A Devastating Landfall from Laurie Anderson and Kronos

Devastating in power and impact, Laurie Anderson's sonically all-encompassing, three-dimensional Landfall takes, as its ostensible start, the ravaging impact of Superstorm Sandy. But, given that this evening-long melding of string quartet, text, and electronically-manipulated soundscape, created for and with the Kronos Quartet, is by one of America's most prescient, larger-visioned multi-media performance artists, Landfall ultimately addresses the cataclysmic nature of life in modern times in ways that drive the sense of loss deep into one's being.

It took Kronos founder, violinist David Harrington, well over 20 years until he found the means to seduce Anderson into writing for the quartet. After being urged to conceive stories that she could tell with Kronos' instruments, Anderson was deep into her creation when Sandy hit New York City on October 29, 2012. Dubbed a "Monster Storm" by CNN, the third costliest storm in US history drove Anderson and her late husband, Lou Reed ("Walk on the Wild Side") from their downtown apartment. When they returned to survey the damage, decades of memories and irreplaceable performance memorabilia, equipment, and photographs of their dog lay in tatters.

From this loss, Anderson and Kronos created an electronic representation of spoken text, aka erst, in which software designer Liubo Borissov melded voice, instruments, samples, pre-recorded soundbites, and more into an extraordinary, all-immersive experience. Recorded, edited and mixed by Scott Fraser, who took over a year to put the Nonesuch recording together, and mastered by the famed Robert C. Ludwig of Gateway Mastering Studios, Landfall is so overwhelming on so many levels that the absence of the visuals Anderson uses in live performance is experienced, not as a loss, but as an affirmation of the transcendent power of recorded music, word and sound.

Comprised of 30 sections, some of which are less than a minute in length, Landfall begins with a sense of foreboding, and then dives deep into the morass. Opening sections, including "Wind Whistles Through the Dark City" and "It Twisted the Street Signs," culminate with "Everything is Floating," "Gongs and Bells Sing," and "Old Motors and Helicopters." Along the way, Kronos violins, viola and cello and Anderson's voice, sometimes electronically altered, weave in, out and through low sonic rumbles and a mind-bending tapestry of manipulated sounds.

At times, Anderson sounds matter-of-fact as she ponders the imponderable unknowns triggered by Sandy. Dreams weave in and out, as seeming digressions tell a larger tale. While the harmonies themselves are as old as time, the way they are deployed makes everything sound as new.

We Learn to Speak Yet Another Language
I was in a Dutch karaoke bar trying to sing a song in Korean and I was just getting the hang of things when the software crashed and the video background of sand dunes got all glitchy from the bad connection via the Indonesian version of Netflix for no reason. Then for no reason it would all come back up again.

It is from this text that Anderson proceeds into the fantastic "Dawn of the World." Soon she and Borissov unleash a literal torrent of sound—yes, turn up the volume to get the most from the CD or 24/44.1 hi-rez files—as Sandy hits and then recedes, leaving a depressing landscape of physical and human tragedy in its wake.

Anderson, being the visionary she is, comprehends this tragedy on multiple levels. Thus comes movement 17, "The Nineteen Stars of Heaven."

And when you say lie do you mean the kind of lie that Lincoln told when he was talking to the soldiers who were leaving for the front? About how they'd be just fine and would be home by spring walking and alive? Or do you mean some other kind of lie? The nineteen stars of heaven matched by what they stood for: constancy gullibility and sorrow.

The emotional heart of the work, "Nothing Left But Their Names," follows. One of the most profound reflections on the state of the world that I have ever experienced, this over-nine minute masterwork virtually left me gasping.

To deepen the movement's impact, most of the tracks that follow are devoid of speech. One is a quasi-rock acoustic/electronic track with slashing strings and driving beat; others are downright scary. The sense of loss, which extends to the species and life forms that are disappearing even as you read these words, is chilling.

Ultimately, Landfall's very existence affirms the unity that can arise from chaos. Meant to be experienced as a whole, when you can give it all your attention, Landfall must be heard. Don't play it through crappy earbuds or tinny little speakers—this is a big work whose rewards multiply when treated with the respect Anderson and Kronos deserve.

Herb Reichert's picture

now I must buy it ! bravo Jason !

Anton's picture

I am a huge fan of both artists, so this is an 'auto-buy!'

Looking forward to time with it!

rschryer's picture

Been listening to Landfall via Tidal for the past 10 days or so; beautiful, stark, haunting. And, even streamed, the sound is very good.

Anton's picture


Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Redbook, and 24/44.1 in download format.

rschryer's picture

Would have loved it if Tidal had both versions so I could compare. Still, lossless sound quality + great music = good times. Sometimes it's enough.

rschryer's picture

...in MQA. And it sounds wonderful.

Thought I should tell you. :-)

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Ah, so it wasn't issued as an MQA CD, but it is available in MQA for streaming. That makes sense. Nonesuch is owned by Warner, whose entire catalogue is being encoded with MQA.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Ah, so it wasn't issued as an MQA CD, but it is available in MQA for streaming. That makes sense. Nonesuch is owned by Warner, whose entire catalogue is being encoded with MQA.

rschryer's picture

I love sharing good news. And I think you'll be impressed with the sound of the MQA stream. Much better than Tidal's "Hi-Fi" lossless version, IMO.

dalethorn's picture

I looked it up on HDTracks, and the only option was 44.1 khz. Which makes me wonder if the MQA is embedded the same as the Steve Reich album. Of course, the Reich was available in 24/96 on HDTracks, but still I wonder about the 44 khz only available.

foxhall's picture

After a single listen, I don't think I've ever heard anything like it. Riding Bicycles Through Muddy Streets is a standout but the entire album needs a full sitting as JSV recommended.

anomaly7's picture

Laurie Anderson and The Kronos Quartet? How could this possible meld? Wonderfully, as it turns out. And a bit mesmerizing too. It streams well from Tidal through Roon. Now to find it on vinyl-
Thanks for posting this!

mrmikegc5's picture

I picked up the vinyl recording direct from Nonesuch and give it a big thumbs up. It is well mastered and engineered, with the sound as good as vinyl gets.

I whole heartedly agree with the reviewers commentary of this recording. Absolutely hear it first on the best rig you can wether it be vinyl or high rez digital. This is without a doubt a recording deserving of high fidelity play back.

I was lucky enough to catch her on tour March 2016, and am quite familiar with her previous work (including the lovely film "Heart of a Dog"). This recording is by far my highlight as far as her work goes. Well done!!

rschryer's picture

...this would sound great on vinyl! :-)