Laurie Anderson: Sounds from a Room

A small boat – actually a David Kohn/Fiona Banner-wrought replica of the Roi des Belges, the boat that Joseph Conrad sailed up the Congo river in 1890 – is presently moored on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South Bank. Into this one-roomed boat, Artangel have been installing various artists in its Room for London series. This weekend, it was Laurie Anderson’s turn to take up residence for a couple of nights.

Photo © Charles Hosea

Sounds from a Room was her response to the panorama before her and the Thames below. Her one-hour appearance was video-relayed over to the Royal Festival Hall, where we watched a live-relay on screen and looked at the same traffic on Waterloo Bridge, once removed, that Anderson was seeing. Anderson’s slot was to some extent unscripted – interesting, considering the tight control of her conventional performances. We had a series of free associations on books (Moby-Dick; Geoff Dyer’s Zona; and a memoir written by a Second World War code-breaker), piracy (for this, she was visited by a Kiss FM founder who remembered the station’s illegal days); and a couple of songs – “In the Air” from United States I-IV and from Homeland, “The Beginning of Memory”.

The latter piece takes its opening motif from Aristophanes’ The Birds and I’d first hear it in Athens in a performance at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Then, swallows and bats had flown over Anderson as twilight fell. Yesterday, gulls and pigeons flew close to our windows on the RFH’s sixth floor, as if bringing messages from the boat to us.

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