New York based electro-acoustic composer / improviser Zeena Parkins is a pioneer of contemporary harp practices. Using expanded techniques, object preparations, and electronic processing she has re-defined the instrument’s capacities. Concurrently, Parkins self-designed a series of one-of-a kind electric instruments. She leans into the harp’s physical limitations pushing its boundaries and impossibilities. In her compositions, Parkins utilizes collections, recombination, historic proximities, geography, tactility, spatial configurations and movement. Sonic presence and personality is revealed in explorations of subtle frequency shifts, feedback, over and under tones, melodic fragments, timbral and gestural intervals, perception, and residues.
Awards include: John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for Composition, Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, DAAD Artist Residency and Fellowship, Shifting Foundation Fellowship, Foundation for Contemporary Arts “Grants to Artists” Award, Multi-Arts Production Fund, NYFA Fellowship for Composers, Meet the Composer, Atlantic Center for the Arts Master Artist-in-Residence, Herb Alpert/Ucross Prize, The Shifting Award, and three Bessies for her groundbreaking work with dance. Parkins has also been supported by American Music Center, Peter S. Reed Fellowship, and a multiple year recipient of the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust/Live Music for Dance Award.
Parkins and Ikue Mori received the Prix Ars Electronica honorary mention for their project Phantom Orchard and Parkins, Kaffe Matthews, and Mandy MacIntosh received a BAFTA for best interactive media for their collaborative project, Weightless Animals. Parkins has also been awarded residencies from Civitella Ranieri in Umbria, Italy, the Ruskin School at Oxford University in Cambridge, Wooda Arts Residency in England, Paf (France), STEIM (Amsterdam), RPI/IEAR (Troy), Harvestworks, the Watermill Center, and the Centre for Dance and Choreography in Montpellier.
Parkins’ compositions have been commissioned by the Whitney Museum, the Tate Modern, Sharjah Art Foundation in UAE, NeXtWorks Ensemble, Either/Or Ensemble/Ensemble Son, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Sudwestrundfunk2, Montalvo Art Center, and Bang on a Can. Parkins long-standing collaborations with choreographers has produced scores for Merce Cunningham Company, Jennifer Monson/ILand, Neil Greenberg Dance, John Jasperse/Thin Man Dance, Dd Dorvillier/Human Future Dance Corp, Jennifer Lacey/Mega Gloss, Heather Kravas, Body Cartography Project, among others. She has provided film scores for Daria Martin, Cynthia Madansky, Abigail Child, Mandy MacIntosh, and Isabelle Rosellini.
Over a 30-year career Parkins has worked with an unlikely range of collaborators. She has recorded and toured with Björk. A series of concerts with Yoko Ono led to the live album Blueprint for a Sunrise. Early collaborations with John Zorn include performances of his game piece Darts at the MOMA Sculpture Garden and touring the groundbreaking work Cobra as well as performing in its first studio recording for Swiss label, Hat Art. Parkins was selected by Pauline Oliveros to play bass accordion for a performance of the composer’s concerto for multiple accordions with the Brooklyn Philharmonic and premiered a piece written for her by Yasunao Tone, The Origin of Geometry: an Introduction, at Phil Niblock’s loft Experimental Intermedia. In the 2010 Whitney Museum exhibition, Christian Marclay: Festival, Parkins directed and performed a week-long program of concerts that activated his graphic scores. For over ten years Parkins toured and recorded with composer/conductor/composer, Butch Morris in his seminal conductions. Long-time collaborator, Fred Frith, invited her into Skeleton Crew when the band expanded from a duo with Tom Cora into a trio. She performed in many of Frith’s projects and they frequently shared the stage as improvisers. Important relationships also include Phantom Orchard with Ikue Mori, and projects with Nels Cline, William Winant and Elliott Sharp.
Parkins has also collaborated with: Sara Serpa, Brian Chase, Alex Cline, Laetitia Sonoma, Joan La Barbara, Nate Wooley, Yuka C. Honda, Dawn Kasper, Maja Ratkje, Hild Sofie Tafjord, Tony Buck, Magda Mayas, Laurent Bruttin, Kim Gordon, Bobby Previte, Mette Rassmussen, Wobbly, James Fei, Steve Beresford, Chris Brown, Mike Barr, Tarek Atoui, Cyro Baptista, Matmos, Chris Corsano, Dame Evelyn Glennie, Anthony Braxton, Thurston Moore, Lee Renaldo, Myra Melford, Miya Masaoka, George Lewis, Ingrid Laubrock, Tom Rainey, Chris Cutler, David Behrman, Jeff Kolar, Donald Buchla, Bob Moog, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Eclipse Quartet, JACK Quartet, So Percussion, Tin Hat, and Tilt Brass Ensemble and Ryan Sawyer and Ryan Ross Smith.
There are six solo harp records on various labels, including Table of the Elements, Atavistic Records and Good Child Music. Her compositions and band projects are released by Avant, Tzadik, Editions Mego, Homestead, Victo, One Little Indian, and RecRec. Rqecent records include, Captiva, a solo harp project on Good Child Music and MZM with Miya Masaoka and Myra Melford on Infrequent Seams. Case Study Records, Parkins’ own imprint issued Green Dome Thinking in Stitches, with Ryan Sawyer and Ryan Ross Smith, the second project on the label.
Performances at various locations include: The Whitney Museum, The Kitchen, MoMA, PS 1-MoMA, Issue Project Room, Radio City Music Hall, Merkin Hall, Zankel Hall, Performa, The Stone, Roulette, Symphony Space, David Lewis Gallery, The Clocktower Gallery, The Serpentine Gallery (London), Café Oto (London), Dorothy Chandler Hall (LA), Hollywood Bowl (LA), Red Cat (LA), The Walker Arts Center (Minneapolis), Yeurba Beuna (SF), SFMOMA (SF), Berkeley Arts Museum (Berkeley), Centre Pompidou (Paris), Serralves Museum Foundation (Porto), Seibu Department Store (Tokyo) Fuji Rock Festival, Berlin Festspiele Haus, (Berlin) and so on.
In a curatorial role, Parkins has created programs for the Music Unlimited Festival in Wels, Austria, numerous residencies at The Stone in New York City and in collaboration with choreographer Jennifer Monson, Sidewinder for Movement Research at St. Marks Church.
Parkins served as professor in the Sound Arts Department at SMFA in Boston for two years and has taught in the undergraduate program at Bard College. She has been invited to give talks at the Ruskin School/Oxford, Princeton University, Pomona College, Columbia University and has lead improvisation workshops in several festivals including Counterpulse in Glasgow, Météo in Mulhouse, and will be improvisor in residence at the Klangspuren Festiva/Austrial in 2019. Currently, Parkins holds the Darius Milhaud Chair in Composition at Mills College. She been a professor in the Music Department at Mills College in Oakland, California since 2011.