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The Ubuweb Experimental Video Project
Colin Marshall

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26. Laurie Anderson's Difficult Listening Hour (1986)
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I'm surprised there's not more Laurie Anderson on Ubuweb, given how big a name hers is/was/sometimes is/arguably might be in the avant-garde. This clip, a segment from the hourlong television special Two Moon July, appears to be it. Ubuweb's separate page on the program lays out some context:

"The television production Two Moon July was a multidisciplinary event that featured experimental video, film, visual art, performance and music in a theatrical framework. More than thirty artists participated in the program, which was produced for the Kitchen by Carlota Schoolman and directed by Tom Bowes. This production reflects a moment when art centers were experimenting with new modes of presenting the arts for television. The participating artists read like a "who's who" of 1980s downtown art icons. Short excerpts from video and film works (by artists including Vito Acconci, Dara Birnbaum, Bruce Connor and Bill Viola) are intercut with performances and art installations in the Kitchen's gallery spaces."

But what may be a clearer explanation comes from the aforequoted Holden piece:

"No New York City cultural institution has been more hospitable toward the development of experimental interarts performance over the last decade and a half than the Kitchen. Since it was established in 1971 in SoHo, the Kitchen has helped nourish a roster of talent in the visual arts, dance, music, and performance art that reads like a who's who of the avant-garde. And this evening at 10 on Channel 31, many of those artists and their work can be glimpsed fleetingly in the one-hour special 'Two Moon July.'

The program, produced for the Kitchen by Carlota Schoolman and directed by Tom Bowes, is really a glossy video brochure that presents tempting little tidbits of work, much of it filmed in the Kitchen's gleaming new headquarters on West 19th Street."

That said, what's Ms. Anderson's contribution like? It's almost exhaustively described by the above. One unbroken shot of Anderson speaking into the mike, through a severely pitch-dropping vocorder, which serves as an introduction to a bit of a video for "O Superman (For Massenet)", the track remembered as her "hit single."

The character she builds upon the vocorder's robo-Barry Whiteization, which the description calls "Soul Doctor", is actually pretty funny. She/he/it utters lines like "Who tore up all my wallpaper samples? Who ate all my grapes? Ones I was saving" and "Holy smokes! Looks like some kind of guest-host relationship to me." The story she/he/it tells, such as it is, finds the Doctor returning to his trashed home, finding a white-tooth fellow full of cryptic utterances sitting there. I couldn't stop wondering how David Lynch would have shot such a tableau.

As for "O Superman", everyone in the developed world has heard it and a decent chunk of them have seen a video of it. How much more can I add? Were I some channel-flipper in 1986 happening upon Two Moon July, though, I'd probably feel at least a little motivated to go out to the local Tower and pick up a copy of Big Science. I look forward to seeing the program's other segments as I come across them in my alphabetically-driven walk journey through Ubuweb's video archive. I feel as if it represents a deliberate, optimistic engagement of the avant-garde with the wider culture that, for the most part, we no longer get.
Pictures that are pretty much unreadable without a finger hovering at all times over the pause button. I can pick out a pair of boots, shelves of books, vases, knotholes, spotlights, catatonic-looking people in spotlights, typewriters (maybe)... but by repeatedly freezing the fast-paced flipping to see what I can identify, aren't I just totally defeating the purpose of the film?



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