Hear Laurie Anderson Read from The Tibetan Book of the Dead on New Album Songs from the Bardo

Lau­rie Ander­son began her career as an artist in the late 1960s, and since then she’s made con­nec­tions both per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al with many of the most influ­en­tial cul­tur­al fig­ures of the past five decades. She has also, inevitably, seen a fair few of them depart this earth­ly exis­tence, includ­ing her hus­band Lou Reed. The ques­tion of what hap­pens to the dead is, for Ander­son, appar­ent­ly not with­out inter­est, even in the case of the non-human dead: the 2015 doc­u­men­tary Heart of a Dog traces the jour­ney of Ander­son­’s late pet Lola­belle through the bar­do, in Tibetan Bud­dhism the lim­i­nal state between death and rebirth.

The bar­do is the cen­tral theme of Bar­do Thodol, bet­ter known to West­ern­ers in trans­la­tion as The Tibetan Book of the Dead. On the new album Songs from the Bar­do, Ander­son reads from that eighth-cen­tu­ry text with impro­vi­sa­tion­al accom­pa­ni­ment by, among oth­ers, Tibetan musi­cian Ten­zin Cho­e­gyal and com­pos­er Jesse Paris Smith.

Stere­ogum’s Peter Hel­man writes that “Smith, the daugh­ter of punk leg­end Pat­ti Smith” — one of the many still-liv­ing influ­en­tial artists in Ander­son­’s wide net­work — “first met Cho­e­gyal in 2008 at the annu­al Tibet House US Ben­e­fit Con­cert at Carnegie Hall.” Sev­en years lat­er, they enlist­ed Ander­son to nar­rate the first per­formed ver­sion of what would become Songs from the Bar­do.

“Ander­son nar­rates text from the Tibetan Book Of the Dead while Cho­e­gyal, Smith, cel­list Rubin Kod­he­li, and per­cus­sion­ist Shahzad Ismai­ly pro­vide the musi­cal accom­pa­ni­ment,” writes Hel­man. “Smith plays piano and cre­ates drone beds using a col­lec­tion of crys­tal bowls, while Cho­e­gyal incor­po­rates tra­di­tion­al Tibetan instru­ments like ling­bu (a bam­boo flute), dranyen (a lute-like stringed instru­ment), singing bowls, gong, and his own voice.” In the record’s lin­er notes, Cho­e­gyal writes of try­ing to “chan­nel the wis­dom and tra­di­tions of my ances­tors through my music in a very con­tem­po­rary way while hold­ing the depth of my lin­eage.” The music, Ander­son explains, “is meant to help you float out of your body, to go into these oth­er realms, and to let your­self do that with­out bound­aries.”

You can get a taste of this tran­scen­dence from “Lotus Born, No Need to Fear” the first sam­ple track from the album the group has released. On it Ander­son reads of the expe­ri­ence of the bar­do, where “con­scious­ness becomes airy, speed­ing, sway­ing, and imper­ma­nent.” For a Metafil­ter user named Capt. Renault, lis­ten­ing brings to mind anoth­er of Ander­son­’s art­works: her vir­tu­al-real­ty piece Aloft, which “has you sit­ting in an emp­ty air­plane which dis­in­te­grates around you, leav­ing you high, high above the ground with no sup­port. You are aware of the pos­si­bil­i­ty of death, but Lau­rie’s smooth, com­fort­ing voice leads to a com­plete absence of fear, and you are free to explore this world she’s cre­at­ed. Because of Lau­rie, I faced my death and I did­n’t mind it.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Leonard Cohen Nar­rates Film on The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Fea­tur­ing the Dalai Lama (1994)

Lou Reed and Lau­rie Anderson’s Three Rules for Liv­ing Well: A Short and Suc­cinct Life Phi­los­o­phy

Lau­rie Anderson’s Top 10 Books to Take to a Desert Island

Lau­rie Ander­son Cre­ates a Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty Instal­la­tion That Takes View­ers on an Uncon­ven­tion­al Tour of the Moon

When Aldous Hux­ley, Dying of Can­cer, Left This World Trip­ping on LSD, Expe­ri­enc­ing “the Most Serene, the Most Beau­ti­ful Death” (1963)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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