Laurie Anderson plays concert for dogs in New York's Times Square

On a freezing night, a crowd of canines and their human companions turned up to see the performance artist play at a frequency suitable for hounds

There is little a dog could want for in the 21st century. You can buy dog shoes. You can buy dog clothes. You can even buy food for some of them.

Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that at some point there would be a concert specifically for dogs.

That is what happened in New York City on Monday night, when musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson played a set composed for – and played at a frequency suitable for – dogs.

Some 50 of them, and perhaps 100 humans, made the trip to Times Square for the show, despite the coldest weather the city has seen so far this winter. It was hard to be entirely sure, but it seemed most were happy to be there.

Laurie Anderson entertains New York’s canine population.
Laurie Anderson entertains New York’s canine population. Photograph: Noam Galai/Getty Images

“Well, she hasn’t bolted yet, so I guess she’s excited,” said Gabrielle Esperdy of her dog, Kebo. The pair live in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Both had been excited for the performance.

“Laurie Anderson, dogs, Times Square, it was kind of a killer combination,” Esperdy said.

Kebo, a Welsh springer spaniel, usually listens to “cool jazz”, Esperdy said. “I would say she’s a cool jazz aficionado.”

It would be hard to categorize the music Anderson had prepared for the dogs, but Kebo’s fondness for the relaxed stylings of cool jazz would probably mean she was able to enjoy the show.

Anderson appeared at 11.45pm to howls from the humans in the audience, and to little reaction from the dogs. Wearing jogging bottoms, sneakers and a parka, she took up a position at the base of Times Square’s stairway-type platform, where her fans had assembled. Anderson picked up her tape-bow violin, an instrument she invented in the 1970s, and began to play.

Through the speakers the music was barely audible, like someone playing a CD in a sleeping bag, but the crowd were assured it had been adjusted for the enjoyment of the dogs – it was being broadcast at a low frequency. Headphones were provided for non-dogs, through which one could hear Anderson’s violin and keyboards.

The show prompted an immediate reaction from Phoebe, a border collie-Australian shepherd mix who works as a therapy dog by day. Phoebe began barking loudly as the low frequency music flowed into her ears. It was unclear whether this was a positive reaction.

Sophie, a long-haired chihuahua, sat contemplatively as Anderson played. She was ensconced in a fur-lined bag, a wise choice given the temperature was 16F (-9C), or 0F (-18C) with wind-chill.

Her companion, Howard Sloane, said the five-year-old had a fine ear for music.

“Well, if I play my guitar, she goes like this,” he said, rolling his eyes to the left. “She gives me the eyeball.”

Sophie’s favourite band is Quicksilver Messenger Service, the long-running psychedelic rock outfit perhaps best known for their 1970 hit Fresh Air, Dean said.

Toward the end of the set, Anderson attempted some audience participation. “If you have a little dog, get him barking,” she said as she plucked a high note on the violin. She did not suggest how owners coax their dogs into barking, although one man managed to produce a certain howling noise from his dog after some intense jiggling.

“Mediums now,” Anderson said, plucking a lower note. “Come on, let’s hear you!”

More dogs began to bark. Finally the big dogs were summoned to join the canine choir. By this stage there were a lot of dogs barking, like in a dog park or an animal shelter.

Anderson has been performing music and creating art since the 1970s. Her first feature-length film, The Heart of a Dog, was released in 2015 and is shortlisted for the best documentary Oscar. The film focuses in part on the life and times of her deceased rat terrier, Lolabelle. A three-minute adaptation will play on billboards in Times Square for three minutes every night, from 11.57pm, during January.

The dogs largely appeared happy to attend the event.
The dogs largely appeared happy to attend the event. Photograph: Noam Galai/Getty Images

Anderson, who had performed without gloves and seemed impervious to the cold, said she was impressed with the turnout.

“Oh, it was lovely,” she said. “There was so many types of dogs, I really hadn’t imagined that many would show up. I was really impressed.”

Once the gig was over, both canines and hominids made a swift exit from the windswept Times Square. As with any concert, however, there was some debris left behind. A small puddle had been created by one of the attendees, presumably a dog. Wet paw prints surrounded it.

Discarded dog biscuits also littered the makeshift seating area. Some of the audience had clearly been too rapt to eat.


Adam Gabbatt in New York

The GuardianTramp

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