Cities and Eyes
Andrea Parkins, electric accordion, effect, samples & live processing, synthesizers, piano, voice
Jessica Constable, voice and electronics
These duets by The Skein - vocalist Jessica Constable and electro-multiinstrumentalist Andrea Parkins - possess a unified sense of form and feeling. Though fully improvised, it is easy to think of these pieces as composed songs: they are at times quite melodic, exemplifying coherent extemporaneous form. And no matter how unpredictable the sonic content, implicit in all of these pieces is the presence of the human cry: the blues.
Jessica Constable sings into two microphones - one "dry," and the other treated by electronics that harmonize, reverberate, or mangle her voice. She employs this technique with exceptional adroitness and control as her voice subtly shifts timbre mid- note. Constable's singing is free and flexible in the manner of classic blues singers, certain pop artists, and singers from Eastern European traditions. There is an implication of ululation, and an often-palpable sense of lamentation that cannot be diluted, tamed or obscured by electronic coloration.
Andrea Parkins brings her full sonic palette to this project: laptop, synthesizers, piano and electronically-processed accordion. Often supporting then subverting Constable's melodic/modal vocalizations, Parkins keeps things in a constant state of flux. She expresses a tricky balance between the stoic and the confrontational that is like life, illustrated: full of promise, options, occasional disturbance -- unpredictable and sometimes without solace.
A salient aspect of these improvisations is that many of them are amazingly concise. With several at less than two minutes in length, these pieces are exceptionally focused. On Nothing/Otherwise, a dreamlike elegy emerges almost fully formed. Soon, Parkins' distorted accordion and nattering laptop infect the moment with sonic bacteria, subsuming an initial sense of warmth in a swirl of question marks. And Constable's voice with its breathy lower register and distinctive vibrato adds compelling immediacy to every second.
Often, as on Zobeide, there is a predominating sense of minor modality, even if no clear tonality is offered. This piece highlights Constable's vocal flexibility, as her voice, in a blink, goes from clear to grainy, from guttural to soaringly angelic. It also reveals Parkins' timberal range as she laces her accordion with creepy distortion and Whammy pedal harmonics. Her laptop provides a surprising coda; a bluesy string twang vamps briefly, and is suddenly replaced by steam-like hiss and fizz. Mini offers an opening salvo of Lydian grace, only to have Constable's mock falsetto drift back to the minor, to the blues. Resolution is denied.
Ides for Two delves into musique concrete as it advances from unfamiliar timbres to those we recognize: when tonality emerges but offers no succor, we are sure we've heard that disturbing circus music before. Elegy, a twisted torch song, exemplifies a kind of reined-in expressionism perceived throughout the album. A groove is offered and withdrawn. The song is a blues, carefully ruined. On Harrow, Constable nearly channels Laura Nyro mid-ballad before Parkins' scalpel-like sounds rip at the skin of the tonality.
There are words on this record, though few. Backroom/No introduction offers taut whispers. Are they filled with jittery joy or barely-contained grief? Their ambiguity lends power to the music Ornette Coleman wrote "When Will The Blues Leave?" The blues seep deeply into the unnerving, alluring soil of The Skein's Cities and Eyes. The sonic chemistry of Jessica Constable and Andrea Parkins gives them undeniable voice in a whole new dark light.
-- Nels Cline
Made of rugged digital fragmentation, melancholy acoustic bursts, and an intense voice, wavering between blues and jazz drives / avant. Andrea Parkins and Jessica Constable (accordion, effects, samples, live processing, synth, piano and voice, the first. Entry and electronics, the second), artists are experts who know each other well.
They often worked together on the work of saxophonist Ellery Eskelin (and more ...), and have an atypical common vision. "Cities And Eyes" is their first project as Skein, and the target is partly centered. Strong push on the accelerator, and it turns out, a good mixer input. Come in and out all the time, a song form, almost classical, pulling and tearing, the edges of a shirt beauty, who is torn and you can see the bare skin. Digital manipulation and virtuoso shots, which coordinates viaggian on medium-high. Especially, when the mass of sound proposal is stratified, in a sort of trip hop, tortured and unorthodox (Elegy, Orlando In Bayonne, Amble And Fell In, anxiety Backroom / No Introduction, Imnop).
Between a high, historicized and Read (Robert Wyatt, Julie Tippett and Patty Waters), and another type of high, more popular (Beth Gibbons, Björk, and the nightmare / obsession Nearly God). I push on the extreme side, but sometimes tends to drift off the project, peppering songs good, tricky attitude of cutting and sewing, too due to pure exercise in style avantgarde (example: the intense line harmonic Ides For Two , unnecessarily burdened with glitches and glurb rite, making it indigestible ...). Small adjustments of course, could trigger an emotional hurricane. Depends on who will want to traversar the treacherous ford. Original, seriously, (probably) valuable; seriously (in the future, we auguriam next).
Fatto di aspra frammentazione digitale, malinconici sprazzi acustici, ed un'intensissima voce, altalenante fra blues e pulsioni jazz/avant.
Andrea Parkins e Jessica Constable (accordion, effetti, samples, live processing, synth, piano e voce, la prima. Voce ed elettronica; la seconda), sono artiste esperte che si conoscono bene.
Hanno collaborato spesso insieme, sui lavori del sassofonista Ellery Eskelin (e non solo...), e possiedono un'atipica visione comune.
“Cities And Eyes”, è il loro primo progetto come Skein, ed il bersaglio, è in parte centrato.
Spingono forte sull'acceleratore, e ne vien fuori, un bel frullatore d'input.
Entrano ed escono di continuo, da una forma canzone, quasi classica, tirando e strappando, i lembi di una camicia bellina, che si squarcia e lascia intravedere la nuda pelle.
Manipolazione digitale e scatti virtuosistici, che viaggian su coordinate medio alte.
Soprattutto, quando la massa sonora proposta, si stratifica, in una sorta di trip hop, torturato e non ortodosso (Elegy, Orlando In Bayonne, Amble And Fell In, l'angoscia di Backroom/No Introduction, Imnop).
Fra un alto, storicizzato e colto (Robert Wyatt, Julie Tippett e Patty Waters), ed un altro tipo di alto, maggiormente popolare (Beth Gibbons, Björk, e l'incubo/ossessione Nearly God).
La spinta sul versante estremo, tende però a volte, a far sbandare il progetto, infarcendo brani ottimi, di ostica attitudine taglia e cuci, troppo riconducibile, a puro esercizio di stile avantgarde (esempio pratico: l'intensa linea armonica di Ides For Two, inutilmente appesantita da glitch e glurb di rito, che la rendono indigeribile...).
Piccoli aggiustamenti di rotta, potrebbero scatenare un uragano emotivo.
Dipende dalla voglia che avranno di traversar l'insidioso guado.
Originale, sul serio, (probabilmente) prezioso; sul serio (in un futuro, ci auguriam prossimo).
- Marco Carcasi, Kathodik
Noel Tachet - Un choc, assurément, que ce duo impossible à décompter tant il fourmille de créatures musicales. Disons pour situer les choses qu'on pense un peu à Wyatt et à Bjork, parce que ce sont des voix et des musiques fortes et que ce disque-ci garde quelque chose du format chanson sans la moindre concession, un peu comme si Brassens avait fait un disque avec Pierre Schaeffer et Leo Ferré. Les deux femmes nous emmènent dans des émotions que la musique improvisée donne rarement, plutôt associées à des formes plus simples, du rock à la chanson. Elles me comblent parce que leurs coqs à l'âne semblent des liaisons naturelles, elle découvrent sans se forcer de nouveaux passages, qui se referment derrière elles comme au passage des magiciennes.
Cities and Eyes
This duet is a shock. More than a duet it is like an innumerable ant hill of musical creatures. One might sometimes think of Wyatt or Bjork because they are strong music with strong voices and because this music has something of the flavor of a song format without any concession, a little like George Brassens making music with Pierre Schaeffer and Leo Ferré. These two women take us into emotions rarely associated with improvised music, more with simpler forms, from rock to pop songs. They fill me with joy because the many ways they hop from one matter to another seem natural, they discover without effort new paths that close back after them as it always happens with enchantresses
- Noel Tachet
First attempt at a description: Can we hear red in the same way that we see red? A multitude of sounds lie brooding beneath the ashes of “Cities and Eyes”. The Skein play the music of prowlers; it’s troubling; it’s trouble. The music is imagined – not so much brought here as displaced; transfers of voice and noises, and there’s something else going on as well, in the background (or within): from all this sound comes music... no, no, no, stop.
Second attempt at a description: There’s a room stocked with weapons. A flock of birds bursts into the weapons room and a cloud of fog forms in one of the corners, nowhere else. A multitude of sounds emanate from the mutated music, going still further… STOP!
Third attempt at a description: two women immersed in music dive for pearls. The voice of free-diving Jessica Constable (Julie Tippetts was her Fairy Godmother) and the compressed air cylinders of Andrea Parkins’ undulating machinery pushing out and tensing back; she refers to it as ‘electro multi-instrumentalism’. Improvisation is to set off the machines, springs and motors, noises crush each other, noises are sown into other noises, tinkling or booming into breakneck dropouts (there are air traps of silence), sea urchins of sound, subtle wringing out of rhythms, ‘sonic bacteria’, "between the stoic and the confrontational", as Nels Cline says in the cover notes. The voice doesn’t struggle: faded coral. It integrates perfectly into the circuits, making its own circuits, passing between a microphone that picks up and another that filters. One a reflection, the other a thought with few words. A voice too full of voice to find satisfaction simply in singing or speaking. A voice that steals the cries never uttered. A voice ululating and bewitching the crowd. A voice to deafen sea monsters. How to become spectral? Asked Salvador Dali. And he replied:
"woman will become spectral by the disarticulation and the deformation of her anatomy. the body is the aspiration and the algid verification of feminine exhibitionism, which becomes furiously analytical, so that we can see each part in isolation, to delect them seperately, anatomies with claws, atmospheric and spectral like those of the spectral, clawed preying mantis."
- Alexandre Pierrepont, critic
Sembrerebbe che la musica al femminile si presenti gentile e delicata, ed invece no, il duo The Skein, composto dalla vocalista inglese Jessica Constable e dall´americana Andrea Parkins alla fisarmonica elettrica e strumentazioni elettroniche, fa subito pulizia con questo pregiudizio. La loro musica si orienta verso una ricerca estrema, che può sembrare quasi scostante, aggressiva, senza compromessi.
Eppure in situazioni dall´aspetto selvaggio, in cui tutte le strumentazioni sembrano impazzite, c´è un´aria di umano, che sia la voce o la fisarmonica improvvisamente ingetilitasi. In un brano come "Elegy" spunta persino l´ombra di un blues a sottolineare questo assunto delle due giovani artiste.
La loro musica tende a definirsi "diversa", greva com´è di spunti che provengono dalle sorgenti piú diverse dell´universo sonoro. C´è la dialettica degli opposti, movimento e stasi, astrazione e direzione, ma tutto, proprio tutto, è pervaso di una forte corrente verso l´ignoto, che procede a velocitá differenti, fra dubbi dalla natura umana e la testardaggine delle macchine programmate.
Su ritmi che vanno dall´ancestrale allo spaziale si assiste al divenire di un´opera passionale, su cui si ritorna volentieri, quando l´impatto troppo forte si è un pó assopito. Loro, le artiste, sono coinvolte al massimo in codesta sperimentazione e non mollano la presa, non lasciano apparire stanchezze d´ispirazione o incompatibilità fisiche; se l´una non si risparmia con le inondazioni di suoni dagli strumenti elettronici, l´altra ha voce in quantità per restare a galla. Sono quarantasei minuti compatti, un´esperienza ai limiti dell´universo musicale, che ha assimilato di tutto dal passato, dal genere concreto alle esperienze piú moderne, per proiettarlo in una dimensione che è soltanto loro, in uno spazio ai limiti della cognizione razionale.
- Vittorio LoConte, Musicboom.it
The Skein features Andrea Parkins on electric accordion, samples, synths, piano, voice & live processing and Jessica Constable on voice and electronics. This marvelous duo played a set at the old DMG store on 5th Street more than six years ago. I remember it well since it was one of those magical occasions that one doesn't forget and that my Aunt Terri and her daughter showed up unexpectedly and asked me if this was a normal Sunday at DMG? It sure was and still is as the Sunday early evening free music series continues. Hopefully we will continue when we move to Chinatown next month.
Of course, downtowners in-the-know are well aware of Andrea Parkins from her decade-plus work with Ellery Eskelin and Jim Black plus her other trio with Nels Cline (who wrote the liner notes here) and Tom Rainey. Both of these women can also be found on Ellery Eskelin's fine double disc called 'Quiet Music'. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from these two, but I was surprised by the wealth of evocative and expressive sounds that this fine duo pulls off. Jessica seems to be singing in some strange invented language (when she is not singing in English) while Andrea adds layers of kaleidoscopic electronic sounds that are forever in flux. Each piece creates a different mysterious sonic sound-scape, sort of like fractured fairy tales. I find this music to be quite hallucinogenic, like a positive acid trip with selective layers of sounds and voices floating through our collective heads. Sometimes someone will drop in a percussion sample or perhaps some spiraling seasoning, yet it all works to provide us with a fascinating journey through thoughtful inner space. Sometimes I feel a bit disoriented but then I remember that life itself is also unnerving at times.
- Bruce Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery
Un choc, assurément, que ce duo impossible à décompter tant il fourmille de créatures musicales. Disons pour situer les choses qu'on pense un peu à Wyatt et à Bjork, parce que ce sont des voix et des musiques fortes et que ce disque-ci garde quelque chose du format chanson sans la moindre concession, un peu comme si Brassens avait fait un disque avec Pierre Schaeffer et Leo Ferré. Les deux femmes nous emmènent dans des émotions que la musique improvisée donne rarement, plutôt associées à des formes plus simples, du rock à la chanson. Elles me comblent parce que leurs coqs à l'âne semblent des liaisons naturelles, elle découvrent sans se forcer de nouveaux passages, qui se referment derrière elles comme au passage des magiciennes.
This duet is a shock. More than a duet it is like an unnumerable ant hill of musical creatures. One might sometimes think of Wyatt or Björk because they are strong music with strong voices and because this music has something of the flavour of a song format without any concession, a little like George Brassens making music with Pierre Schaeffer and Leo Ferré. These two women take us into emotions rarely associated with improvised music, more with simpler forms, from rock to pop songs. They fill me with joy because the many ways they hop from one matter to another seem natural, they discover without effort new paths that close back after them as it always happens with enchantresses.
- Noël Tachet, ImprovJazz
As Nels Cline points out in his liners to this long-awaited (by me at least) debut album from The Skein, aka Andrea Parkins (electric accordion, laptop, keyboards and voice) and Jessica Constable (voice, electronics), "it is easy to think of these pieces as composed songs: they are at times quite melodic, exemplifying coherent extemporaneous form. And no matter how unpredictable the sonic content, implicit in all of these pieces is the presence of the human cry: the blues." Those of you who dream of a real experimental album by the likes of Beth Gibbons, Joanna Newsom or Björk (who's very good at recruiting musicians from leftfield to boost her avant garde street cred but never gets very far out herself), will find much to enjoy in Cities And Eyes. I'd willingly trade the last three Björk albums for Constable's "backroom / no introduction" at a moment's notice. Her raw, folk-inflected singing, with or without the effects boxes she routes it through, is arresting and haunting, but set against Parkins' colourful backdrop of mangled samples and dense treatments, it remains deliciously unpredictable; none of these eleven songs, only four of which get beyond the five-minute mark, goes where you'd expect it to. Bass riffs, chord progressions and even backbeats appear and disappear without warning, but despite the music's refusal to sit still, nothing sounds out of place or arbitrary. Cities And Eyes is a thrilling ride; get on board.
- Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic
Taking cues from shock, horror, and the macabre underground, the Skein creates sonic sculptures and thick multi-layered spontaneous compositions that only hint at tuneful constructs. A purely improvisational concept executed by multi-instrumentalist Andrea Parkins and vocalist Jessica Constable, this project concentrates on dense sound, quirky mood changes, themes based on raw emotions, and the kind of contemporary socio-physical attitude based in the frustration of various elements life continually dishes out. The electronic nature of this music also humanizes it, from the depths of soul on the keyboard, laptop, and accordion Parkins wields, to Constable's duality in using two microphones -- one processed and the other only amplified. This is a deep music, delving into the darkest form of the blues, and comparable to only one other but clearly referenced artist -- Diamanda Galas. While not nearly as demonic as Galas, there are frequent signposts that addresses those kinds of unspeakable and exiled sounds far removed from daily public experiences and consciousness. "Jingle Bitch" starts the album off with a flurry of percussion and electronic vocal sounds, Constable sounding as if she is speaking in tongues. Beat, no beat, male vocal, and operatic samples signify "Elegy" in various strung together segments. A churning motion with mechanical bass, perhaps processed by recording engineer Tony Maimone (ex-Pere Ubu) identifies the war-like sounds of "Orlando in Bayonne." Backwards loops and a more instrumental idea underscores the grim mood underneath the accordion of Parkins during "Harrow," with Constable in late. This music emphasizes angst, deep seeded feelings of remorse, and non-retaliated violence, whirring in cycles during "Lmnop," howling and funereal on the definitive dirge dream sequence "Nothing/Otherwise," and via small piano and sawing sounds for "Amble & Fell In." Stomped down lyrics based on the theme "he is" in a 5/4 accordion drone shape "Backroom/No Introduction." There's a hymnal quality within Constable's high voice on "Mini," and a snap theory used for "Zobeide" can at once and individually be serene or pained. "Ides for Two" closes the set with spoken words blended into crazy invention and a circus motif à la Kurt Weill. Cities and Eyes is music in the broadest sense, made for a specific, not generalized audience, evoking the stark nakedness of metropolitan rat race life. At once industrial, futuristic, and multi-cultural, it represents musique concrète performance art taken to the extreme.
- Michael G. Nastos, All Music Guide