MEMORY GAME is both a look back at a pivotal point in Meredith Monk’s storied career, and a richly layered portrait of how vocal music, under the guidance of an indefatigable master, can play with our expectations in poignant and compelling ways. What emerges is a suite of songs that flows with a remarkable narrative cohesion, stemming in large part from the composer’s willingness to revisit the past with an insatiably curious eye.
“The first time that I ever worked with Bang on a Can, it was in the late ’90s,” Monk tells DownBeat magazine in a recent interview. “That was really, in a way, the beginning of this project. It’s exciting to hear these songs again in a new way, with more of an instrumental aspect added onto the vocal.”
Teaming up here with her renowned Vocal Ensemble (featuring Theo Bleckmann, Katie Geissinger and Allison Sniffin) and the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Monk explores all-new arrangements of never-before-recorded selections from her award-winning sci-fi opera The Games, as well as new versions of several pieces originally released on Do You Be (1987) and impermanence (2008). The album includes arrangements by Monk, Michael Gordon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, Bang on a Can All-Stars member Ken Thomson, and Vocal Ensemble member Allison Sniffin.
photograph by John Edward Mason
For composer Michael Gordon, whose arrangement of “Spaceship” opens the album, his own memories of Monk’s music go back to his earliest days in New York City. “I first saw Meredith perform when I came to New York in the ’70s,” he says. “Her first appearance on the Bang on a Can Marathon was in 1989, and we’ve had a close association ever since. In 1999, we arranged some of her music for her to sing with the Bang on a Can All-Stars. It was magic, and sparks flew! MEMORY GAME is a collection of pieces we’ve performed together in New York and on tour, with some new arrangements that we’ve yet to play live.”
As Monk writes in her liner notes for the recording: “Right from the beginning of conceiving MEMORY GAME, the prospect of uniting the magnificent singers and players from Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble and Bang on a Can All-Stars filled me with excitement. My hope is that our rich and joyous experience of making music together inspires and resonates with the listener.”
Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble
Theo Bleckmann, Katie Geissinger, Meredith Monk, Allison Sniffin: voices
Allison Sniffin: bowed psaltery
Michael Cerveris: guest artist
Bang on a Can All-Stars
Ashley Bathgate: cello and voice
Robert Black: electric and acoustic bass
Vicky Chow: piano, keyboard and melodica
David Cossin: percussion
Mark Stewart: electric guitar, banjo and voice
Ken Thomson: clarinets and saxophones
Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble and the Bang on a Can All-Stars give the live premiere of MEMORY GAME March 26 at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, TN.