Notes and Editorial Reviews
Songs of Ascension
Meredith Monk & Vocal Ens; Todd Reynolds Qt; The M6; Montclair St U Sgrs
ECM B001556902 (67: 37)
This is a remarkable disc. The title comes from
Songs of Ascents
, 15 psalms apparently sung while people ascended on their pilgrimages. Meredith Monk wrote this music specifically for a site in Sonoma County, California, where two staircases intertwine in the manner of a double helix,
wispiest of beginnings, this disc seems to shape itself into being (“Clusters”). Sounds merge and meld into one another, so that the instrumental emergings move straight into a vocal movement that for all the world sounds like a retake of Stockhausen’s
“Strand (Gathering).” Yet the fourth section, “Cloud Code,” has a voice all of its own. Wordless vocal ejaculations (references to hocketing) are underpinned by strings and shruti boxes (similar in effect to the sound of a harmonium). The effect is simultaneously disorienting and fascinating.
The arrival of Glass-like minimalism for the brief instrumental “Shift” is both jarring and absolutely right; Monk tones down its brightness for “Summer Variation” (the seventh piece) then brings it back in your face in the 11th movement, “Burn.” Yet against all this, how eloquent is the solo voice of the wordless “Vow,” whose effect curiously reminds me of the music of Hildegard of Bingen (Katie Geissinger is the stunningly pure soloist here). Monk seems fascinated by sound itself (perhaps in the way Cage and Stockhausen were). There is nothing naive in the slithering glissando imitations of voices and strings in “Falling,” something that in a lesser voice could so easily degenerate into cliché. The 20th movement, “Fathom,” for solo voice (Monk herself) and shruti box, is (presumably invented) folk music. Fittingly, the work ends with a movement titled “Ascent,” the most texturally complex of the music heard this far. The effect is awesome.
As a collage of short movements,
Songs of Ascension
acts like a kind of sonic kaleidoscope. The whole is far more than the sum of its parts, however. There is the hand of genius at work here, one feels, without being exactly able to say why, something which in itself encapsulates the elusive nature of Monk’s mode of utterance. In referring to DNA in the double helix, it is as if Monk is saying, “Here is all life.” This disc is a remarkable achievement. The experience of listening is one to cherish and savor. Engineering standards are faultless, as is presentation. Balances are always carefully considered, even when they are surprising (the close-miked solo string quartet against choir in “Ledge Dance,” the 14th movement, for example).
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
Works on This Recording
Clusters 1, for string quartet by Meredith Monk
Todd Reynolds (Violin),
Ha-Yang Kim (Cello),
Meredith [Classical Composer] Monk (),
Meredith [Classical Composer] Monk (Voice),
Courtney Orlando (Violin)
Heather J. Buchanan
Length: 3 Minutes 17 Secs.
Be the first to review this title