It’s easy to understand the appeal of butterflies. They’re beautiful, delicate, very much elegant in a way. But of course they don’t start out like that. Butterfly eggs look like a pile of small beads balanced precariously on the edge of a leaf. The caterpillars hatched from those eggs are decidedly not elegant, though they can look pretty neat. We talk about the transformative nature of cocoons and but that process is violent and rather gory. So while the end result might be this beautiful creature flying around our gardens, that’s not the whole story, not by a long shot.
This Friday at the Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion and Insectarium in Northeast Philly, a group of musicians will be diving deep into the topic. The Bowerbird-presented event, which will be held in the 7,000 square foot pavilion that’s home to thousands of butterflies, features performances from Portland duo Visible Cloaks, who have been celebrated for their minimal ambient synth-driven songs, and Philadelphia’s The Chrysalis Ensemble.
Assembled specifically for this event, that band is made up of author and artist Allen Crawford – who’ll be reading selections from his in-progress novel about the themes of, “mutation, pupation, and humanity’s relationship with the living world” – backed by synthesizer player Ben Warfield, multi-instrumentalist Laura Baird, and harpist Jesse Sparhawk. Appropriately enough, the book’s tentative title is The Chrysalis Bells, referring to the pupa stage of butterflies and moths.
Crawford told The Key that, “For several years I’ve raised and released native saturniid moths – Lunas, Polyphemus, and Cecropias, mostly. Their beauty is obvious, but the process by which they reach that state is miraculous: they essentially self-liquefy into a broth, then reconstitute themselves. It’s the most dramatic kind of metamorphosis in the natural world. I can’t imagine what experiencing such a transformation would be like.”
According to Bowerbird Executive Director Dustin Hurt, the event was originally conceived by two friends of his, audio engineer Eugene Lew and Pete Angevine from Little Baby’s Ice Cream. Angevine collaborated with the Insectarium last year when his parlor put out a cricket ice cream.
“The Butterfly Pavilion is only a year or two old at this point and I think Pete just thought it would be a cool place for a concert,” Hurt explained. Lew and Angevine decided Visible Cloaks were “the ideal band” for this space and Bowerbird then got in touch with the group and set up the show, recruiting Crawford along the way. “I like doing concerts in alternative spaces,” Hurt added.
Crawford mainly focuses on writing and visual art – the studio he founded with his wife Susan Crawford, Plankton Art Co., is responsible for an American Museum of Natural History collection of 400 illustrations of different ocean species – though he has collaborated with musicians before.
This past year he performed with The Ruins of Friendship Orchestra at concerts of the music from the David Kessler documentary The Pine Barrens. That band includes in its ranks the members of Chrysalis Ensemble as well as John Pettit (guitarist for now-broken up indie rockers Callowhill and also the Philadelphia chapter head of the Atlas Obscura Society); multi-instrumentalists Gretchen Lohse and Michael Dur. Crawford also appear in the film.
“The combination of story and music is a very old one,” he told The Key. “The music conveys what text cannot, and vice versa. It’s a powerful combination.”
Visible Cloaks and the Chrysalis Ensemble will play the Butterfly Pavilion on Friday, November 30th. Tickets and more information on the show can be found at its Facebook event page.