Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Meredith Monk

Until Sunday I'd never knowingly heard Meredith Monk. A dancer took me to her concert at Bryn Mawr, and let's say I had an experience.

My experiential practice has come a long way since I walked out of my first gamelan concert, Germanic sensibilities offended by the invitation to the audience to walk around the shadow puppet screen onstage while a leaf shape twitched on the screen. After some reflection and hearing from another composer, I understand there is strong ritual emphasis in Monk's work as well. I'm also retrospectively (no pun intended) interested in what her performance calls for from the audience, although the proscenium staging did set one up to sit and watch dumbly.

I had no idea her music would be minimalist in a most stereotyped style, combined with melodramatic, simple movement.* The presentation and movement, too, were more awkward and simpler I expected. The acoustic effect of the synthesized keyboard in persistent patterns can wear down one's consciousness -- another dancer acquaintance admitted she'd slept through part of the concert, too exhausted by the sound.

When I sensed the first, long piece was coming to a close, I became genuinely afraid I would not maintain control of my vocal muscles and first covered my mouth forcefully, then jammed the whole hand in hard enough to leave teethmarks. Only during intermission did I read that the first piece was adapted for the stage from an original site-specific piece. Still, the performances repeatedly provoked my disbelief that such a popular artist could give so little material, so awkwardly timed, so slowly. The style, including that of the Girlchild costume, evoked tribal and Japanese court traditions in a way that made me suspicious.

My metaphor for my experience was to witness the concoction of a powerful medicine, and then be made to take it even though it was certainly not for my illness.

So what do you think of Meredith Monk?

*It begged the question why Glass is better known, if not accepted, among Western classical tradition musicians than Monk. She's been no less academically recognized. The multidisciplinary focus? her popularity? that she's a she?

1 comment:

  1. Uggh, this sounds like the kind of music that everyone applauds but no one actual enjoys. You should have been meaner.