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Zeena Parkins / Ikue Mori - Phantom Orchard [MEGO - 2004]

Ikue Mori and Zeena Parkins have collaborated on numerous projects, including John Zorns The Bribe and Moriís B Side soundtrack CD. This however is the first full collaboration between these two new music pioneers. Parkins making her name being one of if not the only electric harpist around and Mori with her unique and highly requested drum machine and electronics style.

The nine compositions presented here are a far cry from Moriís work with say Mephista or Death Ambient, where she flirted with electro-acoustics and academic concrete composition. Here however the music is far more composed and academic sounding than the improvisational work that the two ladies have been previously involved with. However the women inject a dose of melancholy and humanity into what is often an impenetrable genre. Multi-layered and mysterious Phantom Orchard is a strikingly surreal and complex music journey.

The album opens with Jezebel a beautiful gently swirling mass of loose interlocking sounds that evoke images of walks through bright gardens populated with strange plants and animals. Parkins harp playing is at itís most prominent and straight forward on this track that features layers of light electronics and hints of melody.  Savage flower is the second track, beginning with low droning and percussion before Parkins comes in with driving piano chords. Complex twittering electronics flit from side to side disorientating the listener as the dense wall of electronic and acoustic sounds arc and sway all around.  Mori pushes the track into perhaps the most jazzy part of the album, where delicate mellotron chords are accompanied by dissonant percussion and slightly tribal drumming. The sound really is quite unique, coming across like a combination of lounge electronica and formal tape composition. These two well travelled musicians able to bring a huge range of styles and influences to there work.
The longest of the tracks on offer is Ghostlake which begins with dripping static and digital noise as a sci-fi like synthesiser atmospheres move in, punctuated by skitting and almost robotic sounding tweeks. Parkins creates remarkable melodic loops with her harp that phase in and out of the mix adding to the surrealism.  Ambient textures and pure tones drift in and out recalling the sine wave studies by Asmus Tietchens, but here Parkins and Mori add a sense of intrigue and power to this sometimes cold form of composition. The slightest suggestions of melody are melded into melancholic backdrops to the ever evolving sound pallet of electronic wizardry.

Deft is another track that features Parkins harp playing prominently, here she weaves springy and almost uplifting textures of noise over which Mori tosses short sharp elements of sound effects and also processes the harp playing, creating an overlapping spiral of electro-acoustic bliss. Oh did I mention this album got an honourable mention at the Bourge international electro-acoustic music festival this year?
39 Steps is the shortest track on the album at just over three minutes and features Moriís fast cut-up drum machine rhythms and more tonal work accompanying it. Again a huge array of samples and acoustic textures are thrust in and out of the mix before you even know their there. It takes a few listens before you catch all the different elements to these compositions.

Transparent Things and Contraband are fast passed Musique Concrete pieces that again jump cut at quite amazing pace. You catch short bursts of treated harp, more Mori touches and almost unidentifiable acoustic sources used almost as passing thoughts as the next glitch or snippet comes zipping in. This may sound as if it could be very incohesive but actually like the music of fellow Tzadik artists Tetsu Inoue the digital editing and composition create a fast, frantic pace but also drag the listener along with the use of repetitive elements and rhythmic structures. I guess the theorists would highlight Stockhausens theory of moment forming as to how these compositions are structured.
The final track Blue Noon is more like the first two tracks, more textural and atmospheric with less jump cutting and blasts of dissonance. To me it sounds like bird song (electric bird song) with the pure tones and insectoid like hums creating a scene of serenity.
Phantom Orchard is the culmination of two women with a pioneering attitude to new music and is a perfect alternative to the overly academic approach of some of their European counterparts.

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Duncan Simpson
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