Music Review: On Behalf of Nature

Spirituality & Health Magazine
reviewed by John Malkin

On Behalf of Nature
Meredith Monk

On Behalf of Nature is the latest album from pioneering vocalist/composer Meredith Monk. This diverse set of 19 sound motifs feels something like an anthropologist’s recording of chanting and communal song-stories from a newly discovered modern tribe. These deeply original soundscapes are laments, contemplations, and spirit dances for a planet facing an unknown future.

Since making her professional debut in 1964, Monk has become world-known for continually breaking new ground with experimental vocal techniques and combining them with choreography, dance, and film. On Behalf of Nature features music beyond words, conveying emotions and ideas through grounded soundscapes and rhythmic patterns that utilize a vocal ensemble and woodwinds played by Bohdan Hilash, violin and keyboards by Allison Sniffin, harp by Laura Sherman, and tuned percussion (including prepared marimba) by John Hollenbeck.

One inspiration for On Behalf of Nature was an essay by Buddhist writer Gary Snyder, “Writers and the War Against Nature.” In it, Snyder writes, “The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss said something like ‘Art survives within modern civilization rather like little islands of wilderness saved to show us where we came from.’”

Monk writes in the liner notes for On Behalf of Nature: “I asked myself the question, How would one make an ecological art work, one that wouldn’t make more waste in the world? What came to mind was […] Lévi-Strauss and his notion of bricolage: assembling or making something from what is already at hand.” Monk adds that the album deals with “multiple realms including the celestial, human, microscopic, animal, plant, and mineral, as well as the underlying processes and rhythms of nature.”

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