Some in the audience howled with glee, others stood on trembling legs and a few drooled in delight as famed performance artist Laurie Anderson debuted her original “Music for Dogs” composition outside the Sydney Opera House on Saturday.
Hundreds of dogs and their owners bounced around as Anderson entertained them with 20 minutes of thumping beats, whale calls, whistles and a few high-pitched electronic sounds imperceptible to human ears.
“Let’s hear it from the medium dogs!” Anderson called out from the stage, as a few dogs yipped in return. “You can do better than that – come on mediums! Whoo! WHOOOOOO!”
The performance was part of the city’s Vivid art and music festival, which is being co-curated by Anderson and her husband, rock legend Lou Reed.
Anderson – who often plays music for her rat terrier Lollabelle – said the idea originated during a chat with cellist Yo-Yo Ma while the two were waiting backstage at a graduation ceremony.
“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if you’re playing a concert and you look out and everyone’s a dog?'” Anderson said. “So I thought if I ever get a chance to do that, I’m gonna do it. And today was it. So this is like a highlight of my life.”
The music had varying effects on the pooches, with a series of high-pitched whale sounds working several into a frenzy. Many wagged their tails and barked in apparent encouragement, while others stared at the stage with glazed eyes.
“Yo!” Anderson shouted from behind her keyboard. “Beautiful work, dogs!”
Not all of the pups were thrilled. Oliver, a Jack Russell terrier who tends to have issues with high-pitched noises, folded his ears back and exploded into a barrage of frantic barks as he lunged toward the stage, dragging owner Jacqui Bonner along with him.
Others appeared entranced. April Robinson giggled as her small dog Spot swiveled his head toward the stage, ears perked high.
“He loves it!” she squealed while Spot stared wide-eyed at Anderson.
The concert was originally billed as a performance for dogs’ ears only, and was going to be largely limited to electronic noises played at a frequency too high for human ears. But Anderson changed things up when she decided she wanted people to have some fun, too.
“We didn’t want to do something that humans couldn’t hear,” she said. “We brought the octaves down into our hearing range so we could all have the experience.”
Anderson, who turned 63 Saturday, said the crowd was one of the best-behaved she’s ever played for, and considered the whole event a howling success.
“That was the most amazing concert I’ve ever, ever gotten to give!” she said with a grin. “It’s really a dream.”