Love Letter to Laetitia Sonami

The final corner of the last year was about finding my voice and turning anger into euphoric creativity, which has allowed me to come into my own. Laetitia Sonami’s spoken word and sound piece What Happened (1989) comes together at the disintegration of a woman narrating her story (written by fictionist Melody Sumner Carnahan, and read by Sonami). The woman describes her life during a war—her anger and resignation over an unfaithful husband, her children, her lover, a cruel employer—as her voice is gradually distorted until it is unintelligible. The words dissolve like the way low clouds, fog, or snow can obstruct, from my window, my view of the outside world…yet, in these distortions and obstructions, contingency grows.

The woman’s disintegrating voice leads to music whose beats I describe as aural sparkles (borrowing from the lines and dots on old films being called sparkles) that give way to a chant. What Happened grows by constantly and consistently returning into itself, the way the woman’s narrative goes back and forth between tragedies and triumphs. At the end of the piece, a little of the distortion wears off but without diminishing the sparkles in her voice as she tells her listener “I’m happy though doing exactly what I want… Fortunately, I do not remember what I have suffered…” Listening to her story makes me want to reach out. Wouldn’t it be good, for a person who has endured much, to walk into another cycle, this time doing things on one’s own terms and, in a moment of grace, begin again?