Laurie Anderson – Photo by Tim Knox

Laurie Anderson’s Landfall with Kronos Quartet at the Barbican

barbican logoLaurie Anderson’s performance with the San Francisco-based Kronos Quartet at the Barbican on Friday, June 28 was an adventurous, random journey, to say the least. Anderson’s multi-media work Landfall: Scenes from my New Novel is a succession of abstract words and stories in a kaleidoscopic musical landscape. With a combination of electronics, electric violin, the string quartet, and Anderson on vocals, I felt that I was entering a spatial entity of a collective universal subconscious. Developed by Bulgarian-American digital-media artist Liubo Borissov, the implemented harmonies and delays of the unique software made up the bulk of the musical material in this work. The combination of these two musical forces from both sides of the country (Anderson based in NY) proved to be a genuine beautiful collaboration in this poignant work.

Laurie Anderson - Photo by Tim Knox

Laurie Anderson – Photo by Tim Knox

As smoke was filling the stage as an introduction, the drones and ethnic fiddles from the quartet were similar to a cathartic opening of a warped science fiction novel. The piece continued with a narrated dialogue on the video screen, as conflicting words and texts would pop up in response to the notes played by the Quartet. While performing on the keyboard as the quartet accompanied in lyrical harmonic tones, Anderson recited texts in a vague nature and this was perhaps the most poetic moment of Landfall. Texts of conversations in a comedic vein then developed, as it kept the audience dazzled in lost in wonder, much like watching an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Her reference to Hurricane Sandy, which unfortunately destroyed much of her basement studio in New York City, evoked the American Landscape, with sounds of nature, both in the ensemble and Anderson herself.

Kronos Quartet - Photo by Jay Blakesberg

The virtuosic improvisation of Kronos’ John Sherba was the heightened climax of the quartet’s performance. As a whole, I felt Landfall consisted of subtle chapters in a novel (even though the composer states that she is “never interested in plot”), with different passages of electronic synth pulses juxtaposed with the strings. Her transitional passage of “19 Stars of Heaven” featured a dream-like fantasy of loss and sorrow, which lead to the electronic manipulation of her voice, speaking of the destiny of mankind.

With the display of corporate and cultural icons, logos, words, and letters on the video screen later in the piece, the story of Landfall could have alluded to the fragileness and temporary stability of human civilization and the risk of becoming complacent with the constant bombardment of technological communication that surrounds our daily existence. I was quite lost in the production, and confused about what was she was trying to convey, yet at the same time I felt comfortably sedated in Landfall’s wilderness, not knowing where I was supposed to be. In the end the complex message of Landfall made an impact on myself.

David Harrington had mentioned in the Barbican program notes that Anderson is a “master magician musician who has always inhabited those secret places where technology has personality.” After having my first experience with a work of this nature, it is reasonable to conclude that Laurie Anderson still has the ability to create magic and wonder.