In 1964 American composer and musician Meredith Monk (2000 Performing Arts) came to New York to begin an incredibly prolific and inspirational career. 50 years later multiple venues and institutions are celebrating her time in New York. Early in Creative Capital’s history, Monk received a grant for her work mercy, a collaboration with Ann Hamilton. As Creative Capital and Meredith Monk both celebrate important anniversary milestones, we thought we would do our part in honoring the artist by presenting 10 things you might not know about her work.
1. She’s a filmmaker too?!
As the New York Times wrote in 1990: Monk has created “dances that were operas, operas that were dances and mythic theater pieces that were operas and dances. To complicate matters, Ms. Monk is also a filmmaker…” One of her films, Book of Days, was a visceral flirtation with a television audience in the early 90s.
2. Maude was listening to Meredith Monk when she makes her debut in The Big Lebowski.
When the Dude first encounters Maude Lebowski, she is being hurtled through space, flinging paint in every direction. In the background Meredith Monk’s “Walking Song” can be heard playing throughout Maude’s studio. Undoubtedly, the Coen Brothers posit Maude as an archetypal pseudo-intellectual in order to critique the character type.
So how did Monk react to the Brothers using her song? “I was laughing my head off,” she told Tom Service. “Monk, typically, saw and heard only reasons to celebrate, and laugh.”
Monk worked with Bob Rosen on a film called Ellis Island to activate the tragic incidents that occurred there. The result was a kind of ghost story that used documentary, fiction and dance. “Though it is inspired by historical fact,” Monk said in 1982, “the work is not a documentary. Though it uses professional actors, it has no dialogue and no storyline in the ordinary sense. It does, however, try to suggest something of the atmosphere and mystery of a ghost story, the ghosts in this case being our ancestors.”
Here’s an excerpt from Paris, performed in the late 80s, a collaboration with theater director Ping Chong. The New York Times wrote that Paris “serves to identify the two [characters] as charmingly antic travelers who move like stars, together and apart, along appointed paths through a constellation like the dimly glittering one above them.”
In the 80s Monk found musical concerts to be “boring,” so she began to incorporate simplified movements into her work without introducing an entire theatrical element. This became a very important work of hers called Turtle Dreams (Waltz). The piece became associated with part of the “New Wave” movement: “There’s a certain fascist element to [Turtle Dreams], and I wasn’t conscious of that at the time. But it was a reflection of a sensibility that I was intuiting that was coming up in the world. With New Wave… I mean there was a fascist element to the 80s, Reagan, Thatcher… I was reflecting a societal thing.”
Rust Cohle says it better than we could. “Core Chant” by Monk can be heard in episode 6 of True Detective. Much of Monk’s oeuvre has been described as pastoral and contemporary folk, which often has that haunting edge to it. Taken in the context of the rural south where True Detective is set, it seems to fit perfectly with the unfolding mystery of the story.
Originally performed in the Judson Memorial Church in 1966, Monk’s 16 Millimeter Earrings uniquely called upon all senses of the audience. In addition to performance and music, the piece incorporates the smell of formaldehyde and burning tires. “I was going for a totally synaesthetic, integrated, perceptual… a kind of poetry of the senses,” Monk said. “This was the absolute breakthrough piece for me. No one was doing anything like that at the time.”
8. She appears in an episode of Star Trek.
In 1995, Monk went where no experimental artist had gone before: Star Trek. Albeit a rare, audio-only episode of Star Trek, Monk is listed in the credits as composer along with fellow musician, Theo Bleckmann. “Star Trek: Envoy” follows Captain Sulu in the “Captain Sulu Adventures” series. In the episode, Sulu acts as an envoy to a historic peace settlement between the warring races, the Krikiki and the Den-Kai. Monk and Bleckmann composed music for the Krikiki/Den-Kai Ensemble, although it’s not clear which artist represents the Krikiki race or the Den-Kai. Help, Trekkies?
9. Monk once used a tower as a performance venue.
Collaborator Ann Hamilton has a tower in Sonoma, and Monk used it to perform “Songs of Ascension.” “If Monk is seeking a place in the classical firmament, classical music has much to learn from her,” Alex Ross wrote in The Rest is Noise. “She may even loom larger as the new century unfolds, and later generations will envy those who got to see her live.”
10. DJ Shadow sampled Monk on his seminal album Endtroducing…
DJ Shadow is one of those DJs who seems not to have missed one element of musical history when composing new songs, so it’s no surprise he used Monk’s austere vocals for his track “Midnight in a Perfect World.” Over a lush synthesizer melody, DJ Shadow lays down the introduction of one of Monk’s most famous compositions, “Dolmen Music.” Just the simple addition of Monk’s voice gives the new track a far-off quality. As Tyran Grillo writes, “Dolmen Music” is “music that comes from a place so deep within, so familiar, that we tremble to hear it blatantly exposed.”
Meredith Monk has a series of upcoming performances celebrating her 50 years in New York City including Carnegie Hall, Le Poisson Rouge and Brooklyn Academy of Music. See her website for more information.