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At 80, Meredith Monk Is Still Seeking Ways to Communicate

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Much is recognizably Monk, down to the subject of “Indra’s Net,” whose title comes from Buddhist/Hindu legend, in which the king Indra stretches a bejeweled net across the universe, with each jewel reflecting all others. Monk’s treatment of the image is as an antidote to an increasingly fragmented world.

It helps to know this story, but it is not essential; such is the communicative power of Monk’s work. Her first solo, in “Melodies A,” contains the physical gesture of a lecture or sermon, adding an element of theater to her expressions of “oo-wah, ah-oo.” Later in that number, Easter and Fisher appear to engage in a dialogue rife with disagreement, repeating the same phrase back and forth with slight changes in inflection. But then they land on a shared melody, and walk off together.

Other songs feel like classic Monk. She lets out a high note that plunges and sustains in “Gong Song,” later joined by Crevoshay’s ethereal melodies and An’s overtone singing. “Hands in the Dirt” is a pointillistic, buoyant group number assembled from “heys” and “hos,” and building toward rousing joy. In “Teeth Song,” two percussionists join the ensemble, which adds percussion of its own with audible bites and, later, effervescent and aquatic sound effects.

At the heart of “Indra’s Net” is “Anthem,” a slow build that begins with a walking line in the piano, picked up by a flute and eventually every performer, gathering force to glorious beauty. In its insistent harmony, it could have just as easily been called “Manifesto.” And its consonant mood returns in the finale, a meditative gathering of every singer, and nearly every instrumentalist, onstage for music of absolute solace, in a moment redolent of the communal, spiritual climax of “Atlas.”

As the lights faded and the song reached its conclusion, its cutoff suggested an arbitrary ending, that it could have lasted forever. It’s nice to think so. Monk is not a political artist, but she closes “Indra’s Net” on a utopian note, idealistic but persuasive in its earnestness: a reminder, if not a wish, necessary early in her career, and especially today.

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