The high art that Laurie Anderson brought to her stunning performance of "United States: Part II" before 400 entranced watchers at the Pension Building on Friday night is as rooted in accessibility as it is in adventurousness. The 33-year-old New Yorker synthesizes numerous media into a cohesive solo performance, and what emerges is not only totally fulfilling as mind-food but is exotically tinted by a poet's excursion back to the center of the heart.
At one moment Anderson is a new age violinist, whose bow is made of recording tape rather than horse hair; soon after, she is a violin, altering the sounds of pre-recorded violin phrases through a small pillow-speaker encased in her mouth. One moment, she is reciting highly introspective poetry; the next, she is her own 21st-century Greek chorus, multi-layered recitations pumping gently through a Vocoder harmonizer.
At yet another moment, Anderson's voice dips electronically deeper than a Russian bass, smoothing out elsewhere to a cosmetic blandness somewhere between the telephone weather lady and the hip FM jock.
And all the while, Anderson glides around the stage, the solo center of a creative storm, a firefly illuminating her vision through hand-shadow images dancing against a multiplicity of original films and graphic images projected behind. If this sounds like a bit much, the only constraint was time -- there wasn't enough. In shaping a distinctly new art whose textural possibilities expand with each new technology, Anderson manages to balance her disciplines, dexterously using their totality with wit, passion and extreme intelligence.
Her 90-minute tour de force was an evocative monologue combining futuristic hardware and old-fashioned lyricism. The march of language was interspersed and occasionally tightened with a fluid techno-reggae pulse that never seemed remote. Imagination slowed continuously into performance; intelligence challenged when it might have overwhelmed in less humanist hands. Laurie Anderson is a mercurial performer and a visionary innovator of the highest order.