Although I feel that electronic manipulation has helped to open up a whole new world of music, I'm also one of those people who feels like it gets in the way sometimes as well. Speaking from experience, I know that oftentimes the urge is there to simply tweak an instrument or sound far beyond its original starting point, but also it's sometimes best to simply leave things alone. Phantom Orchard is the collaboration between two very different artists who have been creating music for some time, and though the result is sometimes mixed, it fortunately usually errs on the side of quite good rather than mediocore.
Those familiar with the music of Björk may recognize the name of Zeena Parkins as a harp player for the Icelandic wunder, while those who have followed electronic music for awhile will probably recognize the name of Ikue Mori. With decades of experience between them, this release is at the very least a real pairing of minds that combines artists who have been creating their craft since before many electronic kiddies were building their first patches.
On the release, Parkins basically plays everything non-digital (electric and acoustic harp, piano, mellotron, rhodes, moog, etc), while Ikue Mori takes the whole batch and tweaks the heck out of it. The result is an odd little album of 9 soundscapes that run about 40 minutes and evoke everything from spooky eastern headtrips to seriously glitchy psychedelic music. The opening track of "Jezebel" is a track that encapsulates almost everything that is both good and bad about the album as harp melodies progress beautifully while electronic effects mostly highlight the beauty and yet sometimes detract by pulling away emphasis just as things get going. The effect is disorienting at times, and yet it works quite well mostly, as squiggles of harp mixed with backwards loops and bells jangle like a windchime being shaken by a ghostly hand.
"Mura" goes even more digital as clumps of digital regurge slither across one another before the track slowly pulls itself out of a sludgy morass. On the other side of things, "Deft" lets more of the actual playing by Parkings creep through in the mix, only punctuating it at times with subtle manipulation. As a result, the track stands a bit taller than the more harshly filtered workouts. "Transparent Things" is another piece that nearly perfectly blends the two worlds as harp cascades flutter delightfully before being swallowed by looping percussion and hyper-processed noise. Like many Mego releases, Phantom Orchard is often beautiful and occasionally frustrating. In pushing the boundaries of digital manipulation versus live instrumentation, the label is doing some very interesting things, and this collaboration between Zeena Parkins and Ikue Mori is yet another example of that.