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Laurie Anderson. Picture: Iain Gillespie/The West Australian

Ten years since her last visit to Perth, influential American poet, composer and visual artist Laurie Anderson is quick to note how much the city has changed.

"A lot more big buildings have sprung up," said the woman synonymous with the experimental art scene in the bustling high-rise canyons of New York.

"What happened here?"

Anderson is at the Perth International Arts Festival for tonight's Australian premiere of Scenes From My New Novel, a sequence of musical, visual and electronic effects performed with the experimental classical music ensemble the Kronos Quartet.

Born in Chicago in 1947, Anderson played the violin from the age of five and moved to New York in the late 1960s to study sculpture and performance art.

She has worked with everybody from her rock-star husband Lou Reed and Brian Eno to William S. Burroughs, Robert Mapplethorpe and Philip Glass, who appeared at the Festival 11 days ago.

The Kronos Quartet appear the perfect fit for the restlessly experimental Anderson, who invented the tape-bow violin in the 1970s and was the first artist-in-residence at space agency NASA in 2003.

"I am very inspired by working with them," she said of the San Francisco ensemble.

"It is quite a thrill because you have a little melody, and sing that for the quartet and they almost instantly arrange it into some beautiful melodic form."

Anderson has developed software to integrate music with the written and spoken word in the performance at the Perth Concert Hall.

"The rhythm of the music is exactly the rhythm of the text," she said. "We are playing with lots of things."

Described by an Australian magazine recently as "the grand dame of New York's avant-garde", she did not see herself that way.

"I just try to be a beginner in everything I do," she said. "I feel like that anyway, I don't have to try. When I start something I can't remember how it is supposed to go."

Like the scientists at NASA, she wanted to describe the world as accurately as possible and that meant she often made art that was difficult for many people to digest, Anderson said.