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D/B Video Feature: Meredith Monk Documentary

Documentary about the composer Meredith Monk and her works. Directed by Peter Greenaway, part of the “Four American Composers” series.

[audio:Miekes Melody Nr 5.mp3] Meredith Jane Monk is an American composer, performer, director, vocalist, filmmaker, and choreographer. Since the 1960s, Monk has created multi-disciplinary works which dwell in the spaces between music, theatre, and dance, recording extensively for ECM Records.

Meredith Monk is primarily known for her vocal innovations, including a wide range of extended techniques, which she first developed in her solo performances prior to forming her own ensemble.

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In December 1961, she appeared at the “Actor’s Playhouse” in Greenwich Village (NYC) as a solo dancer in an off-Broadway children’s musical theater production of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” entitled “Scrooge” (music and lyrics by Norman Curtis; directed and choreographed by Patricia Taylor Curtis). In 1964, she graduated from Sarah Lawrence College after studying with Beverly Schmidt Blossom and in 1968 she founded The House, a company dedicated to an interdisciplinary approach to performance.

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Monk’s performances have influenced many artists, including Bruce Nauman, whom she met in San Francisco in 1968. In 1978 Monk formed Meredith Monk and Vocal Ensemble (modelled after similar ensembles of musical colleagues such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass) to explore new and wider vocal textures and forms which often were contrasted with minimal instrumental textures. Monk then began a long-standing relationship with the Walker Art Center, which continues to showcase her work to this day. Pieces from this time include Dolmen Music (1979), which also was recorded for her first album released at Manfred Eicher’s record label ECM in 1981.

Meredith Monk Documentary / Part 3 of 8

In the 1980s, Monk wrote and directed two films, Ellis Island (1981), and Book of Days (1988), which developed from a single idea; “One day during summer of 1984, as I was sweeping the floor of my house in the country, the image of a young girl (in black and white) and a medieval street in the Jewish community (also in black and white) came to me”, as Monk recounts in the liner notes of the ECM-recording. Apart from the film, different versions exist of this piece; two for the concert hall, and an album, produced by Meredith Monk and Manfred Eicher as “a film for the ears.”

In the early 1990s, Monk composed an opera called Atlas, which premiered in Houston Texas in 1991. She has also written pieces for instrumental ensembles and symphony orchestras. Her first symphonic works were Possible Sky (2003) and Stringsongs (2004), which was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet. In 2005, events all over the world were held in celebration of the 40th anniversary of her career, including a concert in Carnegie Hall featuring Björk, Terry Riley, DJ Spooky (who sampled Monk on his album Drums of Death), John Zorn, and the new music ensembles Alarm Will Sound and Bang on a Can All-Stars, along with the Pacific Mozart Ensemble.

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Monk has won numerous awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship, and she holds honorary Doctor of Arts degrees from Bard College, the University of the Arts (Philadelphia), The Juilliard School, the San Francisco Art Institute and the Boston Conservatory. In 2007, she received the Demetrio Stratos International Award for musical experimentation.

Her music was used in films by the Coen Brothers (The Big Lebowski, 1998) and Jean-Luc Godard (Nouvelle Vague, 1990 and Notre musique, 2004).

Meredith Monk’s official site: http://www.meredithmonk.org