For over five decades, this trailblazing polymath artist has pushed the envelope of vocal music. Her highly unique approach to the voice has inspired musicians by the likes of Björk and Joanna Newsom, and earned her numerous prestigious awards. What makes the impassioned work of Meredith Monk so riveting?
When it comes to performances by Meredith Monk, you should leave your expectations at the door, as one of the defining traits of Monk’s composing and performing is that they defy conventional ideas about what music should be or sound like. Monk employs a deeply intuitive approach to her compositions that occasionally make use of improvisational techniques, resulting in playful, exciting, enigmatic, forward-thinking and surprising experiences for an audience. Her singing can harmonize to an ecstatic, near-transcendental effect, but can also disrupt the harmonic bliss with jarring bouts of crooning, growling, yodelling or cawing. These extended vocal techniques invite you into an unique sonic world, where musical possibilities are seemingly limitless. It’s this highly distinctive utilization of the human voice that garnered Monk her reputation as “the magician of the voice.” Her groundbreaking compositional work and performances have also been awarded numerous times, including a MacArthur Fellowship and a National Medal of Arts, the highest honor in the United States specifically given for achievement in the arts.
This is the result of more than fifty years of fastidiously refining her artistic practice. Which doesn’t mean that Monk is repeating herself. Rather, the artist is in the constant process of reinvention, approaching all her creative work with what in Zen Buddhism is called “Beginner’s Mind” — the intention to drop expectations and preconceived notions and see things with an open mind and fresh eyes. This philosophy has guided Monk in the shaping of her distinctive oeuvre within contemporary music.
As part of a special focus programme on Meredith Monk, Rewire presents two of her critically-acclaimed concerts. MEMORY GAME pairs Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble with the esteemed six-member chamber ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars. This collaboration between the two ensembles reworks past pieces by Monk and provides the perfect opportunity to dive into the rich body of work she has created in past decades. MEMORY GAME arranges nine reorchestrated pieces from Monk's varied theatrical productions, most prominently The Games: a science fiction opera. As the title implies, it’s not only a fitting retrospective of Monk’s lasting artistic triumphs, but also a compelling reminder of how Monk’s music can play with our expectations in poignant and compelling ways.
Meredith Monk and the women of her Vocal Ensemble will also perform a concert version of Cellular Songs, a moving piece that looks at the biological cell as a metaphor for human society. Cellular Songs features some of Monk’s most adventurous and daring music for the voice to date, paired with violin, piano and keyboard. Over the course of the evening, shimmering, multi-dimensional musical forms evoke such biological processes as layering, replication, division, and mutation. Cellular Songs is the second part of a trilogy of music-theater works exploring our interdependent relationship with nature, following the highly acclaimed On Behalf of Nature (2013) and the recently premiered Indra’s Net (2021).
An artist talk with Monk and additional programme contributions will be announced at a later date.