Andrea Parkins Faulty (Broken Orbit)

[Important; 2009]

Styles: sound art, electoacoustic, Fluxus
Others: Otomo Yoshihide, Ellery Eskelin, Nels Cline

Although immersed in multiple disciplines and musical styles, Andrea Parkins is perhaps most well known for her live sound-processing and electro-acoustic compositions. Utilizing laptop electronics and processed accordion to craft her complex, engaging, and often challenging sound pieces, her work (which includes numerous collaborations with the likes of Nels Cline, Jessica Constable, and Otomo Yoshihide) has received recognition and praise from such heavy-hitting publications as The Wire and The New York Times. Indeed, her unique sonic language and versatility as a performer help establish Parkins as an important figure in international avant-garde circles.

Back in 2007, Parkins presented Faulty (Per-Objective), a 10-channel, site-specific sound installation at the Diapason Gallery in New York. On Faulty (Broken Orbit), her first album for Important Records, Parkins attempts to translate this original installation onto the CD format. Theoretically, this reworking of material raises certain problematic issues. For example, it is often the case that the physical space occupied by the listener within a sound installation is crucial to the work as a whole. Therefore, when the work is listened to on CD, this spatial element is removed, and the listener only experiences the sonic element. However, Parkins successfully negotiates this potential pitfall and proves that Faulty (Broken Orbit) itself is a fully realized work.

Composed from amplified objects and processed accordion, Faulty (Broken Orbit) offers a dynamic, ever-changing array of layered aural material. Throughout the work, oddly familiar sounds rise and fall in the mix: metal scrapes against concrete, a bottle rolls precariously to the edge of a table. These more recognizable sounds become juxtaposed with an alien, mechanical, and electronic blend of squelching feedback, dissonant drones, and wavering high-frequencies. It’s quite challenging, creating a tense, even foreboding atmosphere on initial listens. However, if approached with an active engagement, there are certainly many rewarding qualities to Parkins’ work.

But what truly makes Faulty (Broken Orbit) effective is not the sounds themselves, but how they are organized, even if this organization is largely through chance. As reflected in many of her sound installations, Parkins takes inspiration from Rube Goldberg’s circuitous contraptions. This influence is greatly evident throughout Faulty (Broken Orbit), as the individual sounds manipulated by Parkins seem to interact and influence the outcome of the other, crafting a goal-oriented structure based on timbre, not harmony or rhythm. This approach transcends the inherent cacophony of the material and reveals a genuinely organic, even playful quality to her work. And it’s through these qualities that Parkins is able to stand out in a field of music that has increasingly drifted toward a cold, academic approach to composition.

Links: Andrea Parkins - Important

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