Landfall on Nonesuch Records is the culmination of two years of performances and creation on the part of Laurie Anderson and the Kronos Quartet. The music presented on this album reflects the experiences of living through Hurricane Sandy, which struck New York City in 2012.
Both Anderson and the Kronos Quartet are known for reaching beyond the confines of the normally defined boundaries for their fields. Instead of playing material normally associated with the string quartet configuration (cello, viola, and two violins), Kronos has been known to create adaptations of work such as Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”. Anderson has always defied people’s expectations – through both her work in popular music and her work as a performance artist.
Remarkably, Landfall marks the first time Kronos and Anderson have recorded together, but having been performing variations of the piece for the last two years, they have obviously become quite familiar with each other. What I found most remarkable about this collaboration were the number of occasions when it became impossible to recognize who was playing a particular piece.
Of course, there are points when it’s obvious – especially when Anderson is performing her prose poems with the music. These pieces are scattered throughout the recording and do everything from describe the approach of the storm to the aftermath.
Her description of coming down into her basement and literally finding her past afloat is quite beautiful. Anderson’s use of language is deceptively simple – it’s not until you’ve had a chance to digest what she’s said that you realize the power of her words and the impact they have on you.
Although the recording is divided up into 30 separate pieces of music, it really needs to be listened to as a whole. So if you’ve come to this recording expecting to be able to cherry pick songs to listen to, as in some previous Anderson releases, you’ll be disappointed. This is like sitting and listening to a chamber ensemble play any concerto.
What’s amazing about the album is how it manages to create the atmosphere of the hurricane. Not the weather itself, although their are a couple of occasions where the music descends into the type of chaos one would associate with extreme weather, but rather the emotional and psychological impact of the storm on those witnessing it.
When Anderson describes watching the water advance across the park towards her house, she captures the level of unreality that most accompany seeing this happen. It sounds like she’s describing the water as causally walking down the street, as it gradually encompasses the neighbourhood.
Over the last 30 or so years, Anderson and the Kronos Quartet have carved out a unique identity for themselves in the world of music. The only surprising thing about this album is how long this inevitable union took to come about. The music created on Landfall is extraordinary and is some of the most brilliant I’ve heard in a long time. Buy it and be grateful you share the world with such extraordinary people.