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Experimental Jet Set

Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon teams up with Phantom Orchard for 'The Song Project'

By Andrea Frainier

THIS Friday, an electric harp, a musical laptop and an indie music icon share the stage as five experimental artists descend on Saratoga for the unveiling of "Kim Gordon Meets Phantom Orchard."

The concert, titled "The Song Project," is a musical collaboration between Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Phantom Orchard's Zeena Parkins and Ikue Mori. They will be joined by bassist Trevor Dunn and Japanese drummer Yoshimi.

As a versatile musician and influential visual artist, Gordon is known for her experimental tendencies. So it was no surprise that when I pressed Gordon for details on the concert, she admitted the collaborators were just beginning to discuss the program's theme and wouldn't meet to develop the piece until a week before the project's debut.

"We'll have four days to play together," Gordon said in a phone interview. "We'll have that time to develop some song ideas we can improvise around so it will have some cohesion."

The inspiration behind "The Song Project" draws heavily on the improvisational musical styles of all the musicians connected to the project.

"I think there is a certain mind-set when you're doing improv," Gordon said. "There's more of a performative aspect to everything you're doing. There's commitment to an improvisational set."

According to Phantom Orchard's Ikue Mori, "The Song Project" is a means for the musicians to recreate the No Wave art scene that took place during the late '70s in New York City. No Wave combined music, film, theater and contemporary art to create performance art. The movement was about improvisation, noise, soundscape and having fun.

Mori hopes "The Song Project" channels this movement, and creates an experience that the audience has never felt before.

To Phantom Orchard's other half, Zeena Parkins, "The Song Project" is an exciting way to connect the instrumentals of Phantom Orchard to the rhythms of Trevor Dunn and Yoshimi and the lyrics of Kim Gordon.

"This is a pretty monumental occasion meeting on the stage," Parkins said. "This is a very unusual scene. It's the first time this group is getting together to play."

Mori and Parkins joined forces fives years ago to create Phantom Orchard, a band known for its unique musical style, combining unusual instruments and objects to create music.

Parkins' specialty is the electric harp, which she describes as a cross between an acoustic harp and electric guitar. "I could never really hear the [acoustic] instrument," Parkins said. "It became clear that I really needed an instrument that was electric."

Mori's forte is the laptop, an instrument she describes as being like a synthesizer, which allows her to create her own sound through different programs specially created for each project. "When I play, it looks like I'm just typing," Mori said. "The sound is triggered by the keys."

For "The Song Project," Parkins recruited bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Yoshimi to round out the group. "Since it's going to be a group making songs, I wanted a strong rhythm section," Parkins said. "Yoshimi and Trevor Dunn are my dream rhythm section."

Known for his mastery of the electric bass and double bass, Trevor Dunn began playing bass in high school, where he formed the heavy metal band Mr. Bungle. He then came to San Francisco to play jazz and experiment with different styles of bass play.

Japanese drummer Yoshimi is a member of the Japanese rock bands Boredoms and OOIOO. She also appeared on the Flaming Lips' album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. She has also collaborated with Kim Gordon in the past when they formed the indie group Free Kitten.

For "The Song Project," Gordon will sing and play the guitar.

"I don't want people to come and think it's a band playing pop sounds," Gordon said. "I think it would be more abstract. If that was the program why would they pick musicians like us?"

KIM GORDON MEETS PHANTOM ORCHARD on Friday (Sept. 26) at 8pm at Montalvo's Carriage House Theatre, 15400 Montalvo Road, Saratoga. Tickets are $20–$55. (408.961.5858)

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