Laurie Anderson – United States I-IV live

Author: Colin | Published: 18/9/11

Laurie Anderson - United States live

Laurie Anderson - United States live

Laurie Anderson - United States live

Laurie Anderson - United States live

Laurie Anderson - United States live

Laurie Anderson - United States live

Laurie Anderson - United States live

Laurie Anderson - United States live

Laurie Anderson - United States live

Laurie Anderson - United States live

Laurie Anderson - United States live

Laurie Anderson - United States live

Artist Laurie Anderson
Title United States I-IV live
Label Warner Brothers
Year 1983
Design Laurie Anderson; cover photos: Lynn Goldsmith
Music Sui generis
Notes Where does one start with a subject like Laurie Anderson’s United States? It’s a magnum opus, a sprawling patchwork quilt laid over the world’s last remaining superpower. A country that was still at cold war with the Soviet Union when it was recorded in 1983. It’s a work of tremendous breadth that combines politics, humour, performance art, modern composition, musique concrete, electronica, improvisation, beautiful melodies, haunting exposition, oblique reflection and much more. In terms of structure, United States may be understood as an application of Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs’ cut-up technique writ large (Burroughs, with whom she danced in Home of the Brave appears here via Language Is A Virus from Outer Space).

United States is also an audio-visual feast that featured Anderson’s use of dime-store technologies to achieve playful and often thought-provoking effect. Witness the small light in the artist’s mouth on the cover, the tape bow violin, the skull percussion piece, the goggles with torches instead of lenses. Each, more or less oblique and more or less resonant.

United States is an edited documentation of Laurie Anderson’s performance which spanned two consecutive nights at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. After it came the album of studio re-recordings of some key works in the set, Big Science. It’s difficult to imagine how Warner Brothers came to sign such an artist, even more difficult to picture how the beautiful and tremendously minimal O Superman, released as a single and played by John Peel, reached number 2 in the UK charts. After Big Science came the gorgeous Mister Heartbreak and numerous further projects from a voice part in Rugrats The Movie, the Puppet Motel CD-ROM and work with Nam June Paik, Spalding Gray and a host of others.

It would be wonderful to see a visual recording of the whole performance, nothing of the sort has been published. Try listening to United States in combination with Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach.

More Wikipedia entry
Official website


  1. great, but you forget the CD picture disc art ;)

    Comment by ringo — September 23, 2011 @ 8:00 pm
  2. I don’t think you see the CD art, ringo. The above is the LP art – much better than the CD, more space – not so ‘compacted’.

    I loved this set from the moment I first bought it (new in 1983). On a trip to San Francisco in the early 90’s I found the large format paperback book that went with it. It described what all sorts of things about the LPs and the project as a whole. Interesting if you can still find one.

    Saw Laurie at the Barbican last year doing one of her pieces, and also purchased a 12″ of a track from Homeland, her latest, made for Record Store Day, and it was duely signed by the artist. She told me that Warners were going to re-released all the albums, but when, she didn’t know. We shall have to wait with baited breath.

    Comment by Conrad — September 27, 2011 @ 5:18 pm
  3. Hello Conrad, yes I’ve got the book too. I should have included it in this post, but couldn’t find it in time. It provides a bit more of a visual sense of the concerts I suspect, but definitely doesn’t attempt to explain anything, which is a relief. I saw her in 2008 and wrote a short review with a few pics on my blog. I think Homeland was her best work in many years.

    Comment by Colin — October 1, 2011 @ 5:51 pm
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