RCM 21C Music Festival. Laurie Anderson: The Art Of Falling with Rubin Kodheli (cello) at Koerner Hall. Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020. The 21C Music Festival continues through Jan. 25.
Laurie Anderson left the stage at 9:30 last night, but her voice is still very much here in my memory as I drive home from the theatre.
In what felt like a secret meeting for Gen Xers and Boomers, we shared an unspoken understanding that what we are about to experience will be important.
Her late husband, Lou Reed, did too. They met in Munich in 1992, and became soul mates. Before Anderson, Reed had experienced two geniuses leaving his life. First was poet Delmore Schwartz, and later, Andy Warhol. But it was Anderson that stayed — outliving Reed, who passed away in 2013.
Laurie Anderson has built a unique career with work spanning performance art, pop music, and multimedia projects. She arrived in Toronto this week to present her latest evening-length production as the headline event for RCM’s 21C Music Festival.
Aptly titled, The Art Of Falling, the work merges spoken word and music inspired from diverse sources: the Tibetan Book of the Dead, musings about her late-husband, Hurricane Sandy, extinction, the difference between sleeping and dreaming (“You can’t wake someone up who is pretending to sleep”), men and women, and allegories about building walls.
A master storyteller, Anderson addressed the audience on a note of alarm. The audience joined her in a “bloody murder death scream”, like the one Yoko Ono shared in a Tweet after Trump was named the 45th President of the United States.
It was cathartic. For decades, Anderson has been disarming audiences with searching, playful work that dovetails the spiritual and the silly. The Art of Falling was different, however; slightly breezy, but somehow more profound.
Backed by cellist Rubin Kodheli, the one-and-a-half-hour lament flowed between segments of spoken word with vocoder, electrified violin, keyboard, and improvised cello. Anderson moved from her standing desk, a reading chair, and sometimes, to the front of the stage.
One such moment was her moving demonstration of Tai Chi, inspired by Reed, whom she said understood energy better than anyone.
Mixing the disembodied voice of Reed singing, “Would you come to me if I was half drowning? An arm above the last wave. Would you come to me? Would you pull me up?” Kodheli and Anderson weaved the voice into a dreamy tapestry.
Anderson had the audience close their eyes, leading them through a meditation. “When I count to three, the temperature of your skin will match the temperature of the room.” It did.
“For those who haven’t read it in a while,” Anderson heeded Aristophanes’ story of The Birds. Pisthetaerus convinces the birds to build a wall between heaven and earth. They set up a toll booth, taking a cut of the admission. Anderson has a talent for allegory.
What made The Art Of Falling work so well was how effortless it all was. The stories were rich with wisdom, memory, and a state of flow. With a delivery reminiscent of the late avant-garde opera composer Robert Ashley, Anderson evoked a Joan Didion-esque spirit that made the narrative emotionally relative.
Ephemeral and profound, the world needs more Laurie Anderson, especially now.