Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, 2015.03.28.

On Behalf of Nature: Devotional music for the end of the earth.

There is a tidily droning introduction (and later interlude) of amplified organ and bass clarinet that evokes Kid A’s “Everything In Its Right Place” and its dusky placental confines, brief but encompassing passages of comfort in a performance that provokes disquiet even in its more overtly playful moments. Meredith Monk herself, signature twin braids in lateral flight as she propels her diminutive form about the stage (remarkably endowed with a depth-of-view property of foreground/background size differential not seen much elsewhere, as she herself remarked), with a voice which has grown only more iconic and colossal over the past half-century, has composed a glorious dirge that only our very own mother earth could deserve. The performers conjure flocks of implied flight and swarms of insect intelligence, reconfigure to intimate pairings exploring companionship throughout unnatural disorder, and eventually present a solitary vocalized and near-mute rage that appears to answer the koan: If you rant into a deserted or otherwise preoccupied landscape, does anyone else hear it?

As much as Susie Ibarra collaged atop “found” libraries of bird calls, insect chirps, and outdoor soundscapes to create an aura of nature in a manufactured room, Meredith Monk works in opposite, or perhaps in tandem, beginning with the assumption that verbal communication is the highest form of emergent intelligent behavior. She proceeds to decouple it from meaningful morphemes (“Words are pointy!”), reducing it to sub-syllabic, near-nonsense sound, and from there constructing an entire newly-natural universe with its remnants, eerily novel/foreign/familiar/and melodic all at once. We, in our attendance, give our implicit consent to responsibly adhere to this universe’s rules and participate in its continued renewal or destruction.

There is devastation and beauty and hope in the decay, music emerging from before-thought chaotic sound, and within her universe, it’s never been a better time to be alive on this marvelously disastrous marble we share with her, her cadre of voices, and one another.

Originally published at

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