This image of three birds hovering over a “magic mirror” was created by artist Andreea Dumuta to accompany my composition Birdsong. Listen here:
The music is a sequence of inversion or “mirror” canons based on my transcriptions of bird vocalizations. A mirror canon is where one part echoes the other in an upside-down way. In the illustration, we see how the mirror transforms the appearance of the birds, adding color, and in one case showing a reflection that the mirror could not “see” — that’s why the mirror is magic. This magic is reminiscent of how the musical process of inversion reveals new qualities in a melody while preserving enough of its essence that it is still recognizable.
This is the second illustration I’ve commissioned for my album Meteorite, following Jon Wilcox’s depiction of a meteorite impact. My goal is to curate enough art connecting to the album that anyone who’s interested could spend as much time looking as they could spend listening. The visual art and the music will engage in a counterpoint of their own — they should be mutually enhancing. Each image will feature a visual signature: the presence of at least one bird, one meteorite, and one ammolite gem or ammonite fossil. Notice the way Andreea has incorporated all three elements here, with the last one being the subtlest.
When I first got a look at Andreea’s completed piece, I was immediately drawn in. I knew it was “right” for the music. But I wondered about one detail: could the arrangement of crystals and meteorites be simplified? That’s the same question I ask about every piece of music I write — can any elements be consolidated or removed without compromising the essence of the piece? Here, we tried making the crystals smaller, omitting some of them, and moving the remaining ones away from the birds, but in every alternate version, the piece seemed to lose something. Is there a lesson from this? Yes, sometimes the appearance of complexity makes you think there’s an opportunity to distill and refine, but when you try to do it you realize that the complexity is part of the magic. We can speculate about what might happen if we make this change or that change to a work of art, but often we don’t know until we try, and we might learn that everything is right just as it is.