Laurie Anderson: The End of the Moon

Notes:
So I called Paul Kiser to be a geek fan and sit in on the sound check for Laurie Anderson. I’ve been a fan of hers since ‘89’s “Strange Angels.” Paul said that I could just hang out in the light booth out of the way and no one would mind. I arrived at 2 o’clock and made my way to the booth. On the stage, I could see Paul, Ken Van Guilder and Laurie herself. Before I could get to the door of the booth, Paul spotted me and said “Tom, get down here!” Something was clearly wrong.

Upon getting down to stage level, Paul introduced me to Laurie. (Ah, my Geek Heaven!) Then I’m informed that her Eventide Orville multi-effect sound processor has seized up. I saw another Orville sitting by the side of the stage and asked if that was a back-up. It was, but her sounds from the main one had not been backed up yet into the other one. Turns out there were nearly a year’s worth of custom sounds for her violin stored in this machine that wouldn’t say “Hello.” Without it, half of her show would be missing.

Since I am a professional recording engineer, Paul figured that I would know this device more than anyone else in town. I am familiar with some Eventide processors, but not that one. Of course, their tech support phone line in New Jersey had just closed, Laurie’s usual tech was in Japan and Eventide has NO authorized service centers in North America. If your Eventide breaks, you send it to them - period!


We decided that she would set up the rest of the show while I searched for a solution to the problem. That in itself was very impressive . . . she controlled it all! All sound went to her mixer on stage where SHE mixed the show. She would then send the mix to the Front of House soundboard to the house PA. With lighting, she ran through all of the cues and fine-tuned each one. She also controlled the video projection system on stage. Truly a one-woman show.

Just as she started setting up the rest of her equipment, the mini synthesizer that she controls her computer with also started to act up and crash for no reason. Laurie was getting frustrated, and rightfully so! I believe Ken Van Guilder ended up creating a new power supply for her that made the crashes less frequent.

After an hour and a half of calling every engineer and tech that I know, NO ONE knew anything about that machine. Turns out it wasn’t a big seller for Eventide. The only places left to call were the international service centers, but none of them was open yet! We downloaded the manual and tried to find answers in there, but to no avail. I was striking out.

Between the sketchy synthesizer and the broken Eventide, at two hours before show time, she had to make the decision whether to go on with the show or not. She had NEVER had so many technical problems that would require even considering the cancellation of a show - remarkable since she’s been the multimedia Queen for years. I thought for sure that this would be old hat for her.

Ultimately, she deduced that if she programmed some sounds in the back-up Eventide, she might be able to pull it off. A year’s worth of patches in two hours though? She was willing to risk it.

Since all of the sounds were in certain places in the other Eventide, she had a foot pedal board that would switch between them. That wasn’t going to work on the new one. So we had to improvise a stand for the unit that she could adjust in low light and have exactly at the correct angle for lighting reasons. The answer was a music stand. That put the machine at a slant that looked right up to her. She then needed help on how to save the new sound patches in the machine. Fortunately, I had gotten that from the manual I had down loaded. So there I was, standing with Laurie Anderson, teaching her how to program an Eventide Orville. Someone pinch me!

We got her going well enough so I could get back to bringing the main one to life. An email to the Italian tech support had come in and pointed me into a direction I hadn’t gone before. It said that maybe the last patch Laurie had used was corrupted. When firing up Eventide machines, they always load the last patch you used. If that were tweaked, it could make the device freeze up. So I found a way of telling the machine NOT to load the last patch it used and it worked! The machine came to life! You have no idea how much I was looking forward to being the man who was going to say to Laurie, “I fixed your machine!”

I walked onto the stage at T-60 and said rather sheepishly, “Laurie, I think I got it back for you. Would you mind trying it?”

She couldn’t plug in the device fast enough. It came on, went though the boot sequence, she dialed up a sound that she had programmed - and it was wrong. She tried another one and that was wrong, too. Turns out all of the custom sounds were gone and only the factory preset sounds remained. With all of the futzing with the device, we had flushed the RAM holding all of her sounds so it was decided that she would continue programming the other one until she had to go change for the show.

I sat in the theater watching her build sounds. Seeing her mind process the tones and then modify them for the show was fascinating to watch. In the meantime, she had about 50 candles that needed to be lit on stage for the performance which she asked a few of us to do, but we all steered clear while she was programming. We were all quite nervous about how she was going to pull this off. But I was enjoying watching her create.

T-15 she finally left the stage so we could open the doors. She madly fled to her dressing room so she could change into her show clothes. I ran into several people I knew as they came in and I told them that they were in for a very “unique” performance.

Lights went down and Laurie came out. When she stepped to her equipment and pushed the first button on the Eventide, a thought entered my mind. We hadn’t anchored the music stand that it was on. If she pressed something too hard, it could easily topple over and off the stand. That would be just disastrous!

So for the entire show, every time she pushed a button on that thing my heart jumped into my throat. Thankfully, it held tight the whole show. So did the synthesizer controller for the computer. The tones she created in those two hours were AMAZING! No one had a clue that there had been any problem and how close she had come to canceling the show. Laurie kicked it through the uprights!

After the show, I went back stage to help her and get some autographs. She was already packing her equipment up as I walked up to her and said, “That was amazing, Laurie!”

She looked up at me and smiled for the first time that day with those devastating dimples! “I want to thank you for putting up with me today,” she said with great sincerity.

How do you respond to that? “My pleasure. Can I get some autographs?” was the best I could come up with. Pretty weak, I know. Considering that I had just gone through a roller coaster ride with this lady, I wanted to say something of more weight, but words failed me. After signing a couple of CD’s, I did think to ask her, “So, with the new sounds you were working with tonight, I’m assuming they made you play differently. Any new material born tonight?”

She grinned and said, “Maybe.”