Laurie Anderson is the consummate narrator. Blending a dry sense of humor with wry observations of the world around her, Anderson combines her talents as singer, songwriter, and musician with compelling storytelling. She is also a pioneering multi-media artist, and now that the technology has caught up with her ideas, she has moved away from projection on a large scale in her new piece, The End Of The Moon, which looks rather simple on the surface.
On a national tour that finishes at the end of May, Anderson recently landed at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) with her 90-minute exploration of space, prompted by the oddity of having been the first (and as she says, last) resident artist at NASA. One can only assume that the space program was hoping to harness her artistic vision in telling its own story to the public, but as Anderson reveals in the course of the evening, their plans for her were never very clear.
The lighting for The End Of The Moon was designed by Jennifer Tipton, who is primarily known for her dance lighting (she has worked with Paul Taylor since 1963, for example). This marks her first collaboration with Anderson. “She was going on tour alone and didn't want concert lighting for this piece,” notes Tipton, whose assistant LD on this project was Aaron Copp. “We put it all together at MASS MoCA, and Laurie asked if she could have the same look on the road.”
Working with Anderson represented a new process for Tipton. “I had to wait until she was finished with the text, which finally evolved as the tour started. But the basic shape was there,” says Tipton. “My ideas are content-based, and throughout the process, we found a way to work together, discovering how we each worked.” Tipton began to create a language for the event, shaping the lighting by instinct as the text evolved. “I listened to my gut, using instinct for the cues as Laurie went through the piece. I edited and tweaked the initial shape until it was aesthetically pleasing,” she says.
In the beginning, Anderson was considering more effects than were actually used, and the designer and the storyteller talked about concepts, the most obvious being stars. “We talked about a variety of colors of stars, from hot white to cool red dwarfs,” Tipton recalls. “Stars run the total spectrum, so they didn't limit my thinking but rather gave me something to hook my ideas on.” She went back over the lighting later to balance the colors.
Tipton added a lot of haze to create clouds and catch the colors in her final palette, which represents the star spectrum, from very dark blue to red, orange, yellow, and green. A lot of this color comes in as high back light from the far corners of the stage, with subtle shifts as if gases from outer space were bubbling into view.
The stage floor is covered with candles, which were Anderson's idea, creating a star field and embracing her as if she were in her own little Milky Way. “The number of candles depends on the size of the venue,” notes Tipton, who rejoined Anderson only at BAM. “Here, we added more candles to add depth. It looks as if they stretch to infinity.”
Within this dark cocoon of glittering points of light on the floor, Anderson carved out two performance areas: a cozy easy chair in a pool of light stage right and a music stand at center stage that became her control station or home base. “The easy chair is where she can curl up for storytelling; it's the opposite of outer space,” says Tipton, who used tight front light (from a high back-of-house position) to sculpt Anderson's face. “When she comes out to home base, I added Lee 161 [slate blue] to achieve a flat look just for that moment,” says Tipton, whose rig consists almost exclusively of ETC Source Four® ellipsoidals in various sizes (19°, 26°, 36°) and Source Four PARs for backlight.
Anderson worked with the resident LD at each tour stop to recreate the lighting (in-house consoles were used along the way). “She sat with each person and made it work on site,” says Tipton. “It must have been very different from place to place.”
The final color palette ranged from Rosco 4230 (CC 15 Blue) and Rosco 80 (Primary Blue) from the front and side, Rosco 4215 (CC 15 Blue) for head-highs on stands (for when Anderson walks upstage from home base) and floor units that cast shadows, to Lee 716 (Mikkel Blue) and Rosco 316 (Gallo Gold) from the back, Lee 729 (Scuba Blue) from the side, Lee 104 (Deep Amber) and Lee 181 (Congo Blue) from the front, and Rosco 91 (Primary Green), Lee 105 (Orange), Lee 106 (Primary Red), and Lee 107 (Light Rose) in the high diagonal back lights. The Source Four PARs have GAM 870 (Winter White) for backlight. All color came from each unit, as Tipton felt that “color scrollers did not seem appropriate for the tour.”
While Anderson has been known to produce incredibly complicated multi-media works in the past, the projection elements here are scaled back considerably. There is one small projection screen on a stand, behind Anderson on stage left. There is one slide of the surface of the moon that remains static for much of the evening. At one point, when Anderson is playing her electric violin at home base, she uses a small video camera on her bow for a live feed of her face, as if she were being broadcast from outer space.
“The lighting has to respond to the use of video,” says Tipton. “We had to be careful to make sure it didn't shine into the camera. Actually, there is a balance of two things, the light on what the camera is looking at and not having too much light that it might distort the image.”
This tour was designed for Anderson to go it alone. And she does — one woman, one violin, and the entirety of outer space as she talks about her experiences at NASA, walks in the desert with her dog, and the perils of human existence in general. Not a concert. Not a multi-media experience. But Anderson back to basics: simply, good storytelling in a beautifully starlit environment.