It was with great excitement that I sat down in my seat to watch Laurie Anderson this year’s Brighton Festival director, perform Song Conversation at the Brighton Dome. The stage was lit with an ambient purple and the instruments stood waiting to be played. Laurie and her fellow musician’s pianist Nik Bartsch and guitarist Eivind Aarset entered stage right in a cloud of dry ice, bathed in red light and began.
Sadly the past refrains of the number one hit O Superman from Big Science were not to be heard, instead, the mature Laurie provided a performance which was a haunting selection of classically based melodies, and spoken word mixed together with a dash of the avant-garde. Laurie made good use of her signature vocoder and electric tape-bow violin which she created in 1977 and has updated over the years. She re-worked songs from the 1984 album Mister Heartbreak such as Langue d’ Amour through to the continuously evolving sonic epic Homeland which can be heard on Laurie’s website.
Fenway Bergamot – Laurie Andersons male alter ego.
Overall It was a superb piece of theatre with light floating in streams on the misty stage creating the right atmosphere for the inventive, grinding mix of work coupled with dream-like storytelling. The composition Moby Dick rose up amidst a fascinating cacophony of sound created by the talking stick which was first used in the Moby-Dick tour in 1999–2000. The talking stick, in case you were wondering, is a 6-foot-long baton-like MIDI controller and was designed by Anderson in collaboration with a team from Interval Research and Bob Bielecki. It is a wireless instrument that can access and replicate any sound breaking it down into tiny segments, called grains, and plays them back in different ways. The sound is then rearranged and played back by the computer.
According to Laurie:
‘The grains are like film frames. If you slow them down enough, you begin to hear them separately.’
Laurie Anderson’s experimental artistic career has spread over five decades and has covered a variety of genres seeing her work as a musician, performance artist, film director, composer, writer, and inventor.
The performance was a rare emotional experience from a truly inventive artist who, in my opinion, has never received her due respect so I was disappointed to see that there were empty seats in the auditorium and people leaving. However, the majority of the audience enjoyed the performance and Anderson had people cheering and standing up in their seats. So if, you have the chance to see Song Conversation don’t pass it up.
Teresa Neal 2016
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