In live electronic/digital music, laptoppers usually perch inertly at their command posts, barely acknowledging the presence of stage or audience. Not so Laetitia Sonami, whose "lady's glove" triggering device enables her to move about the stage with a subversive grace, setting off sonic events with the wave of her hands, minute finger gestures and minimal dance-like motions.
With her trusty laptop off to the side, Sonami gave a captivating performance at CalArts on Wednesday, as part of the school's Musical Explorations series. For the French-born and Oakland-based Sonami, the integral relationship of sound manipulation to body movement is key. So too is the specific conceptualization of each piece, relying on various sonic parameters, texts and attitudes.
There were three works in Wednesday's hourlong performance. "Why_Dreams Like a Loose Engine (Autoportrait)" combined alternately dense and ethereal sounds with a recited text by M. Sumner Carnahan. Live narration, dance movements and real-time sound-summoning blended beautifully.
The sensory ante was upped in "Conversation With a Light Bulb." Bulbs around and over the stage flashed in syncopation, triggered along with a sound bank generated from altered "digital documents," such as software and spreadsheets.
Finally, Sonami got rocking with "Has/Had," a dance music piece on more than one level. Propulsive rhythms hinted at the dance impulse of electronica, but Sonami pushed toward art music by constantly tweaking dynamics and sonic density, from tickling to pummeling. Experimental music is rarely this visceral and engaging.