Making Music Herstory Vol VIII: Meredith Monk

Meredith Monk will be 76 this year and she’s still going strong. The American composer, vocalist and performer released her last album in 2016, contributing to an impressive discography that’s already the length of a football pitch.

To describe Monk as merely a composer, a vocalist or a performer would be to limit her skills and drastically undersell her. She uses her voice like the fragile, flexible and versatile instrument that it is; compositions like ‘Dolmen Music’ use all possible timbres, textures and pitches of her voice, moving abruptly from haunting rising scales to bubbling nonsensical speech in half a beat. Her pieces combine music and performance art in a unique way: she experiments with how far her voice can go in any given situation, then explores how to present her findings as interestingly as possible. ‘Turtle Dreams’ starts off with an abstract rendition of the simple phrase “I went to the store” before combing choreography, filmography and musical composition to explore the limits of music.

Monk has been aligned with various movements, from minimalism to folk music. This is not to say her music is sparse, but that she recognises the importance of layers, different lines of music interlocking to form new patterns each time they meet. In fact, Monk’s music sounds simultaneously incredibly modern and incredibly ancient. Her use of drones and nonsense sounds, especially in her most recent album On Behalf Of Nature, would be equally at home in a druid ritual centuries ago as it would be in a performance art showcase in New York.

Meredith Monk has never ceased to experiment and play with music. Many musicians have a tendency to take themselves and their music too seriously; that’s not to say that Monk doesn’t have integrity in what she does, but she recognises music as a toy which she can mould and twist this way and that to create new sounds.


‘Fractal Activity’, ‘Dolmen Music’, ‘Turtle Dreams (Waltz)’, ‘Cloud Code’, ‘Railroad (Travel Song)’


Jemima Skala