Turtles and Creativity

Who knew that turtles played a key role in the downtown New York experimental music scene?

A recent New York Times article calls it “a substantial, and neglected, history of turtles in experimental music.” Reporter William Robin did interviews with influential composers in musical Minimalism, including the members of an influential group from the 1960s, Meredith Monk and La Monte Young, and their Theater of Eternal Music. The composers were exploring the idea of slowness, and they both had turtles as pets. One of their compositions was called “The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys.”

Mr. Young said “we were creating sound that had to do with permanence” and “Turtles are these incredibly continuous and ongoing creatures.”

On a side note, the cover image of my 2006 book Explaining Creativity (first edition, but buy the 2012 second edition!) is a painting of a turtle, done by a Native American artist, representing his cultural group’s creation story, which involved a turtle.

We would sing for our turtles. We told ourselves that they liked it. They didn’t deny it. –La Monte Young


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