Post 1980 canon #1: The composer-performer. Meredtih Monk and Laurie Anderson

Welcome to the first post of my attempt to establish a post 1980 contemporary music canon.

Meredith Monk (1942-)

One of the things that have been characterizing the last three decades of contemporary music is the composers-performers. There have off course been composer-performers before (from Chopin to John Cage), but traditionally the compositions these people have made were published with a general audience in mind. The music of for instance Meredith Monk is so linked to her own personal style that it is impossible to separate composition from performance. I am not saying that Monk invented this, but I think she can serve as a good example of this trend.

Monk also serves as example of the crossover artist, who exists very close to the popular-music-art-music divide. She has been releasing her music on ECM, but still keeps herself on the art-music-side.

As example work I have chosen Dolmen Music - one of the awesomest pieces of music to be conceived in the 20th century. I'm aware that the piece was composed in 1979, so technically it shouldn't get into my post-1980-canon. But since it wasn't released, and thus didn't make it's impact, before 1981, I will make an exception. Because this is just to great to let go.

Laurie Anderson (1946 -)

Laurie Anderson is placed just on the other side of the "popular-music-art-music-divide." In my head I imagine Laurie and Meredith waving at each other from a quite close distance. They're both women, both American, both inspired by minimalism and technology, and both performers redefining what you can do with the voice.

As example work, I have chosen O Superman (for Massenet) from her United States performance, who as a single actually reached #2 on the UK charts in 1982.


  1. another important aspect of both of these composers is the blurred line between performance art and music. Laurie Anderson's work with the tape bow violin (now done with MIDI triggers), and all the incredibly performative aspects of her work.

    Meredith Monk is much the same, adding in choreography as integral parts of her work.

    And it's important how much technology played in the music/performance art of both Monk and Anderson. While Anderson is more well known for it, Monk has been making use of electronics (playback and synths mostly) since the beginning of her career. You bring it up in such a short snippet at the end, but it's a really important fact.

    And this whole series is a fantastic idea, and I hope your students get a lot out of these short entries!

  2. You're absolutely right, John. I'll bring this up in the lecture. And thanks for the kind words :)


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