Meredith Monk

CD18,90 out of print

“Impermanence” is a non-narrative musical meditation on the themes of death, loss and the fragility of human life, “done with Monk’s inimitable brand of voluptuous sparseness” (San Francisco Chronicle). “In a way, making a piece ‘about’ Impermanence is an impossible task”, writes Meredith Monk in her booklet note. “One can only brush upon aspects of it; conjure up the sensation that everything is in flux, everything constantly changes, we can’t hold onto anything …” The overall tone in “Impermanence” is melancholic and contemplative although in pieces like “particular dance” the album also finds room for exuberance and light-hearted humour. Another important work from the composer and highly influential pioneer of extended vocal technique.

Featured Artists Recorded

January 2007, Avatar Studios, New York

Original Release Date


  • 1last song
    (James Hillman, Meredith Monk)
  • 2maybe 1
    (Meredith Monk)
  • 3little breath
    (Meredith Monk)
  • 4liminal
    (Meredith Monk)
  • 5disequilibrium
    (Meredith Monk)
  • 6particular dance
    (Meredith Monk)
  • 7between song
    (Mieke van Hoek, Meredith Monk)
  • 8passage
    (Meredith Monk)
  • 9maybe 2
    (Meredith Monk)
  • 10skeleton lines
    (Meredith Monk)
  • 11slow dissolve
    (Meredith Monk)
  • 12totentanz
    (Meredith Monk)
  • 13sweep 1
    (Allison Sniffin, Bohdan Hilash, John Hollenbeck)
  • 14rocking
    (Meredith Monk)
  • 15sweep 2
    (Allison Sniffin, Bohdan Hilash, John Hollenbeck)
  • 16mieke's melody #5
    (Mieke van Hoek)
The music conveyed a dramatic arc that encompassed grief and confusion, joy conveyed through rollicking pratfalls and giddy dances, and a quiet ending of stark, powerful eloquence
Steve Smith, The New York Times
Meredith Monk capte son auditoire par la simple utilisation de la voix: une voix cathartique qui saisit et emporte l’auditeur très lin, au-delà du présent, là où souffle le vent de l’éternité. … Élégant, fragile et exaltant, le „nouveau Monk“ est une offrande céleste déposée aux pieds des vivants.
Franck Mallet, Classica-Répertoire
Impermanence offre une éloquence fragile et troublante. Meredith Monk est une muse de l’art vocal devenue incontournable.
Thierry Lepin, Jazzman
Meredith Monk, ebenso offen für neue, unerhörte wie nie gesehene Welten und doch immer noch skrupulös, was ihre Möglichkeiten angeht, und deshalb stets auf der Suche nach der perfekten Balance von Klang und Bewegung, von Stimme und Körper, hat es nach Jahren nun doch gewagt, aus Impermanence den musikalischen Anteil zu extrahieren. … Monk wie auch die anderen Vokalisten singen ihre Körper wie die Schamanen Tuvas. Die Instrumentalisten spielen in ihrem Part, einem Butoh-Tänzer gleich, mit großer Konzentration alle Facetten von meditativer Zartheit bis zur schmerzhaft geprägten exzessiven Groteske durch. Monks Angst, die Botschaft von Impermanence würde sich dem inneren Auge nicht erschließen können, verschwindet in diesem grandiosen Spiel mit Zeit und Raum vollkommen.
Annette Eckerle, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik
Mit ihrem Ensemble hat sie ein beeindruckendes Werk geschaffen, das völlig einzigartig in der Landschaft der musikalischen Moderne steht und in keine Kategorie passt. Obwohl sie aus vielerlei Quellen schöpft, ist ihre Musik weder dem Minimalismus noch der experimentellen Avantgarde zuzuordnen, trotz den repetitiven Mustern und der spielerischen Neugierde. Nichts klingt auch nur annähernd wie Monks Musik, in der vielerlei Referenzen aufscheinen… Meredith Monks neues Album, auf das man sechs Jahre warten musste, kreist um eine Tragödie, die sie 2002 traf, ein Schicksalsschlag, der sie für lange Zeit verstummen ließ. Impermanence ist der Versuch, mit dem Tod ihrer langjährigen Lebensgefährtin zu Rande zu kommen.
Christoph Wagner, Neue Zürcher Zeitung
Meredith Monk’s ninth release on ECM offers the thoroughly revised and condensed musical version of the 90-minute interdisciplinary work “impermanence” which employed vocal and instrumental settings, dance and video and was given its premiere at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco on February 15 and 16, 2006. The two-part piece has toured widely in the US and was welcomed by Stephen Brookes in the Washington Post as “a beautiful and deeply personal work on the themes of death, leave-taking and the fragility of human life”. Inspired by private yet universal experiences of loss and ephemerality, Monk wrote music of “voluptuous sparseness” (San Francisco Chronicle) – multi-part settings, both poignant and joyful, in which gentle melodies and Monk’s celebrated extended vocal techniques are combined with a new range of instrumental sounds. Far from presenting a mere “soundtrack” of the staged original, the musical version, produced by Manfred Eicher at New York’s Avatar Studio, is a 16-part suite with increased structural complexity and considerable alterations of the musical material.

“I rewrote a lot of the music, as I usually do when I work on material which is part of an interdisciplinary composition”, says Monk. “I compress the forms, change the order of pieces and enrich the texture, so that sonically you get the same kind of richness you would experience when seeing us on stage. In ‘particular dance’, for instance, where we had quite a complicated choreography to perform, I wrote additional melodies, and with ‘skeleton lines’ it was quite the same. When you work with diverse artistic elements you have to balance them out, whereas on the album it’s just listening and all the perception is put into the music.” The new musical form doesn’t follow the original sequence as the original shape of two contrasting parts is abandoned in favour of a coherent arch-like suite.

“impermanence” marks a new step in Monk’s development as a composer. Elegant as ever, her writing displays a new emphasis on chromaticism, clearly audible in pieces such as “liminal”. Additionally, Monk’s recent work on purely instrumental compositions – for string quartet and large symphony orchestra respectively – has led her to explore not only voices as instruments but also to “think of the instruments as voices”, as she points out in her liner notes to the present album. While her extended vocal techniques frequently imply non-verbal settings, here, associative and poetic texts of different origins make repeated appearances. “’impermanence’ with its idea of the fleeting nature of life and constant change seemed to need some kind of explicitness that grounded the flow like rocks in a stream”, says Monk. Used in the context of elusiveness that pervades the piece as a whole though, these words always tend to dissolve in the vocal/instrumental sound and in the steady but calm musical flow.

The first germ for “impermanence” was laid when Monk started working on a song based on words from the book “The Force of Character: And the Lasting Life” by American psychologist/philosopher and best-selling author James Hillman in autumn 2001. “Hillman’s book deals with the rather positive aspects of aging, and it contains a chapter about the idea of the double meaning of the word ‘last’. It’s almost a kind of litany around both ironic and poignant words which spoke to me very intensely.” In November 2002, Mieke van Hoek, Monk’s partner of 22 years, suddenly died – a major shock which triggered fundamental doubts in the significance of art and art-making altogether. A few months later, Monk was approached by Rosetta Life, a London based organization which connects artists with hospice patients. “They asked me to write music for a play about their stories but I expressed that I was more interested in making an interdisciplinary piece about impermanence since at the time that subject was occupying most of my thoughts. After spending time with Rosetta Life workers and patients in London, a deeply moving experience, I began seeing the piece as an abstract, poetic evocation of the passages of life.” In her liner notes Monk admits that creating a major work about a concept as abstract and ungraspable as impermanence seemed a quite impossible task to her: “I could only imply it, offer glimpses, create music that would be evocative but would also leave space for each listener to have his or her responses.”

As in most of her work, Monk composes especially for her ensemble of long-standing musical partners. “First, I work in solitude for a long time to create the musical material and then I bring it to rehearsal. Sometimes the forms are complete, but usually I prefer to give myself the chance to experiment with different possibilities. This musical ‘sculpting’ allows me to make my final forms. The process is a constant back and forth between my solitary work and the space for playing. Working with the Ensemble often enriches my original ideas in unexpected ways.” Crucial for “impermanence” was the idea that singers and instrumentalists are not treated as discreet groups with several members of the ensemble both singing and playing. Three outstanding multi-instrumentalists add a stunning array of colours which are never employed in a demonstrative way. In “maybe 1”, the only purely instrumental piece, the Steinway is played by eight musicians simultaneously.…