A gentle and beautiful rewriting of bird song
Introducing her debut album, The Aviary, London’s Ana Silvera is accustomed to making an impact. Already appearing alongside Imogen Heap, the album is a masterpiece of mythological lyrics and instrumental folk rhythms. Aesthetica uncovers the inspiration behind The Aviary. www.anasilvera.com.
The Aviary revolves around birds; why is this?
I draw a great deal of inspiration from folktales and birds often play a very big part in those narratives. I worked with an Estonian choir recently, and I discovered that in ancient Estonian mythology the world was believed to have turned around a tree, to which the skies were nailed with the North Star. The Milky Way was a path created by the birds’ travels, and these birds carried the souls of the deceased to the other world. Perhaps that’s something that we feel instinctively – that birds connect us to the unknown. And whilst we can’t necessarily understand bird song, the musical way in which birds communicate is shared by humans.
When you write, do you draw on personal experience or your imagination?
I think I draw on personal experience, but I often refract it through stories and characters. I love the idea of a song where you’re not quite sure if the singer is telling their own story directly, or inhabiting a character, or a mixture of both. I think Gillian Welch does this brilliantly.
How would you describe your sound?
I grew up singing Irish folk songs and the music of a lot of 1960s and 1970s songwriters with my father, but then I also always loved classical music, especially composers like Bartok, Ravel and Arvo Pärt. Additionally, I grew up wanting to emulate my mother and to be a writer, so my first love is words, with music coming an extremely close second. My mother read us a lot of poetry when we were growing up, and the best poetry for me seems to distil the world and make it more real, like putting on a pair of glasses after blurry vision.
Do you have any personal favourites on the album?
It’s hard to say as I have lived with the songs for a really long time. Perhaps one of the ones I like most at the moment is Manon because I think it treads a path between the personal and story-telling, and between sadness and joy.
The last couple of years have been very significant for you musically; do you have any highlights?
It has meant a lot to me that certain people have connected deeply with the songs on The Aviary, and it’s always meaningful to receive letters or emails or whatever to that effect. That is the privilege of an artist – to feel their work is affecting or moving an individual in an important way.
What music has inspired you personally?
I mentioned Arvo Pärt, the Estonian composer, and I have to say he is a huge inspiration for me. It’s something about the space he leaves in his work to allow the music to breathe. But I also love the work of very “wordy” songwriters such as Silvio Rodriguez and Jacques Brel. Finally, Björk has been a major inspiration in the way she’s created a whole visual and musical world that’s uniquely hers and never seems to have lost integrity despite her great success.