"We like to be entertained; we don't normally like to be scared, but...people remember him: 'I don't know who that guy was, but he scared the hell out of me.' You want to be moved, you want your heart to fly out, but it doesn't normally, because you're listening to something that's been packaged and made to manipulate you. Not that Andy wasn't a master manipulator. But that's the great thing about being alive. You only really get to see a thing like [Kaufman's performance] once. Because once it's recorded and played back, you're already at one remove from it."
Yet Anderson's art is very much affected by the process of recording and playing back, a lifelong use of technology for her own artistic ends. At the same time, her work is largely given over to the use of storytelling as an artistic vehicle, which poses a particularly acute challenge, given how much contemporary technology has to do with nonlinear narrative, hypertextuality, and the immediacy of digital editing. Currently involved in the final mixing of her newest as-yet-untitled album, Anderson has been thinking about these issues much more urgently these days.
"Yes," she responds emphatically to a question about whether current technological advances make it more challenging to sustain the extended narratives that mark her work. "There's really quite a steep techno-curve. It's challenging for me because I work in so many kinds of media, and what that means is, I have to read a lot of manuals. I'm very dependent on the technology to do the things I do, and even if I know, say, 75 percent of the technology I'm using, the remaining 25 percent can really hang you up. Listening to the new album, for instance, the digital recording we did...with digital, the edits are very quick and easy, but it also means you get ghosts from the previous recording popping up unexpectedly. We were just listening to one song from the new album, and this really weird singing started popping up in the middle of the song. We can't figure out where it's coming from. So the process tends to call attention to itself.
"As someone who loves intricacy, I love the instantaneous nature of that, but it can fracture a narrative, a story, a word, a musical phrase. And there is nobody in the world who can tell me that the digital process doesn't lose something in the spaces, the silences between the notes."
On the song "The Night Flight From Houston," Anderson recalls sitting next to an elderly woman who is taking her first airplane ride. The woman looks at the lights of the cities below, describing them excitedly; and midway through her commentary it becomes apparent she thinks that they're stars, that the airplane is carrying them all through outer space. Careful not to brashly correct this innocent and essentially harmless mistake, Anderson offers only a hesitant "I think they're cities," but doesn't press the point. Anderson is engaged, now as ever, in mining the intersections between our most cherished beliefs and the flood of information that threatens to shake those beliefs at any given moment.
To perform that work, she's learned to pay attention to the silences between the notes; having spent more than two decades encouraging us to hear those sounds along with her, she's more than earned the career-spanning retrospective that Talk Normal strives to provide. The clarity of her vision is so apparent throughout these two discs that even the echo of that lost traveler--"Can you tell me where I am?"--is finally answered. Anderson's long work is saying, This is where we are today, and this is what the road looks like. That may be all the answer we get.
Or all that we need--being engaged, like Anderson herself, in the ceaseless and necessary act of moving forward.