In a darkened auditorium at the French Embassy Friday night, composer Francoise Barriere leaned intently over a master computer, mapping out a journey through electronic gulps and sighs.
In a room that seemed to be vibrating with warm light and high spirits, Otifunmilayo's African dancers and drummers rallied a gospel choir into a praise song.
Two different concerts? No, just another evening brought to you by composer/impresario/avant-guide Marilyn DeReggi.
To start things off, DeReggi coaxed audiences into hearing music's spatial parameter. "The human ear is capable of perceiving 1,000 pitches, but we can hear 6,000 points in space," she declared. In Barriere's "Scenes From the Voyages of Ulysses," eight speakers positioned around the room became like instruments in an orchestra or characters in an opera, engaged in dialogue with one another. The result was a free octophony in which independent noises -- from ocean sounds to something like the roar of an old Citroen in high gear -- were superimposed and controlled in a dynamic mix of sound dimensions.
Vivien Rudow's "Dona Nobis Pacem" was wrought from the comparatively primitive means of a four-track tape recorder spewing out the Latin words for "grant us peace" at varying speeds. Both horrifying and calming, the brief composition was a kind of emotional roller coaster.
By comparison, the two pieces by Luis Maria Serra and Christian Clozier squatted inertly in their own sound-worlds. Serra merged his electronic collage with a humorous premise: a tour, complete with slides and a tour guide's commentary, of France's Jacques Coeur palace. But there was not much fusing of premise and sound, and the experience dissolved into bland, repetitive tribute to great monuments of the past. Clozier's half-hour "Happiness: A New Idea in Europe," trafficked in the kind of hard-edged, cold and robotlike sound that discourages audiences from electronic music concerts.
If the concert had ended there, and not with DeReggi's jam session for African dancers, drummers and two northern Maryland gospel choirs, audiences would have left the French Embassy in a rather numb state. "I don't mean for this to be a lecture," Olufunmilayo exhorted everyone, "but you could you please lighten up?" "Color Falls and Man Stands" began with a traditional European choral arrangement of that 18th-century anti-slavery French folk tune. Then the three groups were off and running. Olufunmilayo led an African call-and-response, which was then haltingly harmonized by the choirs and their pianist, Carlton Talley. Though the groups began working as one only about halfway through the piece, the connections between the gospel and the African idioms were always compelling. Though this event took the audiences far from the cerebral events of earlier, the African music -- heard from offstage and from the back of the house -- drove home DeReggi's point about the power of music's spatial dimension.