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Humanities LibreTexts

9.35: Meredith Monk

  • Page ID
    56194
  • One of America’s foremost experimental composers, Meredith Monk grew up in New York City in an artistic household. Her mother was a professional singer, working primarily in radio through the nineteen-thirties and forties. Although Monk identifies herself as a composer, she does not separate music from the other performing arts. While a student at Sarah Lawrence College she studied singing, composition, and dance and performed in theater as a student in their combined performing arts program. Her earliest works, such as16 Millimeter Earrings, included film along with music, theater and dance, establishing Monk as a significant multidisciplinary artist and eluding classification of her work by critics until the term performance artist came into usage.

    Monk is less interested in telling a narrative story through her performance art than she is in creating an experience where all of the faculties are employed. The music, words, movement, and staging all have equal importance. She is an attentive listener to the sounds in her environment and she often develops extended performance techniques in order to replicate some of those that are more interesting. The influences on her extended vocal techniques, in particular, include the music of non-European cultures (harmonic singing and ululation), city sounds (the glissando of a car alarm), and the sounds of nature (bird song and animal cries).

    In Dolmen Music, Monk allows us to peak into an archaic community inspired by her reaction to seeing the dolmen in Brittany (La Roche aux Fées). Her initial response to The Fairy Rocks inspired her to infuse the work with the sense of being ancient and futuristic at the same time. A Meredith Monk piece usually has no specific interpretation yet many works, like Memory Song and Gotham Lullaby, are so intimate that they often engender an explicit meaning in the listener based on their life experiences.

    While the timbres that Monk creates may be complex and unusual, the music underlying her work is often simple and consonant. The pure open intervals of medieval music are especially attractive to Monk. She once stated that the European music that she most admired began with the Medieval and went through to the Renaissance, skipped the Common Practice Period, and continued with 20th/21st Century music. One of her favorite composers is Perotin.

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