“Belly, by Kamala Sankaram, dove deeper into the realm of the vulnerably personal. In this piece, Sankaram unpacks and explores the discomfort in her own skin that she experienced from an early age by excavating the aggressions, both micro- and macro-, that have entered her orbit from youth to adulthood. The result is a vast collage of not-so-easy listening, followed by feelings of empathy. Similar to Tactile, one line of text was repeated, imitating the broken-record sensation of an anxious or injured psyche: “Kind of invisible/Let’s see/Front and back/Nice rack/Belly.” Gookin swarmed around sickly intervals, reminiscent of Luciano Berio’s Sequenza XIV, and lay into crunch tones that exploded into jabs and rebounded into shimmers. Structural references to the three medieval humors of blood (excitement), yellow bile (anger), and black bile (melancholy) gave the piece a visceral feel.”
“[We] get to know the principal characters through Ms. Sankaram’s skillful, passionate vocal writing… Ms. Sankaram’s music deftly limns Kayla’s limbo state (she works in a mini-mart and is full of longing) as well as her growing anger; for example, the flute that flutters tentatively around her vocal line at the beginning becomes an insistent presence as she finds her courage. It also ingeniously depicts her environment with choral writing inspired by the raw contours of shape-note singing, deployed both in the church and on a midnight bus ride full of lost people…
Its spare orchestration is built on string drones and slithering glissandos and colored with punchy special effects, such as the whirly tubes that make a soft, creepy hooting sound, associated with Kayla’s memories.”
"As a composer, Sankaram gives herself and her fellow cast members rich material to mine. Within her score are hints of Glassian minimalism, flashes of jazzy bass lines, Verdi-esque virtuosity and a plethora of South Asian folk-music styles...Sankaram’s greatest gift as a composer is her seemingly endless ability to birth beautiful, memorable melodic motives and weave them together dramatically."
“Sankaram’s voice could shatter a black hole, never mind glass…The high point among many on this album is a Sankaram composition, Pilgram, her wickedly precise, loopy accordion winding through a misterioso, lingering, surfy stroll with ominous bass and alto sax solos, the latter building to a spine-tingling coda…This might not just be the best debut album of the year: it might be the best album of 2014, period.”
“Perhaps the standout track of Cinefonia is the lushly worked instrumental track entitled “Pilgrim,” written by Ms. Sankaram. Allowing for almost visual sax and accordion lines intertwined with twangy guitar, “Pilgrim” is part Southwest openness, part Brian Eno complexity and part jazzy experimental. The effect is stunning…”