Using little more than her voice and her singular vision, Meredith Monk has become nothing less than an icon. During the last half-century, she has been one of the pioneers of extended vocal techniques, not only inventing or refining many of its methods but also pushing them into pop culture itself. Breaking boundaries between music, theater, and performance art, and then between her magnetic concerts and her landmark albums for ECM, Monk “has communicated across genre boundaries long before ‘crossover’ was even a term,” as The Washington Post has noted.
Only a year after its world premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Monk returns to Big Ears with a rare performance of her latest concert-length work, Cellular Songs. Cellular Songs examines life on the microscopic level, exploring and expressing biological processes like cell division and genetic mutation through the ineffable talents of her Vocal Ensemble and a stage show of video, lights, and theater. Monk and her cadre of singers build an overwhelming array of music from tiny sounds that bend and move at will, just as a body is built from millions of cells interacting on their own terms. It makes no matter that Monk is a MacArthur fellow, a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, and an Obie winner—her music remains at the cutting edge of contemporary art, an attempt to articulate phenomenon and feelings with which even language can sometimes struggle.