Meredith Monk: Composer First

5. Minimalism

FRANK J. OTERI: Nowadays I sometimes see your music lumped together with the music of the minimalist movement, with Philip Glass and Steve Reich, and Terry Riley and La Monte Young and all of their followers. And I always find it interesting because you were doing this stuff at the same time that they were doing this stuff, and they got this label affixed to them, and it’s only with hindsight now that I see your name being grouped with them upon occasion. How do you feel about that association? Do you feel connected to that movement?

MEREDITH MONK: Well, I guess I always have a hard time with any kind of categorization at all, and I feel like anything that becomes a kind of movement, I’m very skeptical about, because basically, each of those people are unique composers in their own right, and really have found different things. So it happened, I think, that there was a certain period of time when people were getting sick of the Western European, what I call “from the chin up” kind of music. [laughs] And there was an impulse to go back to the body, and I think, to go past forms that had climax and denouement, linear, narrative kind of forms to a more… again, I don’t like to put people together at all, but generally, the idea was to find more circular, textural or more sculptural sorts of forms, you could say. But I think, for me it was very different. First of all, I didn’t know about their music at that time, and I think I was quite lonely. How I got to my music was much more from the song tradition, coming from a folk singing background. When I was in high school and college, my classical music heroes were Stravinsky, Bartók, Satie and Gershwin. I sang a lot of 20th century music in school but something of the honesty and directness of folk music touched me. When I began exploring my voice, I became interested in composing non-verbal, abstract song forms. So when I was using repetition (and I still do, to this day), I was thinking more about the way that folk music has a verse and chorus and the underlying instruments, which play repeating patterns are accompaniment. You know, I don’t think of myself that much as an instrumental kind of composer, I really feel I’m a vocal composer…

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  1. Pingback: Close Look: Meredith Monk, 2013 Founders Award Recipient | New Music USA

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