Magician of the voice Broadcast date: Sunday 25-1-2009 12.00 – 13.25 NPO 2 Repeat: Saturday 31-1-2009 08.55 – 10.23 NPO 2 Watch the broadcast
Meredith Monk is a composer, singer, director, choreographer and creator of new opera, music theater, films and installations. She has alternately been proclaimed as a ‘magician of the voice’ and ‘one of America’s coolest composers.’ During a career that spans more than 40 years, Monk has been acclaimed by audiences and critics as a major creative force in the performing arts.
In the film Inner Voice, we follow Monk during the process of making her latest piece, Songs of Ascension, at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and at Ann Hamilton’s Tower in California.
Together with her Vocal Ensemble, we also follow her on a concert tour of Italy.
Impermanence is a leading subject matter evolving in the documentary.
We observe how Monk’s productions are shaped, beginning with her initial work in solitude continuing on to the rehearsal process where she further develops her musical and choreographic forms with her Ensemble members. In Monk’s work, this is an ongoing process. Even at the performance stage, Monk continues to transform the work by striving for a balance between discipline and freedom; and an openness to change. Inner Voice sets out to locate the motivation and source of Monk’s creative force. There are no ready made answers. As in her work, the film retains a sense of mystery and wonder.
More about Meredith Mionk
‘In our culture it is customary to describe an experience, whereas I prefer placing myself right in the middle of it,’ says composer Meredith Monk, in this film portrait made by director Babeth VanLoo. Paradoxically, this is an excellent description of Monk’s work: a complete experience in which the senses and intuition play a far greater role than logic.
Along with Laurie Anderson and Pauline Oliveros, Meredith Monk is one of the female pioneers who have shaped the sound of American music. She was born into a family of musicians and educated at Sarah Lawrence College, New York. In the early ‘60s she was mainly noted as a dancer and choreographer. In her solo performances in downtown Manhattan she blended movement, images, music and vocalizations. Having always thought of music as her first language, she later sought alternative ways of vocalizing: ‘I wanted to make my voice move the way the body moves,’ she said.
Not satisfied with traditional approaches, Monk began to discover ‘extended’ vocal techniques through her own experimentation and background in classical and folk music. Clicks, whispers, ululations, going to the extremes of her range – anything was possible in her quest for her own voice. This curiosity found fertile soil in the ‘60s. ‘It was the anything-was-possible-era,’ she says in Inner Voice, referring to the Fluxus movement that, in the tradition of dada, wanted to turn the establishment upside-down. With her strong personality and vision, Monk helped shaped the spirit of that time: in 1968 she founded The House, a company dedicated to interdisciplinary performances. Ten years later, she founded Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble to further expand her musical textures and forms. Having already released three albums, she recorded Dolmen Music, her first record on the ECM label in 1981. After creating a series of short silent films in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the multi-talented Monk directed two award-winning films: Ellis Island (1981) and Book of Days (1988).
The documentary Inner Voice shows how the death of her partner Mieke van Hoek in 2002 – after they had been together for 22 years – was a breaking point in Monk’s life. In a conversation with Zen teacher Daido Loori Roshi of the Zen Mountain Monastery she talks about going straight through her fear; how she came face to face with death, both from the loss of her partner and after being thrown from a horse in 2007. In a recent performance of her Scared Song written in 1986, Monk, accompanying herself on keyboard, beautifully evokes the essence of fear.
She owes her initial exposure to Buddhism to her friend Lanny Harrison, an original member of The House, who introduced her to the teachings of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Since 1975, Monk has also taught at the Naropa Institute in Colorado and has been a member of the Shambhala Buddhist sangha. During the World Festival of Sacred Music in Los Angeles in 1999 she performed Vocal Offering for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She is currently a student of Acharya Pema Chödrön. People who know Meredith Monk’s music understand that her pure, multi-faceted and authentic voice is a reflection of her quest for her own ‘inner voice’, which could equally be described as Buddha-nature.
For many years, Monk mainly wrote for her ‘own’ performers but in 2003 she composed her first orchestral piece, Possible Sky, commissioned by the New World Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. This was followed by a commission for the Kronos Quartet, entitled Stringsongs. Monk continues to extend beyond the world of the American avant-garde, to which her name is so closely linked. Her profound influence was further demonstrated by a tribute concert in Carnegie Hall in 2005, which celebrated her 40-year artistic career with performances by artists as diverse as Björk, DJ Spooky, John Zorn, The Bang on a Can All-Stars and the Pacific Mozart Ensemble.