Nails, erasers, hair clips, and felt are things Zeena Parkins always has with her when she goes on stage with her harp because she sees her instrument as a “sound machine of limitless capacity”. Innovative preparations and unusual playing techniques are the trademarks of the American harpist, who plays both electric and acoustic instruments. Parkins seeks to overcome musical borders without doing away with them entirely, making both the melting together and emphasis of these opposites equally audible in her work. Born in Detroit in 1956, Parkins, who also has a degree in classical piano, likes to explore tension-filled realms: between improv and composition, electronic and acoustic, digital and analog.    


Parkins also looks for her artistic partners in various genres. She has written film music and worked for theatre and dance productions. In the 1990s, Parkins founded her Gangster Band, a septet with strings, percussion, and electronics. Long active in the New York Downtown Scene, she has played with such artists as John Zorn, Jim O‘Rourke, Nels Cline, Nate Wooley, or Kaffe Matthews, but has also performed in projects by Björk or Yoko Ono. Zeena Parkins has collaborated for many years with Elliott Sharp, performing repeatedly in his Orchestra Carbon, and Fred Frith, who brought her into his legendary trio Skeleton Crew with Tom Cora in the 1980s and later recruited her into his current band Cosa Brava


Last but not least, there is the electronic musician Ikue Mori, with whom Parkins formed the duo Phantom Orchard, which was later expanded into a Phantom Orchard Orchestra. The wondrous sounds of this eerie garden, the opulent diversity that Parkins and Mori planted for the first time in 2004, like a lush, poison-green oasis in the middle of a then mostly grey electronic desert, completely blindsided everyone who had until then associated computer music with sober abstraction.

Zeena Parkins