PERFORMER: Meredith Monk, Theo Bleckmann, Katie Geissinger, Ching Gonzalez, Allison Easter (voice), Allison Sniffin (voice, piano, synthesiser, violin, viola), John Hollenbeck (piano, percussion, melodica), Bohdan Hilash (clarinet)
CATALOGUE NO: 472 468-2
Devised jointly by Meredith Monk and installation artist Ann Hamilton, Mercy is a multimedia work that melds music, dance, theatre, sets and video images. Its subject is compassion and vulnerability, more specifically the ‘possibilities or potentials for help and harm’ that can be ministered by two human body-parts, the hand and the mouth. On stage, the messages of this thoughtful work can no doubt be made explicit, but in soundtrack alone Monk’s music is far less eloquent, for while it does indeed put the mouth to the fore (in the form of the human voice), it does so largely without recourse to verbal language. Emotion may fill the air here, but the causes and concepts that lie behind that emotion are very hard to pin down, at least to those of us who haven’t seen the show.
As always, Monk shuns Western conventions of musical rhetoric and instead digs deep to the elemental roots of human vocalisation in search of her expressive language. East and West, ancient and new, all come together in an eclectic world of musical inclusiveness, and the score has all the candour and clarity, strength and simplicity, that have characterised her work over the past three decades. Behind the singing, repetitive instrumental accompaniments serve (in Monk’s memorable metaphor) as ‘a carpet for the voices to fly off and back on to’, and these, too, are stripped back to basics. Ardent followers of Monk will love it all. Others may find it both enigmatic and musically thin, and might well ask whether video, rather than sound alone, would have been a better medium for the piece. John Milsom