‘Interrogation (what kind of bird are you?)’ by Max Ernst

No 2 from the Impressions series commissioned by the Van Abbemuseum.

View the original painting here.

How might music convey the hidden narratives of art?

Two bird/human figures are sketched with black lines on an expressive, reddish background. Innocent, somewhat naive, comic, cartoon-like images are cheerfully smiling and cuddling. It might look sweet. But knowing Max Ernst, an innovative artist and a known provocateur, probably too sweet to be taken for granted. In works such as this, one can often expect some strongly implied hidden layers of meaning. The musical portrait of an artwork should then definitely take this into account. But how?

In his attempt to unlock these hidden senses, Sachit uses the paradoxes of this painting as his starting points. The explicit naivety of images contrasts with a provocative question in the title “What kind of Bird are you?” pointing at the camouflaged topic of self-identity. This question, written upside-down at the very bottom of the canvas, suggests an interrogative approach for the music. Soft, dry lines sketching bird-like figures are stylistically contrasting with the texturized background of full colour, evoking strong emotional response. This background interferes with the figures here and there as if it would doubt its seriousness and importance. What do all these details mean? What is this painting trying to ask us? Maybe music will help us to figure this out.

Text: Asja Zakhareva, Sachit Ajmani

Composer: Sachit Ajmani

Performers: Kristine Paseka (soprano), Heiður Lára Bjarnadóttir (cello), Francesco Bellomo (percussion)

Project curation: Asja Zakhareva

Studio and recording assistance provided by Louis van Eeten and Conservatorium Maastricht.

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