Classical Pick: Songs of Ascension 

Meredith Monk raises her voice

Wednesday, Oct 22 2008

“I work in between the cracks, where the voice starts dancing, where the body starts singing, where theater becomes cinema.” So reflects Meredith Monk on her art, which spans so many disciplines that pinning her work down is like trying to cage a moonbeam. The 66-year-old composer-singer-director-choreographer–performance artist has been a major, singular voice in the experimental arts world for more than 40 years, winning numerous accolades, including Obies, honors from the Juilliard School and San Francisco Symphony, and the MacArthur Foundation’s coveted “genius” award. Her latest feat is a multimedia choral opera of sorts titled Songs of Ascension, a collaboration with another MacArthur award recipient, visual artist Ann Hamilton, whose eight-story sculpture/performance space called Tower, designed for Steve Oliver’s ranch in Northern California’s Alexander Valley, inspired the work. Monk, who calls Tower “a kind of architectural vocal cord,” was also inspired by poet Norman Fischer’s translations of the Psalms and a Zen abbot’s description of Songs of Ascents — songs that Jews were believed to have sung in biblical times on pilgrimages to Jerusalem and up Mt. Zion. A longtime Buddhist with an intense curiosity about ineffables, such as spirituality, time and space, Monk sees the tower image and the various climbing rituals as metaphors for the uphill journey of the spiritual path. Bursting with rhythmic and sonic beauty and complexity, Songs of Ascension features Monk and her vocal ensemble; a string quartet led by violinist Todd Reynolds; a choir composed of members of the CalArts Herb Alpert School of Music’s voice program; and surreal video images by Hamilton that float across the stage and around the room, even washing over audience members’ faces. As Philip Bither, curator of Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center, where Songs of Ascension was developed, observes, “You feel like you’ve stepped into a dream.” REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., Oct. 29-Nov. 1, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 2, 3 p.m.; $30-$35, $24-$28 students. (213) 237-2800, www.redcat.org.

click to enlarge CAMERON WITTIG COURTESY OF WALKER ART CENTER - Songs of Ascension
  • Cameron Wittig courtesy of Walker Art Center
  • Songs of Ascension

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