It's been said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture (impossible and absurd). But what about singing about movies? Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustinehave paired up for a collaborative project that does just that. A Beginner's Mind is their debut album that contains 14 songs (loosely) based on (mostly) popular films. The source material is highbrow, lowbrow, and everything in between. The music is folksy, sweet, sincere and harmonically effervescent – Simon & Garfunkel with New Age flourishes. This album runs the gamut and has fun with it, even while its songwriters remain fully rooted in the melancholy folk idioms they are known for.
Stevens and De Augustine wrote everything with a deliberate sense of shoshin – the Zen Buddhist concept for which the record is named and an idea that empowered the pair to look for and write about unlikely inspiration without preconceived notions of what a film had to say. The underlying objective was empathy and openness, absent of judgment: to observe what is pure and good – or seemingly dark and villainous – with the eyes of a child.
Daniel Anum Jasper, a pioneer of Ghanian movie poster painting, was commissioned to paint a series of new works for A Beginner's Mind. Information about the project was kept vague so that Jasper could work without restraint. Mythical deities and monsters, zombies, skydivers and a celebrated American director (Jonathan Demme, to whom the album is dedicated) were submitted as visual cues. The resulting paintings are a graphic simulacrum for the same sense of wonder, wordplay, and intrigue that shape A Beginner's Mind. By transforming old films into vital new songs, Stevens and De Augustine ask us to consider ourselves from a previously unconsidered vantage point – a new way of seeing and hearing – an exercise that's as necessary and relevant now as it's ever been.