A Methodically Riveting Laurie Anderson/Kronos Quartet Collaboration at BAM

by delarue

If you’d assumed that Laurie Anderson and the Kronos Quartet had collaborated before now, you’re not the only one. Anderson recently joked that she’d assumed as much. But the iconic minimalist violinist/composer/wit and the long-running ensemble actually haven’t worked together until now. They’re in the midst of a run through Sept 27 at BAM’s Harvey Theatre, whose barewall space, believe it or not, is very sonically welcoming to their performance of their new work, Landfall, a somberly matter-of-fact suite of sorts. While Anderson wrapped up writing it during the hurricane here a couple of years ago, its scope is considerably wider, touching on such weighty questions as one’s legacy as an artist, the failures of memory and the quirks of language that Anderson has explored throughout her career, among other things.

And much as Anderson may be best known for her acerbic sense of humor and stiletto punchlines, her work since day one has always had a sober, socially aware undercurrent. That rose to the surface with her Iraq war parable, Homeland and has remained front and center ever since, most notably throughout her searing, enveloping 2011 opus The Real New York. This new project with Kronos embodies many of these artists’ familiar tropes: hypnotic electroacoustic textures; crafty improvisation; tongue-in-cheek multimedia and sardonic narrative bits. And it’s as dark as you would imagine.

At Wednesday’s performance, the suite began with a lithely apprehensive theme over a slowly vamping backdrop. Throughout the show, Anderson alternted between her electric violin, a small keyboard on which she played moody neoromantic riffs, and a series of laptop triggers. Midway through the set, violinist John Sherba stood up and took a percussive solo, in the process activating a rapidfire projection of the words to one of the night’s most harrowing comments, one that Anderson perhaps preferred not to articulate herself.

Shortly afterward, Sherba and violinist David Harrington anchored one of the night’s several short segments in unison with the whisperiest possible staccato pedal note, a task that easily could have been assigned to one of Anderson’s machines, but which took the mystery to another level considering how much nuanced intensity the two players put into it. Cellist Sunny Yang intertwined muscular, slinky pizzicato phrases with violist Hank Dutt a little later on against Anderson’s signature, misty, brooding atmospherics. And the group built a couple of austere, horizontal vistas to unexpectedly angst-fueled crescendos, Anderson working the dynamics for all it was worth. This evening appeared to be sold out, but as of today, believe it or not, there are still a few seats left.