In Review: Meredith Monk at Royce Hall

The Center for the Art of Performance presented acclaimed interdisciplinary performance artist Meredith Monk’s newest music theater piece, Cellular Songs. Meredith Monk explored the interrelated behaviors of cells as a way of understanding and finding harmony within the interpersonal relationships amongst people. This exploration imparts the awe of our collective relationship to nature and depicts a powerful intersection between vocal arts and the biological sciences.

Meredith Monk has been working with the human voice for more than 50 years and has incorporated movement, instrumentation and video installation into her most recent work Cellular Songs. Monk was accompanied by four other members of her vocal ensemble, and together they depicted different cellular behaviors: replication, division, and mutation. Cellular Songs is part of a larger collection of work in which Monk has contemplated the fragility and beauty of the relationship one has with nature. This theme was also recently explored in Monk’s On Behalf of Nature, which was most recently performed in 2016. Monk’s vocal techniques go beyond any approach to vocal art that most have ever experienced before. Monk and her ensemble would sing in polyrhythmic stylizations using hocket vocal technique to expand the boundaries in which sound was being manipulated. The vocalists’ combined tones to create harmonies that mimicked the humming of the human body, and at one point Monk’s ensemble joined together to execute a mesmerizing moment of polyphonic overtone singing.

Cellular Songs imparts intense awe through Monk’s perpetual performance of that which is infinitesimally small and that which is a union of the infinitesimally small, like the forming of a whole body from individual cells. Each member of Monk’s vocal ensemble played the role of a singular unit, whether that be a cell or a person, and explored the theme of unity through performing ways in which beings come together through dance, voice or emotion. Sitting in Royce Hall, amongst hundreds of other viewers, one could not shake off the sensation that Monk was speaking to each of us as cells and that together in the concert hall we were unshakably apart of one enrapturing, unified being.


-Written by Isabella Bustanoby