Santa Fe's Monthly Magazine * June 2000 * Diane Armitage

Laetitia Sonami: The Fourth Annual Santa Fe International Festival of Electro-Acoustic Music

I sat utterly transfixed during electronic-music composer Laetitia Sonami's two extraordinary performances. The first one Why _ dreams like a Loose Engine (autoportrait), comprised electronic music, words, and a quasi-dance as Sonami's expressive use of her body and hands suggested a deliberate choreography. The text by Santa Fe-based writer Sumner Carnahan, helped establish an atmosphere of disquieting melancholy. The piece was a seamless unity of body language, text, theatrical presence, and electronic wizardry.

Tall and statuesque, Sonami was a commanding figure on the stage. As she paced back and forth, bent low to the floor, she gestured energetically with her arms, retreated, or embraced the microphone to deliver Carnahan's enigmatic prose centered around a protagonist who slips unanchored through an imaginary landscape. Sonami's resonant voice realized the character of a woman on a train who projects her persona onto the people she meets as she searches for an experience of genuine connection. As composer, Sonami assumed the fragile psyche of this alienated woman. Yet, at the same time she attained a coherent majesty and mastery of the moment as she orchestrated, with a high-tech, interactive glove, her brooding score with its hypnotic, percussive phrases; strident chords; plaintiff wails; and cadenzas of electronic growls, whispers, and surprising passages of tender lyricism.

Her second piece, a work-in-progress called Conversation with a Light Bulb, was more visually theatrical. Hanging on the wall and placed on the floor were a series of bare light bulbs hooked up to a computer system. The sequencing of the flashing bulbs seemed at first to be random, but was actually controlled by her music. Sometimes only a few lights were on; occasionally the stage was in complete darkness of fully lit; but the light, or lack of it, was wedded to the music’s urgency.

The music seemed to be an aural reflection of systematic data gathered from medical monitors and generated by an unseen body. At times Sonami's music reflected the great pulse of eros bonded with the will to live. At times the sounds were overtaken by the inexorable pull of thanatos, bringing the composer and her audience to the brink of some profoundly mysterious space. Sonami's work is tough and challenging, yet she damps and drives her electronic system with a fluid, mesmerizing grace.

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