I always thought Meredith Monk belonged to dance. That’s how I found out about her anyway, she was on the list of names we were given in dance history when covering the Judson Theatre. In class we skimmed passed her quickly but I remembered her name always because let’s be honest – it’s a pretty great name. Then when I discovered the various sweet hipster boys of Cape Town who prided themselves on being familiar with that standard avante-garde music scene/history etc, I learnt from them that she ‘also’ made music. These oddly dressed boys who I was learning to flirt with, knew her name from music and I knew it from dance, but it never occurred to me that she could be more of a sound-maker than a movement-maker.
I had seen some excerpts of the film version of her first ‘breakthrough’ work, 16 Millimeter Earrings (I’m talking about the 1980 version, but the original piece was made in 1964, I think. There is also a seven minute black and white, silent film of16 Millimeter Earrings, according to her website that I haven’t seen yet, also from 1964). Then a couple months back I found the (almost?) full-length version on YouTube. I had also watched bits and pieces of her works Ellis Island and Book of Days on YouTube. I found her films to be entirely strange and kooky and wonderful, possibly pretentious but far too courageous for me to point fingers. I became increasingly interested in such a fascinating artist and began listening to her music. But still assumed she ultimately belonged to dance or identified as a choreographer/director.
After a very minimal amount of research imagine my surprise to discover that she does not, in fact, belong to dance. But to music. Most articles about her relate directly to her pioneering the “extended vocal technique” and eventually I found some articles from dance websites that discussed her relationship with movement and the body and also with Judson, a little. What arrogance to assume she was a dancer/choreographer who also did music as opposed to a singer/musician/composer who also did movement! And then my immediate reaction to this very response – how bizarre and unnecessary to think of someone belonging to one thing or one art form. The general point I am trying to make, is that this women produces incredibly weird and wonderful creations. And I want to be her a little.
After re-watching 16 Millimeter Earrings, I had forgotten how brave and how strange the piece is. It is a solo-work, about half an hour long which is already a scary thing to make; she was very young when she made it too. The first ten minutes are particularly good. It is slow, there are moments of humour but it is a very hesitant almost absent sort of humour that can only bring more attention to its subtle self. There is a lot of examining of the body in a steady and deliberate way that still manages to evade someone who is not on the look out. I like how she talks about the choreography, about the body and (in an indirect sort of way) about identity. I like contrast between the text and the movement.
In a great interview that I found at this sexy site, Monk says the following:
‘With the concept I had in 16mm Earrings I realised that anything in my life could be used as material: my hair, my body, my crossed eyes, anything about me physically or mentally, reading [Wilhelm Reich’s 1940] ‘The Function of the Orgasm’. I could objectify it.’
I am not sure the year of this interview, but I love what she says here. It also allows me to make more sense of my previous assumption that she was a dancer/choreographer. Her works use all material, voice included. The voice is one part of the body that dancers are renowned for being Very Bad At and/or Very Dismissive Of. Dancers are rarely allowed to speak, in fact. Odd.
This piece makes me want to grow my hair and use it like an extra limb. In fact, I’m going to go do that now whilst reading ‘The Function of the Orgasm’ because I am an Aspiring Creative Whatever, in my early twenties and I think that text is something that all of us Aspiring Creative Whatevers are supposed to read, no?
Here is the full length piece, watch it. It’s lovely:
OH! Look at her! It’s too much.