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Laurie Anderson

Spoleto Festival USA

In the opening of Laurie Anderson’s newest performance, Songs and Stories from Moby Dick, 1999, a single shaft of light illuminates a large, black-bound book, its pages turning and fluttering. Although Anderson observes in her program note that only “approximately ten percent” of Melville’s novel appears in her piece, she does faithfully retell the tale of Captain Ahab’s monomaniacal pursuit of the white whale. Anderson’s efforts to capture the novel’s atmosphere noticeably affected her musical style: Much of the score is in the form of sea shanty–like songs for three male voices singing in close harmony, a robustly melodic sound quite different from Anderson’s usual spiky compositions. Nevertheless, the book that turns its own pages—an image that first appeared in a sculpture of the performance artist’s from 1975 called Windbook—signals that however much the production owes to Melville

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