A YEAR IN MUSIC: MEREDITH MONK – Book of Days (1990)

Review by: Andreas Georgi

Meredith Monk is a vocalist, composer and choreographer who is a truly singular artist. Monk uses her impressive vocal chops to weave wordless vocalizations that involve all possible “extended techniques” to create abstract soundscapes that evoke the feeling that she is tapping into some primordial communication beyond language and rationality. Personally, I find I have to shut off the part of my brain that wants to analyze and categorize things, and allow the music to tap into something deeper.
“Book of Days” is basically the soundtrack to a film of the same name, done two years earlier. The theme is roughly the story of a Jewish girl in Medieval Europe somewhere. The album’s tracks are extended versions of pieces used in the movie. The accompaniment is relatively sparse, using mostly instruments that are consistent with the Medieval theme and feel of the album. The music ranges from delicate to surreal to harrowing as themes of hope, wonder, fear and more. The feel and subject matter are decidedly Medieval, but the sparse use of synthesizer with the period instruments ties the themes to modern concerns.
If you haven’t listened this Meredith Monk it may take a bit of work to get it. This is as good as any place to start exploring her work. I’ve only seen short bits of the film, but it’s quite surreal and interesting. My knowledge of her work is hardly comprehensive, but other works of hers that I can recommend are “Songs of Ascension” and “Facing North”, both of which show different aspects of her artistry.
Thumbs up for sure!