It's not often that one walks out of a performance feeling as though she has just stepped out of someone else's dream, but that was the feeling one got last Friday night after seeing performance artist Laurie Anderson at the Playhouse Theater in Cleveland. She played to a packed house - many of whose seats were filled with Oberlin students and professors who came for the rare opportunity to see the influential and cutting edge artist perform live.
Her current show, entitled The Speed of Darkness , is an interesting and successful departure from much of her previous work which used fantastic lights and visual displays. She spent the entire two-hour show standing still behind her U-shaped display; playing the role of storyteller and philosophical muse to the audience - a kind of high-tech folk singer surrounded by keyboards, computer monitors, processors, microphones and other electronic delights.
She played her trademark electric violin as she sang and accompanied herself by looping the sounds of the violin and keyboard on the computer, creating richly textured harmonies that eddied smoothly around haunting, mesmerizing melodies.
The Speed of Darkness was an ironically appropriate title for this show whose philosophical timbre centered around the hang-ups, insecurities and inherent problems that humanity has had trying to keep up with all of the "helpful" technological advances. When thinking of speed, most people tend to think of the "speed of light" and not the "speed of darkness" which is in every way light's equal.
Anderson's show suggested that with all of this new technological light that is supposedly bringing humanity to a bright, easy future, most of us have been left completely in the dark. She describes the show as a collection of stories and songs about the future of art, work and technology. Anderson touches on such varied subjects as a plywood spaceship that takes eight total strangers on an imaginary trip to the moon, women having "Wig Therapy" instead of coffee breaks and cybersex.
"The thing that scares me is that every day technology is getting more global, corporate, monolithic and impossible to escape," Anderson said. "Recently, someone said that the saddest thing about the fall of the Berlin wall is that you can no longer defect - there's nowhere left to go." Then she made it more personal by saying, "Now that technology is everywhere in the world, most artists, like everyone else, are having to figure it out."
The whole show wasn't entirely serious - one of the funniest moments came at the very end when she unveiled a new musical gadget that she operated by sticking the whole thing inside her mouth and singing - her voice came out like an electric guitar. " I like being able to put electronic devices in my mouth," she said with a sly smile.
Although the lack of visual stimulation was disappointing, the combination of wry humor and sensitive philosophical insights, coupled with the power of Laurie Anderson's music and stage presence, was astounding. The Oberlin Conservatory library has a few of her videos, but for all who missed the show in Cleveland, they are no substitute for the real thing.
Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 14; February 14, 1997
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