Meredith Monk—the 75-year-old composer, vocalist, visual artist, and educator—has performed at the Walker more than a dozen times since 1974. With this week’s performance of Monk’s Cellular Songs, I wondered: how can Walker Reader contribute new, engaging ideas about an artist who’s been so extensively written on?
Monk is known for many things, but chief among them are: her wordless vocalization style (she believes the voice is an instrument and that words often say less than phonemes), her Buddhist practice, her role as a pioneering woman in a male-dominated world of experimental music and art. Many of these aspects of her long, impressive career have been covered already, in a video by Tate Modern, a Meet The Composer appearance, an On Being interview, scholarly essays and interviews (including in the Walker’s 1998 catalogue Art Performs Life: Merce Cunningham / Meredith Monk / Bill T. Jones), in Lion’s Roar magazine, and in numerous videos with Buddhist practitioners. What could I possibly add to that rich, important history?
In the end, I went with a traditional format—a standard interview—but hopefully it stands out for the timeliness of the discussion: in these tumultuous times, how does this celebrated artist stay balanced, and how does her work address this instability? Long by Walker Reader standards, the 3,500-word discussion covered her own reaction to #MeToo, and her experiences being a woman coming up in an experimental art scene dominated by men—
—to her rare decision to include words, instead of nonverbal vocalizations, in her newest work, Cellular Songs:
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed doing it.
Related: I’ve long admired Monk, going back at least as far as the Walker’s 1998 exhibition Art Performs Life, and while I didn’t mention it to her, our connection was a tiny form of reunion: back in 2001, I send her a letter asking her to be part of my conceptual art project Signifier, Signed… She complied, mailing back my “autograph” written in her hand, something I truly appreciate and treasure.