced to use these digitised devices to infer meaning and spark tension.
Imogen Heap 2005, Imogen Heap – Hide And Seek, music video recording, YouTube, viewed 3 May 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYIAfiVGluk>.
Laurie Anderson 2016, Laurie Anderson – O Superman [Official Music Video], music video recording, YouTube, viewed 3 May 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vkfpi2H8tOE>.
Roger Bourland, 2006, Laurie Anderson: O Superman, weblog, viewed 3 May 2017,<http://rogerbourland.com/2006/07/03/laurie-anderson-o-superman/> .
Simpson, D. 2016, ‘How we made Laurie Anderson’s O Superman’, The Guardian, 19 April, viewed 3 May 2017, <https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/apr/19/how-we-made-laurie-anderson-o-superman>.