Arts & Culture

Musician explores gender in electronic genre

Department of Music collective, opensignal, organizes events on gender politics in music

By
Staff Writer
Friday, March 21, 2014

Electronic musician Laetitia Sonami said incorporating audience input is crucial to her development as an artist, following an early, influential experience playing an unfinished piece live.

Sound artist and electronic musician Laetitia Sonami visited campus this week as part of an event series organized by opensignal, an artist collective formed through the Department of Music’s Multimedia and Electronic Music Experiments program.

Sonami’s visit connects with opensignal’s interest in exploring “the state of gender (and) race in experimental electronic-based sound and art practices,” according to the organization’s website.

Claire Kwong ’13, a series organizer, said artists like Sonami have been important in challenging the cult of masculinity in electronic music.

“Often men are associated with technology. … Laetitia builds all her own instruments,” Kwong said. The group is “not just speaking about women but about gender diversity,” said Asha Tamirisa GS, an event organizer. “There is a certain privilege that comes with being able to identify, and we’re interested in a larger understanding of gender difference.”

“Our events don’t exclusively feature (people) who are self-identified women specifically. … It’s about bridging the gap,” said Lizzie Davis, another event organizer.

Caroline Park GS, another organizer, also emphasized the importance of gender diversity, adding that the event series is not intended to create a distinct binary but instead to show that electronic music is open to everyone. These types of events can be “very encouraging” for young women, Park said.

Joseph Butch Rovan, professor of music and co-director of the MEME program, also praised Sonami as “a role model for women in technology,” adding that “she is an amazing performer, (and) under any circumstances she would be a treasure to have.”

Sonami presented a lecture Wednesday detailing her journey through the electronic music world, emphasizing the importance of incorporating the audience and recalling an early performance she staged of an unfinished piece.

At the time, “I kept trying to do the perfect music piece,” Sonami said, noting that having to perform unfinished work taught her to “allow things to evolve through contact with the audience.”

“The listener finished the piece,” she  said.

Sonami also spoke about her signature instrument, the Lady’s Glove, which was created in 1991, and with which Sonami is able to control sounds, mechanical devices and lights, according to the opensignal website. Since its inception, four subsequent versions of the Lady’s Glove have been developed.

The Glove is now in retirement, as Thursday’s concert in the Granoff Center marked its last public performance.

Sonami cited her familiarity with the glove as a main reason for its retirement. “I felt like I knew it … I had mastered it, and it had been for so many years unclear how I would think of music outside of the Glove,” said Sonami. “My imagination and the technology I was using were so interwoven, I was curious (to see) if I take that out, what would I imagine?”

Sonami emphasized inefficiency, unreliability, adaptability and inexpensiveness as guidelines by which to create new instruments.

Sonami spoke about one of her more recently created instruments, the Spring Spyre, noting that ideas on audio produced by coil and magnet were important in its formation.

Several of Sonami’s works were highlighted during the lecture, including “Sounds of War,” wherein participants listened to voices of women and children in war-plagued regions, like Darfur, Palestine and Bosnia-Herzegovina, through headphones made from toilet plungers.

Opensignal will host more events throughout the semester. It is hosting composer Tara Rodgers for a talk and concert April 11 in the Martinos Auditorium and presenting the opensignal spring festival the weekend of May 16.