Annie Lennox is a singer, right? She’s also a songwriter, political activist and philanthropist, but to music fans it’s her voice that stirs the emotions and captivates the heart. So an EP by Annie Lennox without her distinctive contralto singing, surely, has to be a disappointment. But she must have known she would be defying every expectation of her fans when she decided to release Lepidoptera. What rabbit (butterfly?), we wondered, had Annie Lennox pulled out of the conjuror’s hat two days ago?
The only way to find out is to listen. But, first, set aside an hour or two in your hectic schedule. Find a secluded space where you can embrace the silence, retreat into solitude and clear your mind of all distractions. (A deep, dark cave would be ideal.) Only then will you be able to appreciate the four 8 or 9 minute pieces on this mini-album.
Are you relaxed and sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin with track 2, Parnassius Apollo.
Three piano notes ring out and fade completely away. The effect is ambiguous. Only seconds have passed but already the tune seems to have ended. Then three more notes lift themselves from the ivory keys and hang in the air. They, too, dissolve into the sonic void. There is infinite space in this universe, infinite time. Fragments of melody rise and settle back down. Arpeggios punctuate the silence. Sparse chords provide some temporary substance. But this is not music, it is distilled tranquility.
The other three tracks on the EP have a very similar vibe. They were recorded “several years ago” and were all improvised at the piano.
My hope for this ambient music is that whoever hears it will be calmed and soothed, in a world that’s becoming exponentially more hectic and bombarded by sonic overload.
Each track is named after a species or family of butterflies: Papilio Machaon, Parnassius Apollo, Apatura Iris and Hesperiidae. The EP forms part of the “Now I Let You Go” installation at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which comprises “hundreds of artifacts culled from [Annie’s] personal collection of memorabilia, found objects, and personal effects “.
How the Butterfly Music fits into the installation as a whole I cannot say. If you went to the opening yesterday Crotchety Man would love to hear what you thought of it. Was it just a jumble of random objects half immersed in a mound of earth? Or did it provide a revealing insight into the life and art of one of the music industry’s most celebrated artists? Were you surprised to discover that Annie Lennox is an accomplished pianist? Or were you, perhaps, startled to find yourself staring into the face of a beautiful insect with big black eyes and long cotton-bud antennae?