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11.6: Vocal Music in the 20th Century- Meredith Monk

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    Contemporary Vocal Music: Meredith Monk.

    Picture of Meredith MonkMeredith Monk was born in 1942 in New York City, and is contemporary composer who is well-known for her vocal music that requires the use of extended techniques. You may recall this term from the unit on the 20th century. This term refers to musicians using their instrument or voice in non-traditional ways. Her music often utilizes minimalist techniques. Recall that the minimalist movement was popular in New York City in the 1960s, and included highly repetitive music with slow and gradual change.

    Monk's music is highly innovative, and demands much of the performer (herself, on much of her produced albums). Some pieces like "Little Breath" or "Sigh" don't include a single spoken word---instead, as the titles suggest, it has the performer breath or sigh in specific rhythms or pitch. Take a listen to "Sigh," and ask yourself what—if anything—Monk is trying to say with this music? Is her voice being treated like a non-vocal instrument, or is there something more meaningful about the way in which her voice is used here?

    This piece "Sigh" is one song from her larger album, most of which is nonsensical sounds produced by the human voice in non-traditional ways. Moreover, the high pitched sound you hear in the background is actually her own voice. If you're interested, listen to the entire album from beginning to end; it's very unique and interesting to see just what the human voice is capable of.

    Of course, Monk is only one style of 20th century vocal music --- there's much more that we're unable to cover here. However, much of the newer 20th/21st century vocal music employs these new ways of singing, extended techniques, and radically dissonant sound effects. When you're done listening to "Sigh," watch the video presentation that discusses her vocal techniques in more detail. (The musical excerpt in the video of "Little Breath" has been removed, but the rest of the video works fine).

    Picture of Meredith Monk. CC BY-SA 2.0.

    11.6: Vocal Music in the 20th Century- Meredith Monk is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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