The 9th Street Crossings festival came to an end at the Pension Building last night, with a bang and a whimper, and mind-bending incantations besides, all of it modulated through zillions of microcircuits and amplified to mega-decibels. This was the rescheduled appearance of "performance artist" Laurie Anderson, an electronic sybil who came to present excerpts from her hi-tech oratorio "United States."
It is hard to say which is a more formidable presence, Anderson herself or the labyrinth of apparatus through which she mediates her messages: filters, synthesizers, microphones, speakers, violins and other instruments, films, slides, shadow-plays, stroboscopes. Unlike David Behrman and Robert Ashley earlier in the festival, who seemed to be hapless victims of the technology they sought to exploit, Anderson becomes one with her electronics -- a cybernetic virtuoso.
It seemed fitting that the festival should conclude not just with one of its three most impressive events, but with an artist who brought the esthetic current full circle, from avant-garde to avant-rock. Composer Philip Glass started from one point, choreographer Lucinda Childs from another. But these predecessors in the 9th Street doings were met by Anderson, who came from an entirely different direction, on the common ground of their mutual regard for repetitive modules, trance-inducing drones, grids, graphs and obsessive rhythm.
"United States" is a rambling apocalypse, delivered by Anderson as a kind of New Wave guerrilla in her black suit, choppy hair and incongruous dimples. The lyrics gravitate around transport and communication, with recurring images of disorientation and impending disaster ("I came home today and all of you were on fire"). Mack trucks, crashing planes, gasless jalopies and Noah's ark are some favored vehicles; they're all on collision courses. Even when it comes to words, Anderson's imagery is wittily pungent -- one song mentions a guy with large white teeth "like luxury hotels on the Florida coastline." And her brilliance is hypnotic: She doesn't "perform," she conjures.