Zeena Parkins is a New York-based (Detroit-born) harpist who has introduced the
instrument in the context of improvised music.
Her first major experience was in prog-rock outfits
Skeleton Crew and
News from Babel.
She designed her own electric version of the harp (with help from
and continued to enhance it throughout her career.
Something Out There (No Man's Land, 1987) collects solos, duos and trios
with drummer Ikue Mori, cellist
percussionist Samm Bennett, etc.
There are pieces that focus on creating rhythm by
dissonant harp and drums, like the powerful Firebrat and Cornered,
there are pointillistic vignettes like Without Words and
and there are
mere displays of atonal bravura like Left-Handed Walk and
Appointment In Samarkind.
Marclay dominates the collage art of Mother Tongue and Southern Exposure, which end up stealing the show.
Good As Gold's OWT (Homestead, 1989) is duos with percussionist David Linton.
No Safety was another prog-rock combo, featuring Parkins, guitarist Chris Cochrane, bassist Ann Rupel, guitarist Doug Seidel, drummer Pippin Barnett, and
This Lost Leg (RecRec, 1989) was their first album.
David Shea on turntables and samples joined them on their second album,
Spill (Knitting Factory Works, 1992).
Ursa's Door (Victo, 1992) contains two lengthy Parkins compositions, the 31-minute Ursa's Door and the 15-minute piano solo Flush.
The former is performed by Parkins on harp and other instruments, Sara Parkins on violin, Margaret Parkins on cello, Ikue Mori on drums, Chris Cochrane on guitar. The three Parkins sisters make up an intriguing chamber trio on the title-track, while Mori's computer-generated "concrete" sounds haunt Parkins' alien harp-based soundscapes.
Nightmare Alley (Table Of The Elements, 1993) is a collection of solos,
fifteen shorter pieces for electric and acoustic harps.
Psycho-Acoustic (Victo, 1994) was her first duo with Elliott Sharp.
Confirming her shift towards chamber music,
Isabelle (september 1993 - Avant, 1995) is mostly devoted to
the namesake ten-movement suite (a companion piece
to Blue Mirror) scored for Zeena Parkins on
sampler and harp, Lisa Crowder on piano, Margaret Parkins on cello, and
Sara Parkins on violin.
What stands out is the art of contrasts. For example, how
the buzzing strings and the Middle-eastern samples of The Magician evolve into something completely different to evoke a sense of mystery;
or how the massive vocal sample of
Si Mahmoud Essadi - The Convert evolves into a
or how the martial piano and drums of Monastery Of Kenadsa turn into a vortex of strings;
or how the simple exotic setting of Ain Sefra - In Captivity And Flood
mutates into a strident poem of alienation.
The "suite" ends with a surreal solo for glissandoes,
The Breath Of Night.
the same album also includes Hup (1992), five duets with Ikue Mori on
percussion that compose an impressive electroacoustic suite.
Parkins has mastered the use of the sampler as an electronic instrument,
as displayed in the dissonant stream of consciousness of
Look Out For Gail Garrity - Girl Wonder, wrapped in
tinkling metallic percussion. Even more subtle is
The Uncanny Feeling Of Being Watched,
that revolves around somebody's heavy
breathing and sporadic background noises the way vintage musique concrete
would revolved around a creaking door or footsteps.
"My God Have I Flung Myself Into An Endless Void"
toys with galactic signals, a sinister laughter and tribal tom-toms.
And Ju-Jitsu Jimmy - Impulse Beam Rising delves into videogame-like
Chipfarm (God Mountain, 1995) was a collaboration among Optical-8 (a Japanese quartet led by Hoppy Kamiyama on electronics and samples, and Otomo Yoshihide on guitar and turntables), Japanese rockers Melt Banana and Elliot Sharp.
Psycho-Acoustic's Blackburst (Victo, 1996) was a duo with Elliott Sharp, yielding the 24-minute workout Peregrine and five shorter pieces of mostly electronic and digital music.
Parkins' next release under her own name, Mouth=Maul=Betrayer (Tzadik, 1996), contained the nine-movement suite Maul (1995) and the six-movement suite Blue Mirror (1996), performed by Sara Parkins on violin, Maggie Parkins on cello, Jim Pugliese on drums and vibes, Mark Stewart on cello, guitar and mandolin, Carsten Dane on vocals, Andy Haas on didjeridu, etc. The score is mostly driven by a spoken-word narrative.
The Gift of Tongues (Knitting Factory Works, 1996) contains two live improvisations with guitarist Lee Renaldo and drummer William Hooker: Colour and the 53-minute Stamina.
Sharks (ReR, 1996) contains two live improvisations with Chris Cutler, QeH and Link.
No Way Back (Atavistic, 1998) was, instead, a real "solo" album,
but, despite the ambitious sound organization of the
three longer compositions,
Vita Futuristica (9:01),
This Velvet Annihilation (9:16) and
Venus Smiles (11:20), it is mostly the soundtrack to a multimedia
event that relied, once again, on a story.
The Opium War (Einstein, 1999)
documents a radio play (with Mori, Sharp, Tenko, Chris Cochrane and others).
Parkins' soundsculpting skills are more evident on
Pan-Acousticon (Tzadik, 1999), three suites (Akouein, Cavere, Ether)
for found sounds, strings and percussion
(sister Sara on violin, sister Margaret on cello,
Jim Pugliese on percussion and vibes,
Mark Stewart on guitar and cello).
Phantom Orchard (Mego, 2004), a collaboration between
Ikue Mori (electronics)
and Zeena Parkins (harp, keyboards), yielded
impressionistic pieces that evoke
a more abstract Before And After Science
Again, what shines is, first and foremost, Parkins' art of metamorphosis: how
the organ crescendo and liquid electronic sounds of
Ghostlake are swallowed in a female choir and in galactic drones.
Elsewhere, the duo indulges in unorthodox duets, like
for harp and warped radio signals, and
Transparent Things harp and samples.
Where Mori prevails, like in Savage Flower
and Miura chaos and sensory overload reign supreme, opting for
painting vast soundscapes rather than embedding a logic into them.
The explosive Contraband is heavy metal for the digital generation.
The "noise" is crystal-like, like a purified diamond, like the ultimate
Necklace (Tzadik, 2006) collected four new compositions, including
the 17-minute Persuasion for string quartet and electronic processing
and the three-movement Visible/Invisible for string quartet, that rank
among her most explorations of the sonic space, from sharp drones to percussive dissonance.
Devotion is a soundtrack for a film.
Phantom Orchard, the collaboration between Ikue Mori and Zeena Parkins
all-female quintet of Maja Solveig Kjelstrup
Ratkje (voice and electronics), Hild Sofie Tafjord (French horn) and
electronics), Sara Parkins (violin), Maggie Parkins (cello) and Shayna
Dunkelman (percussion) for
Trouble In Paradise (november 2008).
The Adorables (Cryptogramophone, 2013)
was a project with Shayna Dunkelman
(percussion), Jordon Glenn (drums and vibes) and Preshish Moments
Zeena Parkins' and Ikue Mori's Phantom Orchard returned with Through The Looking-Glass (october 2013), featuring Sara Parkins (violin), Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje (vocals and electronics), Maggie Parkins (cello) and Sylvie Courvoisier (piano).
Fugitive Beaute (Ignoring Gravity, 2015) documents a collaboration
among Zeena Parkins (harp), Nate Wooley (trumpet),
Vera Westera (vocals) and Bojan Vuletic (vocals and odd instruments), based on
verses from Baudelaire's "Les Fleurs du Mal".
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