Laetitia Sonami Credit: Brown U

The extent of onstage action during minimalist noise shows too often consists of a composer switching between MIDI keyboard and a laptop—the sound is complex, but the execution is bland. The live shows of sound artist and composer Laetitia Sonami are the antithesis of this sort of insularity—rather than simply pushing buttons and keys, she’s a conduit who manipulates sound through movement. Sonami, who’s 61, merges performance art and experimental music through instruments of her own invention that she plays by making gestures with her body. Her most famous creation, the Lady’s Glove, is an elbow-length apparatus covered in sensors and wires that gives off the appearance of externalized vascular system. Sonami directs the Lady’s Glove in trancelike fluidity, moving her right arm with graceful yet purposeful motions as if divining sound out of air. After 25 years of performing with the Lady’s Glove, Sonami is moving in new directions: three years ago she invented the Spring Spyre, an instrument that uses machine learning to manipulate sound based on gestural cues. At first glance the Spyre—which involves a metal ring the size of a bicycle wheel and three intersecting wire coils—looks deceptively simple, but the complex technology that’s attached allows Sonami to oscillate from ambient drones to glitchy static with just a slight touch of the springs. Her movements on the Spry are smaller than when she utilizes the Lady’s Glove—twisting springs rather than sweeping her whole arm—but the same dreamlike quality pervades. Her shows with the new instrument are less theatrical than before, but Sonami taps into her sense of drama by embodying a character, an oracle who came into being when the spirits of three women merged during an earthquake. “There’s still a lot of unknown—it’s exciting but uncomfortable,” Sonami recently told me, about performing with the Spyre. “Even the stories are new.”   v