- Twittering Machine – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Sometimes, the image is perceived as quite dark. MoMA suggests that, while evocative of an “abbreviated pastoral”, the painting inspires “an uneasy sensation of looming menace” as the birds themselves “appear closer to deformations of nature”. They speculate that the “twittering machine” may in fact be a music box that produces a “fiendish cacophony” as it “lure[s] victims to the pit over which the machine hovers”. Kay Larson of New York Magazine (1987), too, found menace in the image, which she describes as “a fierce parable of the artist’s life among the philistines”: “Like Charles Chaplin caught in the gears of Modern Times, they [the birds] whir helplessly, their heads flopping in exhaustion and pathos. One bird’s tongue flies up out of its beak, an exclamation point punctuating its grim fate—to chirp under compulsion.”
Without drawing conclusions on emotional impact, Werckmeister, in 1989′s The Making of Paul Klee’s Career, sees a deliberate blending of birds and machine, suggesting the piece is part of Klee’s general interest in “the formal equation between animal and machine, between organism and mechanism” (similar to the ambiguity between bird and airplane in a number of works). According to Wheye and Kennedy (2008), the painting is often interpreted as “a contemptuous satire of laboratory science”.
Danto, who does not see the birds as deformed mechanical creatures but instead as separate living elements, speculates in Encounters & Reflections (1997) that “Klee is making some kind of point about the futility of machines, almost humanizing machines into things from which nothing great is to be hoped or feared, and the futility in this case is underscored by the silly project of bringing forth by mechanical means what nature in any case provides in abundance.” Danto believes that perhaps this machine has been abandoned, the birds opportunistically using it as a perch from which they issue the sounds the inert machine is failing to produce. Danto also suggests, conversely, that the painting may mean simply that “it might not be a bad thing if we bent our gifts to the artificial generation of bird songs.”
Wheye and Kennedy suggest that the picture may represent a sound spectrograph, with the heads of the birds perhaps representing musical notes and the size, shape and direction of their tongues suggesting the “volume, intensity, degree of trilling, and degree of shrillness of their voices”. This reflects the earlier view of Soby’s Contemporary Painters (1948) that:
The bird with an exclamation point in its mouth represents the twitter’s full volume; the one with an arrow in its beak symbolizes an accompanying shrillness – a horizontal thrust of piercing song. Since a characteristic of chirping birds is that their racket resumes as soon as it seems to be ending, the bird in the center droops with lolling tongue, while another begins to falter in song; both birds will come up again full blast as soon as the machine’s crank is turned.
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