Multi-instrumentalist, composer, and improviser Zeena Parkins was not initially inspired by lace, finding it “too ornate, too bourgeois, not [her] thing.” Despite this, she would collect bits of lace, among other textile treasures, from fabric stores on her travels. In 2008, on a time crunch to complete a commission for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Parkins selected five lace fragments and glued them to a poster board to create a score, accompanied by a set of conditions. Since then, her pieces have evolved into multi-movement works with intuitively built soundworlds developed from the intricacies of the lace.
Steve Dalachinsky's poem “Lace – the music of Zeena Parkins,” composed from a live performance of the piece, reads: “. . . lines falling where they may / as she entangles the threads the brass creates / moments are defined by each movement / & not the other way around.” Each of Lace I’s five movements has the musicians—TILT Brass Sextet, cellist Maggie Parkins, and James Fei on analogue electronics—approaching the shape of the lace from a different perspective, using the complexities of the patterns to guide musical decision-making. “Grabbing sounds that you hear to inflect or modify your pattern” is one of the subtle, evocative conditions for the first movement, i. Circle within a circle, and the resulting music is dense and unsettled. The score of Lace II, exquisitely performed by percussionist William Winant with a vibrant curation of prepared vibraphone, metals, and drums, consists of action cards with pieces of lace with titles like Resonance/Interference and Falling [Apart] (where the piece of lace is undone and frayed at its end).
Parkins imagines a “conspiracy” with the (usually woman) lacemaker, to pay tribute to the power and concentration of the labour. It conjures Canadian composer Ann Southam’s line about her minimalist compositions being inspired by so-called women’s work: the traditionally repetitive and monotonous work that nevertheless sustains life.