Saturday, January 4, 2014

Laurie Anderson | Puppet Motel

Laurie Anderson
Puppet Motel 
Santa Monica, USA: Voyager, 1995
Edition size unknown

Released during that brief window of time (a three month period, perhaps?) when it might've reasonably been argued that CD-Rom's represented the wave of the future as a content delivery device, Puppet Motel was produced by the Voyager Company, then a leader in the field. Named after the famed spacecraft, Voyager was founded in 1984 and released their first product that year, the 1933 King Kong laserdisc. They had subsequent success with cinephiles with a number of Criterion titles, introducing audio commentaries and other extra features that would become staples of the later DVD market. Their other CD-Roms include The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, Art Spiegelman's Maus and The Resident's Freak Show.

Anderson's project takes its title from the third (and weakest?) song on her 1994 LP Bright Red, a collaboration with Brian Eno. Working with designer Hsin-Chien Huang, Anderson created an "immersive interactive environment" that features images of clocks, televisions, telephones, answering machines, radios and electrical outlets, all motifs familiar in Anderson's oeuvre. The viewer navigates through the imaginary spaces and the cursor acts like a flashlight, illuminating otherwise dark spaces. There's about six hours of music and classic Anderson stories, such as:

"I went to a palm reader and the odd thing about the reading was that everything she told me was totally wrong. She said I loved airplanes, that I had been born in Seattle, that my mother’s name was Hilary. But she seemed so sure of the information that I began to feel like I’d been walking around with these false documents permanently tattooed to my hands. It was very noisy in the parlor and members of her family kept running in and out. They were speaking a high, clicking kind of language that sounded a lot like Arabic. Books and magazines in Arabic were strewn all over the floor. It suddenly occurred to me that maybe there was a translation problem--that maybe she was reading my hand from right to left instead of left to right.

Thinking of mirrors, I gave her my other hand. Then she put her other hand out and we sat there for several minutes in what I assumed was some kind of participatory ritual. Finally I realized that her hand was out because she was waiting for money."

As you scroll through the above text, there's a brief feeling of dislocation before the realization that the program has transposed the left and right of your mouse, moving the pointer in reverse. Elsewhere the cursor and the content interact also, it becomes an ice-skate, a Ouija-board pointer, an eraser and a floating star.

There are 33 'rooms' in the 'motel' that a participant wanders in and out of, such as the Hall of Time, the Attic, The Breakfast Room, the Aquarium and the Music Room. The Music Room features a collection of instruments that Anderson has created, including several altered violins: the Tape Bow Violin, the Viophonograph, a digital violin and a self-playing violin. The self-playing violin has 7 buttons on it, with each button playing the same sound clip ("listen to my heartbeat") at varied speeds. Interactivity is emphasized in every room.

Anderson was probably better suited than most to attempt to elevate the medium beyond the technology demo or the gloried press release kit. Had the format caught on, it might've been the logical way for her to release new material. As it stands, it's an anomaly in her discography, an Ebay oddity.

View a brief demonstration of the work, here.

No comments:

Post a Comment