Music for the information age. That's what performance artist Laurie Anderson brought to the Opera House last Wednesday night. Taking a look at the computer, telephone, and television she makes the point, in some witty, compelling, and jarring ways, that technology might be trapping us.
Ironically, she employs the latest and loudest in technology to deliver her message: synthesizers, electronic instruments, a series of slides, animation, and film clips, and washes of brilliantly colored lighting.
Her relaxed, playful style contrasts well with the onslaught of sound and images. Miss Anderson dances, loose-limbed, around the stage, and a film of her smiles down Sphinx-like from the scrim. She uses technology to play tricks: Out of this slim figure garbed in a glowing white tux emerges a disconcertingly dark , smooth male voice (electronically altered by a voice modulator).
She launches into a folksy monologue: ''I have a problem with a couple of numbers: zero (a giant 0 obediently lights up on the scrim) and one (ditto for 1 ).'' Everybody in America seems to be caught up with these two numbers, she quips. ''No one wants to be a zero, a nobody, . . . but everybody wants be Number 1, you know, like, top of the heap, the best.'' The problem, Anderson muses, is that, ''There's not enough range between them.''
Then, in a wry and provocative twist, she goes on to say that 0 and 1 - which we've given so much power to make us feel wonderful or terrible - are the building blocks of the computer age, for they make up the binary code that composes computer language. Up flash the binary codes (the patterns of ones and zeroes) that make up parts of her phone number, the Gettysburg Address, and her song, ''Sharkey's Day.''
Next is a look at another type of technology that hangs us up: the telephone. Thumping atonally on an electrified sitar with a phone on her ear, she makes a series of calls, whose banalities (''How's your work, we must get together for lunch, gotta go, uh-huh, all right, goodbye'') gets funnier with repetition.
The centerpiece of her sound is an ingenious Anderson invention: an electric tape bow violin, that uses recording tape instead of horsehair in the bow. It sounds like a tape recorder playing the same bar backward and forward. Backing her up are a guitarist, drummer, keyboardist, sax player, and two singers who produce a syncopated, almost Latin sound at times.
Anderson has her own slice of genius: taking apart post-industrial society and projecting it back at us through music and visuals. She makes us laugh at ourselves by showing us the foibles and rituals of life in the age of high-tech - the absurdity of phone messages, flickering TV sets, and violent video games. In the end you wonder: Are we victims of our own inventions? Have we become machines ourselves?
She doesn't intend to answer these questions, but she provides them with a wit and style that are really quite marvelous.