“Songs of Ascension” is a major new work from Meredith Monk. Written in 2008, and recorded in 2009 at New York’s Academy of Art and Letters, it is conceived as a continuous composition, a departure from Monk’s recent collaged or episodic works.
This album by Meredith Monk and Robert Een is one of their finest conceptions. The miminal use of pitch pipe (and on tracks of the second piece, piano and organ) coupled with their inventive vocalizations captures the cold and barren arctic, its icepack itself a minimal environment, and the sounds of breaking ice and the play of wind. Indeed, the spirit is not far from the joiks and atmospheric music of the Sami people of arctic Scandinavia. "Facing North" is in essence a clever tone poem that grew out of Monk's preparation of her opera Atlas. It includes humor in the fun tracks of "Keeping Warm" (the stomping in place to keep warm and Inuit-styled breath games) and "Arctic Bar" (images of a rustic wooden shack of whisky and boisterous patrons), whose rhythm and vocalise was adapted into a recent TV advertisement. The second composition, Vessel has undergone major reductions from its initial large scale, ad hoc experimental performances. Inspired by the saga of Joan d'Arc, the pastiche maintains its epic storytelling. The last section, "Boat Song" is taken from Recent Ruins and has the theme of archeology and origins of human behavior. We can feel the slow pulls of the oar. Monk is a conjurer, whose simple tunes and wild vocalise take us to familiar places of land and of the heart.
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