Laurie Anderson’s ‘Landfall (Scenes from My New Novel)’ with The Kronos Quartet at University of Maryland

Tonight’s world premiere of Laurie Anderson’s Landfall (Scenes from My New Novel) at University of Maryland with The Kronos Quartet was certainly an experience. A masterful mixed-media performance from Laurie Anderson, there was nothing boring or pedantic about the performance, but rather it was nuanced and thought-provoking.

Laurie Anderson and The Kronos Quartet.
Laurie Anderson and The Kronos Quartet.

Landfall, a commission by University of Maryland in conjunction with various other universities and arts festivals, “combines text and music in radical new ways.” Laurie Anderson, a well-known experimental performance artist, said of this piece that she has “always been fascinated by the relationship of words and music” and that Landfall is an exploration of that relationship, as the “instruments initiate language through [the] new software Erst.” Thus the musicians and the software work together to generate the piece, as “the conflict between spoken and written text fractures the stories as well as creating a strange and new polyphonic structure”.

As one can tell, it is an adventurous, experimental work—truly an immersive experience. Extensive, creative use of lighting served to underscore and enhance the music and the text on a projection screen in the back, as well as any spoken stories told by Laurie. The foggy stage added a weird, otherworldly quality that worked with the lighting to again enhance the experience. The performance owes much to Liubo Borrisov who did the Erst programming, as well as Brian H. Scott who designed the lighting, as well as to Laurence Neff, the Production Director, and Audio Engineers Scott Fraser and Brian Mahr.

Yet the true stars of the performance were not the interesting and innovative projections, nor the lighting, nor even the software (though one could make a case for that) but clearly the musicians themselves. The Kronos Quartet, with David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Jeffrey Zeigler (cello), performed admirably, truly making art and music out of what some could claim was merely dissonant sound. That artistry and skill was truly wonderful and an anchor in a storm of lights and project texts and colors. Their intensely emotional playing too served to engage the audience.

And of course, the true stand-out was Laurie Anderson. Her innovation, skill, and experimentation truly made this night one to remember, as the audience seemed to become a partner in the collaborative experience. Laurie told the stories and directed the performance, but it was up to each audience member to make connections between the fragmented and fractured stories and the music.

The audience’s overwhelmingly positive response served to indicate that this experience was a success. When the piece ended, many members of the audience enthusiastically jumped to their feet applauding. Truly, this is not a performance to be missed.

Running Time: 70 minutes, with no intermission.

Laurie Anderson.
Laurie Anderson.

Landfall (Songs from My New Novel) has one more performance TONIGHT February 2, 2013 at 8:00 p.m. at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center—3800 Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the intersection of Stadium Drive and Route 193 (University Boulevard) at University of Maryland, in College Park, MD.  For tickets, purchase them online, or call the box office at (301) 405-2787.  Directions are here.


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