By Elsa Johnson & Victor Lucas
Meredith Monk is now known as an exponent of extended vocal technique, but when we first heard about her in the 1960s she was also something of a dancer, choreographing and composing for — sometimes — large groups of people in site-specific events.
One of her early pieces, Juice (1969), involved 75 performers, some of them stomping up the spiral galleries of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in red paratrooper boots, red costumes, and red body makeup.
The premiere of Juice must have been something to see, but you can’t catch that ’60s lightning in a bottle, especially in a solo performance, so we can’t say we were surprised when Monk stepped softly onto the stage of CIM’s Mixon Hall on Friday evening to begin her concert with vocal selections from Juice, her red over-dress perhaps a nod to costuming at the over the top premiere.
At Mixon, Monk performed works from throughout her 50 year career. She sang unaccompanied on some songs; on others she accompanied herself on jaw harp, piano, or harmonium. Singing nary an intelligible word all evening, her voice evoked insect noises, desert landscapes, and tribal chants. She soothed in “Gotham Lullaby” (1975) and shrieked and croaked in “Madwoman’s Vision” (1988).
As we scroll down a list of noted practitioners of extended vocal technique, we’re hard put to find others that compare to Meredith Monk. All but a few of her colleagues from the avant-garde of the ’60s are burned out or passé. She’s unfailingly fresh and original, yet her work seldom assaults the ear. She has enviable name recognition but she’s too good an artist to be merely a pop figure. No voice lasts forever, but at least to our ears, her voice remains clear and bright.
We had heard recordings of Monk before but our ears were unusually happy listening to her at Mixon with its excellent acoustics and engineering.
Meredith Monk performed at Cleveland Institute of Music on Fri 2/21/2014 as part of the Mixon Hall Masters Series. Go to http://cim.edu for complete listings of upcoming CIM performances.
[Image: (c)2014 Courtesy of CIM/Roger Mastroianni, photographer]
From Cool Cleveland contributors Elsa Johnson and Victor Lucas. Elsa and Vic are both longtime Clevelanders. Elsa is a landscape designer. She studied ballet as an avocation for 2 decades. Vic has been a dancer and dance teacher for most of his working life, performing in a number of dance companies in NYC and Cleveland. They write about dance as a way to learn more and keep in touch with the dance community. E-mail them at vicnelsaATearthlink.net.