Raised in a family of musicians and singers, Meredith Monk quickly developed a multi-faceted career as a composer, singer, director-choreographer, and author of new models of musical theatre, opera, film, and installation. As the pioneer of an interdisciplinary concept of theater and performance, Monk has created new visual and acoustic worlds found at the meeting point between music and movement, light and sound, in an intimate investigation aimed at renewing modes of listening and perception.
It was precisely through the use of her own voice that Monk re-imagined the technical possibilities of vocal expression, creating musical landscapes able to elicit sensations, impressions, and energies.
After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College in 1964, Monk soon became a performer, broadening the range of her singing potential. In addition to this disciplined physical exercise, Monk elaborated her music beginning with a personal revision of various sources, including material studied during years of experimentation, ranging from folk to opera and contemporary music, and influences by artists such as John Cage. In her search for vocal effects and possibilities, she limited her instrumental accompaniment to a piano or percussion. In 1968, she founded her own Company—The House—dedicated to an interdisciplinary approach to performance. In 1978, she established the Vocal Ensemble in order to extend the forms and possibilities of musical research.
During the course of her career she has created examples of new musical theater, both vocal and instrumental, and two fundamental voice cycles. Our Lady of Late and Songs from the Hills are the titles of these collections of short pieces that constitute a new genre of vocal recital.
Her first film experience in 1982 was Ellis Island, a short film dedicated to the heart-rending memories of the people who passed through the immigration offices on the island facing Manhattan. In the second-half of the eighties, Monk produced Book of Days, a wide-ranging filmic work using theater costumes. [F.B.]
List of Works
Book of Days, 1988
transferred from 35 mm film, black and white, color, sound, 75 min.
Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, Rivoli-Turin
Her first full-length film whose musical score is one of the apexes of Monk’s vocal technique, this work also experiments with the possibilities of multi-track recording. Conceived as a vocal concert held in 1985 at Carnegie Hall, its scope has been extended, thereby becoming an intriguing historical fresco set in the Middle Ages. The film stresses the analogies among wars, plague, and, above all, tendencies towards persecution, thus producing a powerful metaphor of the contemporary, obsessive fear regarding AIDS.