Laurie Anderson at the Macau International Music Festival – November 2014

Laurie Anderson at the Macau International Music Festival 11/2014

L Anderson

I have followed Ms. Anderson’s work since the premiere of United States in New York in 1981. Her early work a composite mix of media: I remember a film of laundry spinning in the clothes dryer and an audio track from a telephone answering machine, spoke about the banality of modern urban life.  The work she presented here in Macau, The Language of the Future is more reflective, commenting on the nature of memory itself. She begins by putting her magic ability to work weaving a mesh of poetic imagery with a story on the origins of memory.

As she narrates it, the early world is a world with no land, no sea, only sky, but a world filled with birds. The birds must fly endlessly as there is no surface upon which they may alight. The father of one of the birds dies and the avian community is confronted with a delima, what to do with the body. After much deliberation the birds decide that the daughter of the deceased should store her father’s body among the feathers on her head. Because of this gesture memory is born.

Her work in Macau had no video, and few special effects employing only her trademark voice modulations, used to alter the sound of her narrative and an on-screen translation of her text into Chinese and Portuguese. But her work does not suffer from the absence of these elements, on the contrary her ability as a master weaver of tales, perhaps only rivaled by the late Spaulding Grey, is highlighted by this sparse staging. Her stories, extremely autobiographical, or at least presented as such, touch upon early experiences of loss and hardship. One story tells of a diving accident, which if we believe it is true, happens to her as a young girl trying to show off at the swimming pool and ending with her in the hospital with a broken spine coming to terms with a doctor’s admission that she may never walk again.  “He must be crazy” she exclaims, and as we can see his prediction did not come to pass.

Her stories merge on revelation. The revelation that she may not be able to walk is followed by another story concerning the realization that what started as a Zen retreat would end as a lesson in patience as the tranquil landscape was transformed by a campsite full of raucous visitors.

Seeing her here in Macau, where I have been resident in neighboring Zhuhai for the last three years brought a touch of homesickness to this long-time New York City resident. Of course the city has changed radically since the 1980’s and my fond reflections vanished at her mention of the post 9-11 realities of New York. In specific she spoke of the red and orange level security activities outside her windows, which overlook New York’s end of the Holland Tunnel. With that she mentioning that she tries to stay out of town as often as possible, as a result.

This brought to mind an ‘incident’ of my own experience in 2005 at the 59th Street subway station, returning home from an art opening one evening with my wife. As the train pulled into the station armed police officers drew their weapons on a subway car full of riders, panning the seated passengers with their extended weapons. All this was during a search for a missing patrolman, so I was told. It also stirred to mind the ‘Stop and Frisk’ policies of the Bloomberg era and the general transformation of New York City under ex-mayor Rudolph Giuliani into what looked more like what I had witnessed of fascist controlled Madrid during the reign of Francisco Franco, than the city that ex-mayor John Lindsey referred to as ‘Fun City’.

But putting all that aside I must say Anderson’s performance of The Language of the Future reminded me of her magic in weaving poetic imagery with words.

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