The creative artist, Laurie Anderson informed a doting, capacity crowd, has been rendered obsolete in the new cyberworld, replaced by a new figure, the “Content Provider.” In much of her new 80-minute intermissionless act, which goes by the title “The Speed of Darkness,” Anderson’s take on the state of that world sets her forth, however, more as a provider of discontent. To the believers both beguiled by Anderson’s unique brand of charm-coated cynicism over her nearly 25-year career, that can hardly be news.
Still the endearing gamin with the spiky russet hairdo that suggests a twinship with Howdy Doody, the 51-year-old Anderson has slimmed her act considerably from the days of traveling with a 33-ton load of multimedia technology. She still calls upon the wizardry of those days — the computer magic that could convert the singing voice into a thunderous basso profundo, or a solo violin into the roar of a 747 in takeoff — not merely as tricks but to underline what’s on her mind. Most of that technology, after all, can now be found at the neighborhood software store.
She worked the other night with only a couple of keyboards, violin, guitar and no more than a desktop’s worth of digital processing — no video, no fancy light shows. She sang a little, conjured up an insistent throbbing on her keyboards, knocked out a tune or two on an electronicized violin. It was enough to underline the messages she brought: that the human race has computerized itself to the point where it seems to be in a race against speed itself, where the meaning of life can be summed up as a choice between “Star Trek” and “Moby Dick.”
No hope? She did offer a few pointers for survival: how to cook a hot dog in a hotel room when the lights go off; how to trap a beaver in a pond covered with ice; the best way to help old folks walk better (ship them to the moon, where there’s less gravity). Her most comforting advice: remember that lots of information is not always better than no information at all. That one brought down the house.