Close Listening – A Conversation with Laurie Anderson, Shahzad Ismaily and Horomona Horo (chaired by Nick Tipping)
Opera House, Wellington
Thursday, March 5
Laurie Anderson is here to curate week two of the NZ Festival so this conversation appeared as part of the parallel Writers Readers component and was a chance to get to know something about Anderson and some of her artistic/creative processes and responses in the middle of the week of her programming – which includes a variety of performances where she is the feature.
Joining her for this public discussion was multi-instrumentalist (from her touring group) Shazhzad Ismaily (a composer and performer in his own right) and local composer, musician and instrument maker (Taonga pūoro) Horomona Horo.
The conversation was chaired by Nick Tipping who, hilariously, got the biggest applause of the evening right at the opening by announcing that he was of RNZ/Concert FM. Anderson looked intrigued, slightly baffled, as the Festival crowd applauded the stoicism of Concert FM via one of its workers. Tipping basked in the applause, then called it off and in a winning aside told Laurie Anderson it was “a long story”. After more applause he promised to fill her in later.
So we were off to a good start.
Unfortunately it wasn’t long after that Tipping started tripping over his own words as he through-explained any questions and was met with a few awkward silences from Ismaily and Anderson; unsure what to add. When he throttled back (nerves, no doubt) and let the artists speak to general (sometimes a bit too generic) questions we got some lovely insight. We never really got to the nub of the evening’s alleged question – around close listening – but we did get, from Horo in particular, some beautiful, thoughtful, articulate word painting. Talk of being inspired by nature, of unplugging from the word of electronics and instant communication, talk too of the joys in improvisation; of being open to whatever, of living on the thrill of possibly falling, maybe even failing. Through experimentation and commitment to cause comes something interesting.
Ismaily was a quiet force – not one for talking in great detail but when he spoke it was with a warmth and clarity. I loved his response when asked how he listened to Anderson as a collaborator, what his process was when working with her. He said he listened with his every fiber, he tried to be open-hearted since Laurie was very open-hearted in her work. His sincerity was palpable and perfectly articulated.
Anderson’s voice is a calming agent all on its own. You could listen to her speak on the subject of, well…anything. But of course she had interesting things to say about her artistic pursuits, about there being no real “plot” to hang on her life – she believed she had no idea what was happening next; that was the exciting and interesting part. She spoke also of unplugging, of sleeping in a room without anything plugged in for the best night’s rest.
Her Buddhist philosophies and practices were, she believed, basically interchangeable with artistic philosophies and practices.
Horo demonstrated some of his instruments, often at the request of Anderson and always to her and Ismaily’s delight.