Zeena Parkins and Jeff Kolar merge electronic sounds with nature on Scale | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Zeena Parkins and Jeff Kolar merge electronic sounds with nature on Scale

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The new Scale is billed to composer and improvising harpist Zeena Parkins and Chicago sound artist and radio producer Jeff Kolar, but its story involves a larger group of collaborators. In 2017, University of Illinois professor Jennifer Monson (who’s also a choreographer and dancer) commissioned Parkins and Kolar to work with her, dancer Mauriah Kraker, and lighting designer Elliott Cennetoglu on a dance work titled Bend the Even. Initial development took place during predawn outdoor rehearsals in the fields around Urbana, but the group moved their work to Florida beaches after they landed a residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. Parkins and Kolar’s compositions for Bend the Even were influenced by the choreography of the two-person dance team as well as the ruggedness of the early-morning rehearsals, especially the wintry sessions in Urbana. “It’s sort of like readjusting your eyes and ears, or like sensory deprivation with a long pause of waiting for something to happen,” Kolar told the New York Times. While all the tracks on Scale were initially composed for Bend the Even, the album was recorded and mastered separately from the live performances. The music is a fusion of electronic and electroacoustic elements: on “Hooking,” it’s hard to tell which sounds come from Kolar’s radio gear and handmade electronic instruments and which Parkins creates by manipulating an amplified harp with a scraping bow or a fork tine. It’s easy to imagine audiences at the ensemble’s Bend the Even performances in New York fixating on Kolar and Parkins’s movements and the objects they used to make sound, but when I listen to Scale I find myself thinking the vibrations and other physical phenomena the dancers might’ve experienced while onstage with the duo—especially on “Pulse,” where Parkins’s haunting harp melody is bookended by great big thuds of crashing strings that sound like a piano being pushed down a staircase. Kolar and Parkins’s individual contributions are a bit more identifiable on “Traveling,” which features Kolar’s snippets of radio static and wavy feedback playing double dutch between Parkins’s strummed harp rhythms. The natural world from which the album draws could also be listed as a collaborator on that track: the second half includes recordings of crickets, which create their own kind of feedback and rhythm.   v

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