New York

Meredith Monk

Meredith Monk’s performances have always been richly metaphorical collages of live and projected imagery, moving bodies, and powerful voices. Magic Frequencies, 1999, is a far more painterly work of visual theater. With its layers of transparent and opaque scrims between which the performers gracefully move, this latest production shows Monk in newly elegant form.

Her fresh approach is the product of two years spent on entirely different projects in previously uncharted territories. As part of “Art Performs Life,” a 1998 show at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Monk presented her three-decade-long performance oeuvre in exhibition form. She created a matrix in which viewers could move among sounds and images sampled from hundreds of her staged works. Then, in “Shrines,” an exhibition last spring at Frederieke Taylor/TZ’Art in New York, Monk filled two small rooms with objects and mementos from past performances: A row of white-painted suitcases softly played material first recorded in 1976; a pyramid of video monitors showed scenes from Volcano Song, a 1994 performance. These pieces spoke volumes of their source performances, yet were eerily present and evocative even if one had not seen the “originals.”

Monk has applied the techniques used in these installations to Magic Frequencies. The staging was bold and well-designed. Squares of projected light demarcated distinct scenes, while projections and live figures—dressed as futuristic aliens, earthlings, or visitors from the past—provided a parade of changing tableaux among lights, shapes, colors, and forms that continuously plied the stage. The story line, typically, was not a narrative but rather a collection of vignettes set in different zones in time and space. The music, as original and lush as ever, downplayed Monk’s earlier emphasis on, as she says, “voice, voice, voice.” Here, a percussionist and a violinist sat on a platform at the side of the stage and played full-fledged compositions that would be complete on their own.

With Magic Frequencies—the title refers to the wave patterns, inaudible to the human ear, emitted by hydrogen atoms—Monk has created an adventurous new work that demonstrates both the discipline of her thinking and its inexhaustible inventiveness.

RoseLee Goldberg