Meredith Monk was busy in New York last week. At (Le) Poisson Rouge, she presented a three-night version of her new concert, Cellular Songs, an attempt to convey the kinetic spirit and essence of our own body’s microscopic building blocks; The New York Times called it one of the Fall’s must-see classical concerts in the city. She brings it to Big Ears in March. When that was done, she introduced composer and friend Alvin Lucier at the ISSUE Project Room’s annual gala, where he was given the venerable institution’s 2018 artistic honors. And then, on Friday, she appeared in a Times story about the musical interests of filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. Seth Colter Walls’ piece details Godard’s relationship with ECM founder Manfred Eicher and how it inspired him to reimagine the sound of his 1990 film Nouvelle Vague after he heard the music of Monk and fellow ECM artist and Big Ears 2019 performer Kim Kashkashian.
For us, all this activity brings to mind a short but winning documentary that the Tate Modern released late last year. The clip offers a tour of Monk’s Tribeca loft, where she lives, works, and archives decades of her art. Monk then walks us through some of her most notable pieces and analyzes not only why she made them but why they might remain relevant so many years later. She connects the fascist criticism of Quarry, for instance, to the rise of international strongmen right now and praises not only artists whose output is directly political but whose work might imagine a new reality altogether. “I have always believed in the healing power of art,” she says. “I think that art can melt walls, not build them.”