Meredith Monk

I came across Meredith Monk as Radio 3’s ‘Composer of the week’, and have listened to a few of her compositions:

Porch

This track is from Monk’s debut album ‘Key’, released in 1971.  It is written for human voice, but has no words – rather a set of vocal sounds such as elongated vowels morphing into each other and short, nasal utterances.  I think the idea behind it is to treat the human voice as an instrument which requires no words to express itself.  The music itself is quite simple – a short melody repeated many times with modifications to the vocal sounds and dynamics.  Some of the notes are reached by sliding up/down, and one particularly striking feature is a note which is repeated several times just below the true pitch before actually hitting it ‘in tune’.  The piece reminds me a lot of aboriginal  and tribal music.

Ellis Island

This is a short instrumental piece written for two pianos as part of a film soundtrack.  It is minimalist in style, staying very much within a single harmonic idea throughout and creating a mood of suspense and mystery.  I haven’t listened to many two-piano pieces before; I quite like the texture it creates and the ability to create a kind of echo effect in the same pitch.

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