Metropolis * 6/99 * Matt Steinglass
Still, for artists, the new interfaces carry risks. They can feel gimmicky; their novelty sometimes overwhelms the content of the work. What does it take to make a new art form feel authentic?
Laetitia Sonami has been making music with data gloves since the late 1980s. “Data glove” is an overly dignified therm for her first instruments - a pair of rubber kitchen gloves, the fingertips outfitted with magnetic sensors from window alarms. Sonami wanted to make her instrument more sophisticated, so she turned to STEIM for technical assistance.
She now works with a single left-hand glove, built to her specifications by STEIM-associated digital instrument craftsman Bert Bongers. “The glove itself is made of Lycra mesh,” she days, when I interviewed her at STEIM the day after her performance at Touch. “It was made to measure in Paris by people who do costumes for dancers. The sensors are sewn onto the Lycra. On the tip of the fingers, on top of the nails, there are microswitches - when I press them I can feel some resistance, which is important, because with all of the other sensors I don’t feel an actual feedback. On the other side of the fingertips there are magnetic sensors, with a magnet on the thumb and sensors on the four fingers. By bringing the thumb closer to the other fingers I get varying voltage.”
When you watch Sonami on stage, you are not thinking about any of this. She begins by pulling in a low thrumming noise, waving it in with her fingers, Then she stretches her fingers to make the noise pulse in and out, and twists in some tremolo. Her gestures are careful, tense, and deliberate.
There is nothing gimmicky about what Sonami is doing. This is the only way you coulf play this kind of music. This instrument, in the hands of this performer, makes sense,. It’s a good interface.
It took Sonami 10 years to get to this point. “Michel Waisvisz made it possible for composers like me to continue,” Sonami says. “He and STEIM support people like me, people who are on the fringe.”
Or, perhaps, not so much on the fringe anymore.