In “Cross Talks,” two writers sit down to discuss a book, movie, TV show, or piece of art they both feel strongly about. Sometimes they disagree; other times, they’re in perfect harmony. This past Friday, Nov. 8, acclaimed writer, director, visual artist, and vocalist Laurie Anderson, along with cellist Rubin Kodheli, performed the Connecticut premiere of Anderson’s new experimental piece “The Art of Falling” in Crowell Concert Hall. Here, two members of The Argus’s Arts & Culture team—Editor Dani Smotrich-Barr ’20 and Staff Writer Claire Femano ’23—sat down to talk about our impressions of the performance.
Dani Smotrich-Barr ’20: What did you think?
Claire Femano ’23: I really loved it. I thought it was almost mystical.
DSB: Yeah. I feel like the mystical quality of her voice made the parts that would have been gimmicky not seem that way. She was giving us instructions to meditate at a certain point, and yet it felt very convincing and not at all corny.
CF: Yeah, I went with a friend, and I was telling her that when Anderson was doing the part that was almost meditation, she was giving the exact images that worked—for me, at least. Sometimes you go to a meditation session and the person gives you images and it doesn’t really resonate within you. Here, Anderson’s images—especially her image of letting your skin dissolving into the room—were amazing.
DSB: I could feel it happening because her voice was so good, and I think because the cellist was so good, and their improv together was so good. And she kept bringing in this ocean metaphor, and saying something like ‘You’re in the eye in the center of your mind.’ And I don’t think it felt like a yoga class line. It really worked because the music was so good.
CF: Yeah, you could really dive into it.
DSB: I think the parts about grief were really effective, too. There were moments where I would go in and out of it, but I felt like that was okay.
CF: The music was definitely really dissonant sometimes.
DSB: There was this part where they were playing over a recording of a man singing really poorly, and them playing with him was very dissonant but it somehow worked.
CF: I liked the moment where she started dancing.
DSB: The tai chi? I didn’t like that.
CF: I liked how unexpected it was.
DSB: I felt like that moment—and there were a few other moments when she was talking about immigration—where it kind of felt weird that she was doing that as a white person. A lot of the things about Trump felt forced to me. It was a little too on the nose.
CF: Yeah, she was trying to make the performance deeper in a way, but I felt like it actually had the opposite effect. I would have preferred if she hadn’t mentioned Trump and the wall. Although I do think the comparison with Aristophanes’ ‘The Birds’ was good.
DSB: I liked that story, but I wanted it to act on its own, and not have her spell out for us that it was a metaphor for Trump’s wall.
CF: Yeah, and have people in the audience maybe make their own parallel with the wall, but suggesting it, not saying, ‘This is the parallel.’
DSB: I agree. I think her expectations for the audience weren’t high enough. I did think that all of the things she said about sleep, and ‘the thing behind your eyes,’ and her mention of the video of her husband Lou Reed being filmed by Andy Warhol sleeping, that was a really good way to frame the piece.
CF: I really liked her discussion about the feeling of finding the difference between being asleep and waking up, and trying your best to wake up. I thought it was really good because I didn’t really understand it, but when she started talking about something else, I kept thinking about it. I liked that she was able to introduce something that made you think. That stuck with you.
DSB: Yeah. I also really loved her descriptions of grief, of feeling like you misplaced your keys or something, and then realizing that it’s this human presence that’s like a part of you that’s going to be missing forever. I’ve been thinking about grief a lot recently, and what it feels like to not be ready to fully emotionally engage with grief yet—I think she did a great job of expressing the weirdness of that repression.
Also when she mentioned the idea of the Hebrew letter Aleph being silent on its own, I was thinking about what it means for the indexical symbol for something to not be able to really signify anything except in context. And I think that plays into a lot of the concepts in this performance, that they mean something only because they build on each other.
I’m wondering what you think about the voice alteration.
CF: I didn’t really see the purpose when she changed her voice into the weird deep robot voice.
DSB: That worked for me. Something about it felt like it wasn’t taking itself too seriously, but then when she talked about women changing their names that felt too obvious. But also it feels like I’m not giving her enough credit, because I feel like I’ve seen these techniques before in feminist performance, but also she was one of the people who invented these techniques.
CF: Yeah, the audience even laughed a few times during those moments. I don’t think she was taking herself too seriously, and some of the things she said were serious, but not in a way that you couldn’t laugh at.
DSB: Something about the sleepy male voice worked for me because it took me awhile to realize that it was coming from her voice being modified, and not a recording.
CF: Yeah, and it made me question if we ever heard her real natural voice. There was some uncertainty.
DSB: It reminded me of Adrian Piper’s piece ‘The Mythic Being’ where she’s in drag and walks through New York with a wig and sunglasses and reads lines from her diary. Something about that seemed similar tonally to this really goofy voice, where it seemed like she was playing with how seriously we took her.
CF: Yeah, like she was taking a voice we might usually take seriously so far that it was almost funny.
What did you think of the music?
DSB: I feel like I’ve seen a lot of similar improv string music, but musically, this was really effective for me in a way I haven’t really seen before.
CF: The two of them together worked really well. I loved when she started playing a few notes, and then he followed, but it was so quick that it was like, wow, you’re really in sync.
DSB: I think it was unusual that she wasn’t just relying on him for a bassline. He had the melody a lot of the time, even though he was sometimes playing so high for a cellist. And it felt like it was very even dynamic.
CF: It felt like when she was talking she was telling a story, and he was playing a parallel story.
DSB: But it didn’t feel like she was illustrating it in a way that was too obvious.
CF: Right, you could focus on either his or hers but they still worked together and overlapped.
I also like how swiftly she changed subjects. The slightest element she mentioned brought you to something else, and all of a sudden you were talking about something new, and didn’t really notice that had happened.
DSB: It really allowed you to follow your own train of thought. I was in my own head, and then she would just pop into my train of thought. I think the times that she gave the audience directions, it felt like she was just talking through something that she was doing for herself mentally, and letting us go there with her, instead of being didactic.
What did you think of the title, ‘The Art of Falling?’
CF: In terms of music, I felt like sometimes it dropped from these very high, brutal notes, so maybe a fall between intensity and silence. I think also maybe it could make sense in relation to death and grieving.
DSB: I also thought it could be what you were saying about how we could enter into the piece and then fall out of it. Or maybe falling asleep, but it didn’t really feel like falling asleep so much as it felt like we were insomniacs.
CF: I always felt in between being awake and asleep. I also liked that she told us to close our eyes but not to open them, so we were left to keep them closed for as long as we wanted.
DSB: It felt like the show was a lot about aging to me, her discussion of losing so many of your friends, so maybe that’s to do with falling. Or the vision of birds falling to earth.
Claire Femano can be reached at email@example.com.
Dani Smotrich-Barr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.