Born in 1940 in New York City; married LaMonte Young (a musician).

Marian Zazeela is best known as a light artist, and her work, both visual and vocal, has been an integral part of the soundscapes created by her husband and collaborator, the pianist and composer LaMonte Young. Together they are regarded as pioneers in the development of minimalist music, alongside such luminaries as John Cage, Yoko Ono, and Terry Riley. Zazeela began her study of visual art while a young student at New York's High School of Music and Art, from which she graduated in 1956. From there she went on to study painting at Bennington College in Vermont, graduating in 1960. Upon her graduation, the college's art department awarded her a spot in a two-person exhibition at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA in New York City. The large calligraphic canvases shown in the exhibition would later serve as the inspiration for some of her major light works.

Zazeela met Young in 1962, and the couple have been inseparable, both personally and professionally, ever since. They see their work as composed by one body, and often speak for one another in interviews. In an interview with Minnestota Public Radio, Young described how they met: "On June 22nd, 1962, I was having a rehearsal with the hand drummer and poet Angus MacLise.... While we were upstairs listening to some gamelan music, Marian came upstairs, and we've been together ever since. Actually we've been together twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, all of the time, with the exception of a period of about a year in 1965 when she had a day job at an advertising agency called Doyle Dane Bernbach."

Young went on to describe the couple's symbiotic working relationship: "It's like the concept of Shiva Shakti. That concept is the same as the positive/negative concept, the same as the periodicity concept, and the same as the creativity concept. It's also the same as the yin/yang concept.... Through this kind of very profound and harmonic relationship, it is possible then to do things and create works that could not be created by either one of us alone, even if we did them separately and brought them together."

Zazeela's early work with Young took place through their Theatre of Eternal Music, which has included a number of other musicians and performers such as Tony Conrad, Angus MacLise, and John Cale, who would go on to join the seminal rock and roll band The Velvet Underground. Zazeela created lighting and graphic materials for the ensemble's performances and also performed vocals with the group.

Two of Zazeela and Young's most important collaborations are their The Well-Tuned Piano and Dream House. The Well-Tuned Piano, a nearly seven-hour piece, is an ongoing project initiated by Young in 1964. The musical portion of the piece consists solely of a justly tuned piano and utilizes slow chord progressions arranged around a microtonal scale. Beginning in 1974, Young began using Zazeela's Magenta Lights as the visual environment for the piece.

Young has remarked that, after performing in Zazeela's light environments, he has had no interest in performing without them. "After you've once performed in an environment like the one in . . . The Well-Tuned Piano, who'd want to go back to performing in white light? Once you experience the pleasure of that, there's nothing to the other. It's totally dull. I think that our approach was always to try to do something more creative, more imaginative, and more extraordinary." Zazeela told Stylus magazine, "My intention is to create an atmosphere conducive to the experiencing of both sound and light works over a long period of time. The light sculptures are not created as a response to the music, but emanate from a creative impulse in a different medium."

The couple's second major installation, Dream House, is a total immersion project, originally commissioned by New York City's Dia Foundation in the 1980s for a Harrison Street loft, in which the performers all lived and worked. The project has been resurrected at Young and Zazeela's Church Street loft, also in New York City. With soundscapes by Young and a light environment by Zazeela, the installation is open to the public at selected times between the fall equinox and the summer solstice. Wrote Metrobeat's David Farneth of the second Dream House installation: "The Dream House is a unique life experience that you will remember for years, and one that you will probably return to time and again. If you give it the concentration it deserves, you will discover new things about yourself and see the workaday world from a distant perspective. It's a great place to celebrate, mourn, reflect, create, rest, analyze, energize, focus, wander, and revitalize."

Beginning in 1970 Zazeela and Young became disciples of the Indian vocal master Pandit Pran Nath, bringing him to New York and establishing the Kirana Center for Indian Spiritual Music at their Church Street loft. In her narrative biography featured on the MELA website, Zazeela explained, "This study, with its foundations rooted in Vedic philosophy and a rare combination of Hindu and Sufi traditions, opened new dimensions of artistic awareness for me. It has indirectly influenced and enriched the development of my artistic output while providing a path for my spiritual growth as well." Zazeela and Young began the nonprofit MELA Foundation in 1985. In addition to serving as co-director of the Kirana Center, Zazeela serves as a teacher of voice and raga, an Indian musical form.

Zazeela's light sculptures and her collaborations with Young have been presented widely in France and Germany. A third Dream House was created in a Berlin mansion in 1992 and a fourth at the Musée d'Art Contemporain in Lyon, France. Zazeela's light sculpture Sound/With/In was presented at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, with a sound environment created by Young, for three months in 1994-95.

With their emphasis on multidimensional environments, Zazeela and Young have produced few recorded documents of their work. The Table of Elements label released the only commercially available recordings of the Theatre of Eternal Music, also known as The Dream Syndicate, in 2000. The work is contained on Inside The Dream Syndicate, Vol. 1: Dream of Niagara [1965]. Zazeela appears as a vocalist and composer on the recording. Zazeela and Young released a recording of Dream House in 1974 on the Shandar label.

The influence of Zazeela, Young and the Theatre of Eternal Music on future generations has been profound. A review on the Pitchfork website has linked their work to that of the Velvet Underground's Lou Reed and indie rockers Sonic Youth and Jim O'Rourke. A 1997 benefit concert at London's Barbican Center to benefit the couple's artistic endeavors featured the rock bands Pulp and Spiritualized as well as popular electronic musicians Brian Eno and Kraftwerk.

by Kristin Palm

Marian Zazeela's Career

Collaborator with husband, pianist and composer LaMonte Young, 1962; co-founder, Theatre of Eternal Music; became co-director, with Young, of Kirana Center for Indian Classical Music, 1970; teacher at at Kirana Center.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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