Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Zeena Parkins

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Zeena Parkins plays the harp, and she's no angel. Using a unique electric instrument--which she designed and built with new-music cellist Tom Cora, incorporating elements of classical and folk harps as well as electronic-effects pedals and a vibrato bar more commonly seen in the company of guitarists--Parkins conjures a menagerie of unexpected sounds. Few people expect to hear anything more from a harpist than the shimmering textures of ethereal classical music or the etiolated pulse of Andreas Vollenweider--certainly not the timbres of a Delta blues guitarist, the crash of a machine-rock band, the clipped staccato bursts of a Japanese koto, or the mad scrabblings found in the rawest music by, say, Cora, or John Zorn, or Elliot Sharp (all of whom have employed Parkins, helping make her resume a dizzzying social register of new music). Beyond the novelty lie two considerable virtues. First, Parkins maintains a great affinity for the harp itself, beneath and divorced from hybrid technology; second, she would sit comfortably in the front ranks of modem improvisers no matter what instrument she played. Her stuff has bite. Vollenweider be damned. Accompanying her in Chicago is turntable artist and composer David Shea, who will also "play"--perform? scratch?--in a solo context. Tonight, 8:30, Club Lower Links, 954 W. Newport; 248-5238.

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