The use of the ‘hocket’ is a recurring motif within Meredith Monk’s vocal works. Its origins date to the 13th century, where this polyphonic device was used in motets, although forms of the hocket also exist in African percussion and Indonesian gamelan. Characterised by the distribution of a melodic line split between two or more players or voices, hocketing requires only one sound to be heard at any point. In vocal hockets, voices don’t overlap so much as cut each other off.
In Meredith Monk’s work, the hocket often appears to build up parallel structures for interweaving patterns, and point towards a non-verbal form of communication. First used in ‘Dolmen Music’ (1979), she later developed the technique most notably in ‘Magical Frequencies’, a duet between Monk and Ching Gonzales – a duet Gonzales recalls as “the torture song”, given the difficulty in maintaining tone and form while continually alternating rhythms.
Given the complexity of the process, Monk notes:
There is no way that you could learn and perform a piece as fast as that by reading from the page. There’s no way. It has to be in the muscle memory of your vocal cords.
Monk uses the hocket as a form of call and response, foregrounding the act of listening within participants, and building a contingent form of sound.
Here, the first vid features a live performance of ‘Facing North’, a hocket composed by Meredith Monk and performed by the music ensemble M6; the second is David Longstregth of The Dirty Projectors discussing and demonstrating the use of the hocket in his music (about 3mins in).