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Meredith Monk

Songs of Ascension

€ 19.95
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  • Type CD
  • Label ECM
  • UPC 0028947643074
  • Catalog number ECM 4764307
  • Release date 28 June 11

About the album

“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.

As Kyle Gann writes in the liner notes: “Meredith Monk’s been expanding into the worlds of orchestra and string quartet, which she likes to write for as though the instruments were, themselves, voices. ‘Songs of Ascension’ developed partly from her work with strings, and she teams up here with a string quartet of New York players who are well versed in new music. Add in winds, percussion and two vocal groups to her already extraordinary singers, and this becomes one of Monk’s most musically ambitious ventures. It is also one in which voices and instruments are paired and balanced against each other to an extent rare in her music.” Western and eastern instruments have a role to play, with Asian drone instrument the shruti box appearing in juxtaposition with string quartet at key points in the work’s development.  

Inspiration for the piece included an encounter with poet and Zen Buddhist priest Norman Fischer, who mentioned to Monk that Paul Celan had written about the “Song of Ascents”, a title given to fifteen of the Psalms sung on pilgrimages going up to Jerusalem. "This idea of worship, walking up something and singing, even using instruments fascinated me.” Monk told the New Scotsman newspaper. “I thought, 'why is up sacred and down not sacred?'”

As Monk was pondering this theme and its musical and sonic implications she received a serendipitous call from visual artist Ann Hamilton (early Monk/Hamlton collaboration had included the “mercy” project, see ECM 1829), inviting her to perform in an eight-story tower designed for a site in Sonoma County, California: “The tower was created in the form of a double helix, two staircases each spiraling up the interior of the structure opposite each other, only intersecting at the top. Not only did the performance space ascend, but the double helix suggested the shape of DNA, the blueprint of life itself. The staircases placed limits on the type of instrumentation – there could be no keyboards or mallet percussion, only instruments that could be carried up the stairs – and thus ‘Songs of Ascension’ had a rather site-specific origin.”

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