On Behalf Of Nature
Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble
Sidney Chen, Ellen Fisher, Katie Geissinger, Meredith Monk, Bruce Rameker, Allison Sniffin voices
Bohdan Hilash woodwinds
John Hollenbeck percussion
Allison Sniffin piano, keyboard, violin, French horn
Laura Sherman harp
Recorded June 2015 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Assistant: Akihiro Nishimura
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 21, 2016
Since 1981’s Dolmen Music, Meredith Monk has contributed an integral DNA segment of ECM’s evolution as a label. But at no time in history has she felt as poignant as in On Behalf Of Nature. Tracing echoes of relevance to today’s social, spiritual, and terrestrial climate, the album is a mouthpiece for those who are voiceless, epitomized in the lone wooden flute that opens “Dark/Light 1.” As a call born of its own will to be heard, it flowers by nourishment of an egoless sun. Such can be also said of Meredith Monk and her vocal ensemble, whose own voices shape that same will selflessly, dutifully, necessarily—because opportunities to do so are dwindling more rapidly than can be articulated by breath and touch. By these signs is established a grammar that lives beyond codification, yet which is felt in the body even as it wanders into our dreams.
While the 19 offerings placed on this altar of creative sacrifice belong to the same ecosystem, Monk seems to link them to three distinct streams of consciousness. The most visceral of these is accessible in three pieces titled “Environs,” in which the fearful heart trembling at the core of a scarred earth sheds both light and darkness on injuries in which we would much rather never admit complicity. Deep yet delicate, these are about as honest as music gets.
A second stream is heard flowing through the album’s largest forests, which acclimate themselves in the prepared piano of “Ritual Zone,” the prophetic violin of “Memory Zone,” and the joyful cries of “Harvest.” Further gifts emerge in “Duet with Shifting Ground,” “Evolution,” and “Water/Sky Rant.” The latter’s harp-infused anthem of abuse, recovery, and hope is perhaps the most powerful statement Monk has ever committed to record. Each of these is a chamber of truths that have existed since the dawn of humanity, reminding us that harmony must be chosen, not expected. As by the ligaments of “Spider Web Anthem,” cohesion requires patient work and purpose by which to cultivate it.
Such connective tissue is the mantra enlivening interlinear pieces throughout. Through them flow the base elements of all life, whether natural (“Eon”) or human-made (“Pavement Steps”). Therein beats the heart of a question that cannot be spoken yet whose answer is so clear as to be anxiety-inducing. It is not the planet itself but those on it without the means to communicate their traumas across electronic signals or paper who sing. On Behalf Of Nature, then, is their stage: an album so relevant as to be worthy of beaming into outer space in the hopes of clearing a path to salvific inner spaces.