Zeena Parkins
(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Something Out There (No Man's Land, 1987), 6/10
Good As Gold's OWT (Homestead, 1989), 5.5/10
No Safety: This Lost Leg (RecRec, 1989), 5.5/10
No Safety: Spill (Knitting Factory Works, 1992), 5.5/10
Ursa's Door (Victo, 1992), 6.5/10
Nightmare Alley (Table Of The Elements, 1993), 5.5/10
Psycho-Acoustic (Victo, 1994), 6/10
Isabelle (Avant, 1995), 6.5/10
Psycho-Acoustic: Blackburst (Victo, 1996), 6/10
Mouth=Maul=Betrayer (Tzadik, 1996), 4.5/10
The Gift of Tongues (Knitting Factory Works, 1996), 5/10
Sharks (ReR, 1996), 5/10
No Way Back (Atavistic, 1998), 5/10
The Opium War (Einstein, 1999), 5/10
Pan-Acousticon (Tzadik, 1999), 7/10
Phantom Orchard (Mego, 2004), 7/10
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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 Tom Cora), 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 Tom Cora, turntablist Christian Marclay, 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 Sidereal Messenger, 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. Outside 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 neoclassical fantasia; 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.
However, 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 cacophoni.

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 (Brian Eno). 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 Jezebel 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 quintessence.

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 added an 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 (electronics).

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".

Three Harps, Tuning Forks & Electronics (recorded between 2013 and 2015) featured three harpists and Ikue Mori on electronics.

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(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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