Thursday, April 29, 1999

The Cyber Scene in Dallas ~ By Eric Olsson

Thursday, April 29 marked the world premiere of "Songs and Stories from Moby Dick", Laurie Anderson's most ambitious work since "United States" 15 years ago. The performance took place in McFarlin Auditorium at Southern Methodist University.

As the title suggests, "Songs and Stories" is less a multimedia adaptation of Melville's novel than an attempt, as Anderson describes in the program, to translate her "favorite parts of the book into music and images that suggest the flavor and strangeness and beauty of Melville's world."

In addition to the segments derived from the novel itself, one part of the show was inspired by biblical verse Isaiah 27:1 (, checked and underlined in pencil in Melville's own annotated bible as he was writing Moby Dick. And the high point of the evening was probably when Anderson took to a monologue to describe (in digitally dropped "Sharkey's Night" voice) some of the rather bizarre research that went into the production, culminating in a plot summary of the awful 1930 film version of Moby Dick ( featuring John Barrymore. The show resumed with a song-and-dance number based on the title song from the film.

The production also featured Tom Nelis, Anthony Turner, and Price Waldman, and marked the first time that Anderson has appeared onstage along with other performers. Laurie also added a new instrument to her repertoire, the Talking Stick, which she developed in collaboration with Interval Research Corporation ( The Talking Stick amplifies the performer's gestures across any predefined palette of sounds, and was used to great effect in the show as a sort of musical harpoon. However the potential for abuse seems endless - one can only hope it is never marketed as a toy.

As if that weren't enough avant-garde excitement for one evening (at least by Dallas standards), Laurie Anderson's beau Lou Reed ( could be seen enjoying the performance from an aisle seat in the sixth row. Dallas art collector Howard Rachofsky hosted both at a private reception in his home later in the evening.

According to Laurie's management ( the long-awaited official Laurie Anderson website ( will be online any day now. Until then Peter Hartman ( has quite a good unofficial site (, and Laurie is said to read and answer her email (, at least when not on tour.

"Songs and Stories from Moby Dick" continues in Dallas through May 1, and the soundtrack will be released on Nonesuch Records ( this fall.