Vito Schnabel

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Posted by on September 22, 2010

Illusions Found In Our Narratives

Illusions Found In Our Narratives
Photo: Marcus Yam for The New York Times

Written by Allan Kozinn on September 22, 2010 for The New York Times

Laurie Anderson’s art has always been more theatrical than musical, driven mainly by an amalgam of text, wordplay and imagery — verbal and visual — and only secondarily by notes and rhythms. In her latest work, “Delusion,” which opened the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival on Tuesday evening at the BAM Harvey Theater, stretches of the score are little more than a shimmering drone, against which Ms. Anderson spins curious tales and observations in the impish, matter-of-fact speaking voice that has become one of her trademarks (and in the folksy, electronically manipulated baritone that has become another).

But “Delusion” also shows, more than some of her other works, the degree to which Ms. Anderson’s scores bring color and shape to her productions. It is introduced by a splash of assertive electronica, steeped in exotically modal figuration. Though that music melts into a vague chordal haze when Ms. Anderson begins her freewheeling ruminations, it creates an atmosphere that lingers nearly until the first instrumental interlude, a piece of raucous, thick-textured techno that will have a handful of kindred-spirit successors before the end of the 90-minute work.

Occasionally, Ms. Anderson liberates the backdrops to her storytelling as well. In the first of several contradictory reminiscences (this is about delusion, after all) of her mother’s death, her electronic accompaniment evokes a harmonically rich late-Romantic string quartet that illuminates the character she creates. And a tale of an Icelandic farmer who wanted to convert his barn into a dance hall, and expected to draw huge crowds — and perhaps elves — from his desolate surroundings, is supported with music that gently underscores the peculiarity of his plan.

The main business of “Delusion,” as Ms. Anderson has explained it, is exploring the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, our families, our country and the world, and the porous border between history and myth. A jokey account of a lawsuit about the ownership of the moon morphs into a meditation on the roots of the Russian space program in the work of a 19th-century mystic. The story of the Icelandic farmer becomes a discussion of Ms. Anderson’s Swedish and Irish family roots. Probably the oddest of Ms. Anderson’s many odd tales is her memory of a dream in which she gives birth to her pet terrier.

Ms. Anderson tells these stories on a spare set, either standing at a lectern or sitting on a love seat. During the instrumental interludes, she wanders the stage playing her electric violin (sometimes with Eyvind Kang, violist, and Colin Stetson, saxophonist, but mostly with a computer score). Video, designed by Ms. Anderson and Amy Khoshbin and directed by Maryse Alberti, is projected onto a large screen, two smaller ones and the love seat. And small, candlelike lamps dot the stage.

The work is meant to be performed without an intermission, but on Tuesday a software glitch brought the production to a halt for 10 minutes as the computer controlling the music was rebooted. No doubt the show would have been more powerful if it had been continuous, but given the episodic nature of “Delusion,” the break did not take much of a toll.

Laurie Anderson’s “Delusion” runs through Oct. 3 at the BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, Fort Greene; (718) 636-4100,