Yoko Ono: Birdsong
By Madeline Bocaro ©
In this incredible new age, when we should be using our voices to sing out, negativity abounds. If only we could communicate positively, like free twittering birds.
Birds communicate with each other. It’s not singing. It’s their language. It’s so beautiful and different from ours. – y.o. Twitter
Yoko’s biography begins, born: bird year. On People magazine’s 25 Things You Don’t Know About Me list in, Yoko reveals at age 83,
“If I had to be reincarnated as an animal, I would choose a sparrow.”
Birdsong was Yoko’s first inspiration. As a young child, one of her school assignments was to translate the sounds of a symphony of birds into musical notation. She realized that it was impossible. At first, Yoko thought it was her own shortcoming. She soon determined that there was a limitation in the way that we scored music – which lost its intricate beauty. This is the frustration behind all of Yoko’s work: the material world cannot replicate the purity of an idea. To solve this problem, Yoko’s scores combine musical notation with instructions.
“I loved listening to the birds singing in the morning. Beautiful complicated sounds a bird can make which you can’t copy – it seemed so perfect and I thought, ‘Why try to do something like that when a bird can do it effortlessly? So I began to compose music which wasn’t complete – with instructions like: This should be played with birds singing in the garden’. From there I began to question the whole thing of composition and instruction.”
– Yoko, Vogue December 1971
In the transcendent song ‘Higa Noboru’ (Between My Head and the Sky, 2013), Yoko communicates the wisdom shared with her by natural elements and by animals. She speaks the lyrics alternately in Japanese and in English.
I hear the fish calling from the ocean
I hear the birds warning in the sky
The song ‘Moonbeams’ (Take Me to the Land of Hell, 2015) begins with a piercing, distressed bird cry. Yoko illustrates the dichotomy of good and evil in human nature with the lines,
My heart is ruminating your sweet words
While my hands are strangling the birds.
It’s interesting that birds and elephants (which Yoko has also referred to in ‘Ask The Elephant’) are the only animals who possess a sense of rhythm.
The imagery in Yoko’s Franklin Summer drawings (1995-2012) is often of birds, including shapes that are embryonic and oval, like an egg. Most of the images evoke abstractions of nature; aquatic, avian and inter-gallactic. They all resemble starling murmurations.
“A bird was chirping in a corner of the restaurant. I kept listening to it for a while, hoping I could figure out what the bird was saying. Finally, I gave up and said, ‘thank you!'”
– Yoko, Instagram October 2016