If I hesitate to offer a review of Laurie Anderson's Delusion (at ArtsEmerson's Paramount Center through October 2), it's because I fear the whole thing will be just one big spoiler. Suffice to say that Anderson's performance is about loss and death and depression — and that it's utterly uplifting.
Anderson came along in the '80s, when the term "performance artist" was brand new. Was she a musician singing songs? An actor performing a text? A visual artist doing her art "live" for an audience? Well, all of these at once. At the Paramount, she deployed all her trademarks: multiple video projections, sculpted sound projections, spoken and sung text, and electronic violin — a source of "live" string sounds and triggered effects.
Anderson sets up the evening with a short introduction, set to music. "I want to tell you a story — a story about a story." She's talking about a time when her own personal "mechanism for motivation" failed her, when she was unable to sustain the "donkey and carrot" routine that took her from one episode of her life to the next. She then plays dramatic chords and rhythms on her violin as harsh scribbled drawing along with word phrases flash and morph on the screens around her — one large square back stage, two draped cloths at either side, and a draped settee center stage — like scrawled chalk on a blackboard. From there follow anecdotes, songs, scenes pastoral or dreamlike. Anderson peering around a theater curtain at the figure of a woman (dead or dying) in a strange room (a man stands in back, sometimes taking a photo with a flash, and dogs walk in and out of the scene). There's falling rain, snow.
Andreson alternates voices — her "natural" voice, quiet, almost whispered, but musical. And then the deep electronically manipulated male voice that she's used over the years as another effect. She's said that she's now begun to converse with this voice as a discrete character, with a name — Fenway Bergamot.
In the voice of Fenway, she intones dramatically about the fate of the earth, the plans to use the moon as a dumping ground for toxic waste, the politics of corporate greed, ideas about reincarnation, and the problem of "everyone who'd ever lived living all at once." The "female" Laurie meditates on the death of her mother, depression, living in New York, and presents a kind of dream diary. Either character speaks in precise musical cadences, with Anderson's sense of humor ever-present. You could say that the climactic act of the 90-minute piece comes when Anderson dreams of giving birth to her own dog — something the dog is not happy about, despite the difficulty Anderson has gone through to arrange the whole thing.