A tale of body and soul

01 October, 2017

Visual interpretation of Leonard’s Cohen ‘Avalanche’ for the 2017 Vinyl ArtThink contest


Leonard Cohen’s “Avalanche”, one of his most mysterious songs, ends with an odd request: “It is your turn, beloved / it is your flesh that I wear”. And then silence. Whose turn is it? And the turn to do what, precisely? My illustration, “A tale of body and soul”, is an response to Cohen’s appeal.

The song clearly rotates around a “you” and an “I”, although it is unclear who these subjects are. As I interpret it, the song is a metaphor about the noumenon / phonomenon dualism. The speaking voice is that of the “soul” of the world which, by stepping into the avalanche, forsakes its purely abstract form in order to participate in the physical world. Even if, in doing so, it appears less perfect (a “cripple”, “hunchback”…).

If the song is then about the soul entering the world of the senses, I therefore interpret the song’s solicitation “it is your turn” as a plea for the physical to abstract itself into more universal forms.

In line with this, my illustration represents the journey of the song itself, as it transcends its words and meaning through subsequent layers of abstraction. Each panel represents the song through a data visualization on an aspect of the song: lyrics & words with their grammar (shapes) and concepts (colors) in panel 1; music score in panel panel 2; and sound in panel 3. First, the lyrics “collapse into an avalanche” and metamorph into their structural representation. Then, the poetry of the song’s music is metamorphosed into a rigidly structured grid depicting the beats and notes. Lastly, the song reaches its most abstract state: a waveform, that could be described by mathematical functions, extracted from the song’s audio track.

While my illustration is rich in symbolism and there are reasons behind the choice of each single color and shape, I willingly omitted a legend to explain these choices. I hope that, just like Cohen’s masterpiece, my illustration can be both appreciated as it appears and also be analyzed with care in the search for patterns and hidden meanings.