330

Meredith Monk: Mercy

Budd Kopman By

Sign in to view read count
Meredith Monk: Mercy Interdisciplinary artist Meredith Monk recorded mercy shortly before her sixtieth birthday in the year 2002, making it the eighth in a series of releases on the ECM New Series reaching back to Dolmen Music of 1981.

The original production was a multi-media stage work done with installation artist Ann Hamilton, while the recording involved much reworking of individual sections and parts including the addition of clarinet parts played by Bohdan Hilash. The result is a highly unified album held together by both mood and musical motive.

The atmosphere created is meditative with more or less vague religious undertones, except for isolated sections of some of the early movements while "shaking" and "urban march (light)," both in the last third of mercy, have more bounce and hence stand out.

Running through the work, starting with the title, is the concept of "mercy." Inherent to this concept is the releasing of someone from full retribution for evil actions, usually because the evil—for some reason, is thought to be in their nature and hence they cannot be held fully accountable. Thus, we have God's mercy on man because his evil is due to original sin or attachment to the material world, or society's mercy on the criminal because of his childhood. The real question is when, if ever, is mercy justified and defensible. Because the 9/11 attacks occurred not long before mercy was recorded, this very issue seemed especially pertinent in the work's performances. Whether mercy is an appropriate response to 9/11 is left to the reader.

Monk's music is centered on her extended vocal techniques that utilize syllabic sounds rather than words, making the pure voice an instrument among others. While not sounding like English, the syllables do sound like they could come from some other language, lending a universal quality to the work. Indeed, it is mildly shocking when actual words or phrases are heard—'help' in "doctor / patient" and 'come in' in "woman at the door." The mixing of the various voices many times creates a sound like Renaissance vocal music, (especially the last track, "core chant") connecting the work to that music's religious character.

The main instruments that accompany the voices are piano (played by Allison Sniffin), vibraphone and marimba (played struck and bowed by John Hollenbeck) and various clarinets played by Hilash. Unification is achieved by the piano that plays a motive that is minimally modified throughout the work. Bowed vibraphone is an eerie, very pure sound that blends well with the voices and creates a strong floating, meditative feeling.

It is possible to detach the music from whatever message it might be making and simply to bask in its static harmonies and pensive, minimalist phrases that have a low, glowing beauty. Taken this way, mercy does achieve the goal of helping the listener slow down and introspect.

Track Listing: Braid 1 and leaping song; braid 2; urban march (shadow); masks; line 1; doctor / patient; line 2; woman at the door; line 3 and prisoner; epilogue; shaking; liquid air; urban march (light); core chant.

Personnel: Theo Bleckmann: vocals; Allison Easter: vocals; Katie Geissinger: vocals; Ching Gonzalez: vocals; John Hollenbeck: percussion, marimba, bowed marimba, vibraphone, bowed vibraphone, xylophone, piano, vocals, cymbals with microphone, melodica, patatag, ice bell, wind tube, opera gong, cowbell, triangles; Meredith Monk: vocals; Allison Sniffin: vocals, piano, viola, violin, synthesizer. Bohdan Hilash: Bb, Eb, A, bass and contrabass clarinets.

Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: ECM Records | Style: Classical


Shop

More Articles

Read Ha Noi Duo CD/LP/Track Review Ha Noi Duo
by Ian Patterson
Published: March 27, 2017
Read Like, Strange CD/LP/Track Review Like, Strange
by Geno Thackara
Published: March 27, 2017
Read Coalesce CD/LP/Track Review Coalesce
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: March 27, 2017
Read Il sistema periodico CD/LP/Track Review Il sistema periodico
by Nicola Negri
Published: March 27, 2017
Read Code Noir CD/LP/Track Review Code Noir
by James Nadal
Published: March 27, 2017
Read Welcome to Swingsville! CD/LP/Track Review Welcome to Swingsville!
by Jack Bowers
Published: March 26, 2017
Read "Live in 1967 Volume Two" CD/LP/Track Review Live in 1967 Volume Two
by Doug Collette
Published: May 28, 2016
Read "Piano Song" CD/LP/Track Review Piano Song
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: January 2, 2017
Read "Prick of the Litter" CD/LP/Track Review Prick of the Litter
by Doug Collette
Published: January 28, 2017
Read "Risc" CD/LP/Track Review Risc
by Mark Corroto
Published: July 29, 2016
Read "The Ray Davies Songbook" CD/LP/Track Review The Ray Davies Songbook
by Roger Farbey
Published: June 2, 2016
Read "2nd Thoughts" CD/LP/Track Review 2nd Thoughts
by Mark Sullivan
Published: January 8, 2017

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!