Masters of MIDI: Laurie Anderson

Each day this week, to mark the 30th anniversary of the release of the first synthesizer to feature MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) capability—the Prophet 600 by Sequential Circuits—TWTR will focus on an electronic music pioneer and one of their performances during the early days of MIDI in the 1980s. This is the third installment of a five-part series.

Laurie Anderson – “Excellent Birds” (Live, 1986)

Laurie Anderson is a true MIDI pioneer. In addition to using the technology in her recording and live performances, Anderson has also invented new types of MIDI controllers. In fact, she began creating experimental instruments well before the advent of MIDI, such as her tape-bow violin—a violin with a magnetic tape head in its bridge played with a bow that uses recorded magnetic tape instead of traditional horsehair. Over the years, she continued to update this instrument and uses a variation of it as a MIDI controller in this performance of “Excellent Birds”—written with Peter Gabriel, who included it on his 1986 So album as “This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)”—from her 1986 concert film, Home of the Brave.

In the late 1990s, Anderson invented another MIDI controller called a Talking Stick, a 6-foot, wireless, baton-like device that works on the principle of granular synthesis. It takes a sound and breaks it down into smaller segments (which she calls “grains”) and plays them back in a variety of ways.

And, yes, a lot of this is from her Wikipedia entry.