Laurie Anderson was already working on a cycle of songs with Kronos Quartet when on October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy rose the Hudson River into her West Village home. The 110-minute piece — Landfall, which opened this week at the Brooklyn Academy of Museum (BAM) Harvey Theater — weaves the before and after fragments into a swell of strings spiked with text and digital noise.
Anderson writes in the Landfall program: “These are stories with tempos. Threaded through the stories in Landfall is an account of Hurricane Sandy that blew through New York just as I was finishing the work.” Landfall, continuing at BAM through this Saturday, is part of the 2014 Next Wave Festival, and the Nonesuch Records at BAM series that has been bringing together great crossover music icons like Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Stephin Merritt, and others celebrating the label’s 50th anniversary.
Despite their shared connection through BAM and Nonesuch, Landfall is the first collaboration between Anderson and the Kronos Quartet, joined by projected texts played by the musicians through software by digital artist Liubo Borissov. Not surprisingly for two parties so adept at compelling the soaring of strings into experimental arcs, it can frequently be beautiful, even electric, such as when violinist John Sherba of Kronos takes center stage for a disjointed, gripping solo. Yet as a response to the great devastation of Hurricane Sandy, it feels too light against that weight.
The main image of the storm presented in Landfall, which is introduced at the beginning and circled back to in the end, is that of Anderson’s basement filled with water, her old instruments, archives, everything floating. “How beautiful, how magic, and how catastrophic,” she intones in her distinctive lilting voice. Are the stray mentions of Melville, the North Pole, and stars references to her past work washing up in the rising waters? It’s unclear. Along the way are trips to the stars and galaxies that she was reminded of when viewing the satellite images of Sandy prior to its arrival in New York, a litany of extinct animals in an augmented low voice she often employs in performance, and the most audience-engaging ramble on people’s dreams.
“Don’t you hate it when people tell you their dreams?,” she asks, before relating a collage of them that makes up the center of her prose poem. And for most New Yorkers, Sandy still feels like a surreal dream. Even if your basement flooding wasn’t on the level of the Rockaways washing away, it may be your most vivid image of a disaster still scarring the city. And while Anderson’s Landfall shattered and reassembled by Sandy can have this kind of resonance in Brooklyn, as it next travels to the Contemporary Art Festival Budapest, Columbus, Ohio, and Austin, Texas, it may lose some of that eeriness as it gets further from the natural force that blows through it.
Landfall continues at the BAM Harvey Theater (651 Fulton Street, Downtown Brooklyn) through Saturday, September 27.