October 25th, 2009
Ikue Mori and Zeena Parkins on stage at a packed house at the Chapel Performance Space Saturday as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival.
For more than 20 years Ikue Mori and Zeena Parkins have etched music with perhaps unlikely sound tools.
Parkins has long explored the expansive potential for improvised and innovative music of both acoustic and electronic harps. Mori, who in the 1980s was the drummer for the radical No Wave band DNA, captures, processes, and mutates live and stored sounds with a laptop computer and other electronics, including drum machines. She also contributes projected images to the duo’s stage presentations.
The result is some extremely captivating sculpted sound, rich in tectonics and shifting planes, and transporting in its lyricism, mystery, and surprise. Certainly, in their collaboration, Phantom Orchard, Parkins and Mori have produced some of the most startling freely improvised music of recent times. ” – Peter Monaghan
Parkins has lately gained broad renown thanks to her performances with the Nordic pop diva Björk; but her accomplishments date from the 1980s, when she settled in the fertile New York experimental-music scene and began to perform and record with the likes of Fred Frith and Jim O’Rourke. She has, in fact, worked with just about every forward-thinking musician on the New York and European scenes, appearing on more than 70 albums with many of the big names in new music, including John Zorn, Pauline Oliveros, Elliott Sharp, and Tin Hat Trio. She has also worked with a host of dance and theater companies, chamber orchestras such as Bang on a Can, and film and video makers.
She has developed radical approaches to playing the harp, often treating it as an electrified sound source for the most arresting musical experiments. Her extended playing techniques include the analog and digital processing of her harps’ sounds, as well as the preparation of their strings with household and hardware-store objects.
In Ikue Mori, she finds the perfect partner and foil. The Tokyo native began playing drums when she arrived in New York in 1977. She soon after formed the lopsidedly rhythmical and dissonant cult band, DNA, with Arto Lindsay and Tim Wright. In the mid-1980s Mori began to improvise with drum machines, modifying their output to suit her purposes. About a decade ago, she branched into the use of computers in music. Along the way she, too, performed with a host of other artistic adventurers such as Fred Frith, Dave Douglas, Mike Patton, and Butch Morris, and won many grants, commissions, and awards for her musical innovation. Her current projects include Mephista with pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and drummer Susie Ibarra and various collaborations with John Zorn including his Electric Masada.
Her collaborations with Zeena Parkins have been as outstanding as any of her work – strange, compelling, and unpredictable. Critic Stephen Gossett nicely summarized: “Phantom Orchard presents a reflection of modern life’s ugly beauty, delivered with exacting restlessness. The familiar analog tones lure you in; the otherworldly sound-swirls and digital disruptions create a subtle-to-harsh juxtaposition.”