art by Tais Teng
The Voynich Variations
by Edoardo Albert
Yes, it was an obsession. I can date its inception quite precisely: the evening of 15th May 2010, when my latest work was premiered by the Quadrivium Ensemble to critical incomprehension. This soon became, in the prose of those stunted creatures, bile. When even Mario Zucotta, the ensemble's leader, came to me and suggested certain changes to make the work more accessible, I realized that what I was doing was beyond even the most advanced musical intelligences. The only person who could appreciate my work was me. But the flowering of genius requires an audience outside itself. So, I withdrew.
That was when I became obsessed with the Voynich Manuscript. I'd been interested in it ever since I learned of this 16th-century text, composed in a script no one understood, interspersed with obscure drawings and diagrams. The author was unknown and, despite the attentions of the greatest cryptographers in history, its meaning had never been deciphered.
In disgust and defeat, many now claimed the manuscript to be nonsense, a parody of a cipher, nonsense screening nonsense.
But I was convinced it was real. In the weeks and months following my musical retirement--I note in passing that there were numerous inquiries as to my next work, all of which I ignored--I studied the manuscript, investigating the various theories about it and dismissing them as they became untenable. I woke up thinking about it, went to bed wrestling with it, and passed my days in intellectual combat against it. For, if there was one thing I had discovered, it was that the anonymous cryptographer of the Voynich Manuscript was a worthy opponent, possessing a mind subtle, and cunning, and deep. It was an honour to match myself against him (it was a man, I had no doubt of that; a woman could not have created its architectural structure); a greater honour to best him.
And, of course, I did.
The answer, as so often, came in the driftlands between wake and sleep, where I saw the strange characters of the script arrange themselves in an arc and... begin to play.
I woke, a gasp of exultation on my lips, a pen in my hand.