Laurie Anderson Sails On

Laurie Anderson's new album, "Life on a String," due Aug. 21 via Nonesuch, could have been a whale of a project, but it ended up being something else. She originally planned to make an album drawn fr

Laurie Anderson's new album, "Life on a String," due Aug. 21 via Nonesuch, could have been a whale of a project, but it ended up being something else.

Anderson, who hasn't released an album since 1995's "Bright Red," had originally planned to make an album drawn from her highly praised multimedia piece "Songs and Stories From Moby Dick," which she toured internationally in 2000.

But, she says, "I realized, 'Something's gotta go, and it's got to be the record.' When I got back to it after the theater [piece], I said, 'I don't know if I want to do this anymore, this particular story, the fish and the captain.' I couldn't take another second of it."

"I thought, 'You know, I really enjoyed that, but I'm going to just use it as a jumping-off point and then write some other stuff.' So that's kind of what I did."

While the shadow of "Moby Dick" may be perceived in the lyrics of such "Life on a String" songs as "One White Whale," and "Pieces and Parts," other tracks cover a wide variety of subject matter. The album also employs a stylistically diverse group of musicians, brought into the fold by producer Hal Willner, who had previously worked with Anderson's significant other, Lou Reed.

"I would hang out in the studio and think, 'Boy, it's amazing what he can do by doing, seemingly, so little,' " Anderson says of Willner.

Among a cast of unusual players that includes Reed, trumpeter Cuong Vu, keyboardist Mitchell Froom, violinist Eyvind Kang, mixer Mocean Worker, and guitarist Bill Frisell, Anderson cites Van Dyke Parks -- who created a typically lush string arrangement for the track "Dark Angel" -- as her most surprising collaborator.

"The first time I heard the demo, I thought, 'That sounds like a cartoon. That's incredible.' But I got to like it a lot. I'm very fond of it. It's so strange. Now we're trying to do the live version of it for the show, and lacking an orchestra, we're turning it into a spookier, weirder thing."

While Anderson generally sticks to keyboards on "Life on a String," she also takes up the violin; it's the first time she has played the instrument on an album since her 1982 debut, "Big Science." She credits instrument maker Ned Steinberger for her in-studio foray.

"He keeps sending me these prototypes, and he said, 'Just try this one out,'" she explains. "And I said, 'Oh, wow! How about if we do this, that, and that to it?' I also wrote a thing for orchestra when I was starting this thing. I'd just finished a big piece called 'Songs for A.E.' It's about Amelia Earhart. I scored it for the American Composers Orchestra, and we played it in New York. I think we're going to do an all-string version of that piece ... It was that and just listening to strings and going, 'That's not bad!'"

"Life on a String" is already being promoted on the artist's Web site,, AND Anderson says she will begin a "completely unadorned" tour of smaller venues Sept. 6. She'll be backed by bassist Skulli Sverrisson, keyboardist Peter Scherer, and drummer Jim Black. This trek will preface what she calls a "really stripped-down" solo theater tour next January.

Fans who never got the chance to see "Moby Dick" live may soon have the opportunity to see it on the screen: Anderson says director Mike Figgis shot five London performances, which are being edited into a feature film.