Meredith Monk: Songs of Ascension (ECM New Series)

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Meredith Monk: Respite
Meredith Monk: Songs of Ascension (ECM New Series)

Meredith Monk's ethereal vocal music often seems to exist between the chapel and the arthouse, at home being bookended by a choral group and Laurie Anderson.

Over the decades her work has extended from its minimalist origins into instrumental works, theatrical productions, opera (Atlas) and film (Book of Days), and yet its spare, skeletal structure is commanding by virtue of its understatemnt and rare placement of voices with instruments.

This work -- which is a complete piece in conception -- was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet as far back as 2006 and was given its premiere in 2008. It draws inspiration from many types of spiritual and philosophical reflection (Zen, Biblical stories, the Koran) although these are hardly overt . . . and whopping vocals with percussion might seem to have their origin in sounds of the natural world.

For this recording she uses vocal groups and various string ensembles so the music seems to rise and fall with subtle, almost oceanic surges.

In one sense Monk's work is not easy as it creates its own codes and structures, and yet it is also thoroughly seductive if listeners allow themselves to be immersed in the purity of the sound and the astral planes that it sometimes works on.

She presented this as a theatre piece with poised choreography, but this album exists as a work in its own right.

If Meredith Monk is not a familiar name be prepared to be enticed into an almost holy world of mist and clouds.

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Peter Sciscioli - Small correction - Aug 31, 2011

Thanks for the review- just a small correction that the work was not originally commissioned by Kronos Quartet, though Ms. Monk's first string quartet, "Stringsongs" (2004) was.

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