Notes and Editorial Reviews
Meredith Monk (voc, pn); Theo Bleckmann (voc); Ellen Fisher (voc); Katie Geissinger (voc); Ching Gonzalez (voc); Sasha Boganowitsch (voc); Silvie Jensen (voc); Allison Sniffin (pn, vn, voc); John Hollenbeck (perc); Bohdan Hilash (woodwinds)
ECM 10815 (65:14)
I think the easiest route would be to declare Meredith Monk (b. 1942) a National Living Treasure, and be done with the likes of me passing any judgment. I know it sounds flippant, but it’s not so intended. Monk is by now beyond being
evaluated. Her art is completely formed, one of the most substantial, questing bodies of work around, no matter what the discipline. Trained as a dancer, she has become a musician and performer of the first rank, and developed a composer’s voice that’s utterly her own.
Every few years Monk produces a new large-scale multimedia work using her company, exploring a given theme in a series of poetic and mysterious images and sketches.
(2006) deals with the passing of things, and in particular with the death of her longtime partner, Mieke van Hoek. From the first notes of the opening track, the deceptively simple “last song,” (sung by a still-young-sounding Monk), we are in territory familiar to those already acquainted with her work. Simple chords, unique vocal technique, an obsessive paring down of text—Monk writes music that sounds like a special folk music we
know but can’t quite place. Monk writes that this music has more chromaticism than in her previous works, and that’s true. The harmonies are more shifting, and there are vocal and instrumental lines that move into different realms from the rest of the group. At the same time, the music sounds neither wildly experimental nor overly dissonant. Rather, it’s consistently, quietly intense.
The longer piece, “liminal,” explores these farther reaches most fully; “slow dissolve” is particularly poignant in its orchestration of voices, violin, bass clarinet, and glockenspiel; “disequilibrium” accompanies a glissandoing vocal sextet with a bicycle wheel’s cycles of percussive thwaps. It’s inventive, imaginative, and haunting.
Monk has rearranged the original sequence of music to make the album more satisfying as a purely aural experience. I think that succeeds, but I do wish that ECM would get into the DVD business, as this is precisely the sort of work that benefits from the visual/theatrical aspect, which is always part of Monk’s vision from the outset. (I can testify from experience that seeing the movements of the performers brings a completely new level of meaning—and humor!—to her pieces.)
Performances are definitive. There are no texts provided, but the enunciation is exact, and besides much of the text is either “non-linear” or uses Monk’s idiosyncratic vocalise. As another building block in the grand edifice of a life’s work, this is an essential release.
FANFARE: Robert Carl
Works on This Recording
Impermanence by Meredith Monk
Sasha Boganowitsch (Voice),
Katie Geissinger (Mezzo Soprano),
Ching Gonzales (Voice),
Meredith Monk (Voice/Piano),
Theo Bleckmann (Voice),
Allison Sniffin (Piano/Violin/Voice),
Ellen Fisher (Voice),
John Hollenbeck (Percussion),
Bohdan Hilash (Woodwinds),
Silvie Jensen (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century
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