Bjork

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Bjork

Post  eddie on Fri May 04, 2012 2:02 pm

Is Björk the last great pop innovator?

No one else can match the Icelandic musician's three decades of artistic restlessness and invention

Simon Reynolds

guardian.co.uk, Monday 4 July 2011 20.30 BST


Peerless pop – Björk in 1996 Photograph: Stephen Sweet/Rex Features

Earlier this year I interviewed Amanda Brown of cult band LA Vampires and was surprised when she announced that "every day I wake up and ask myself: 'How I can be more like Björk?' How can I be the most ecstatic, eclectic artist?" Surprised because Björk had dipped out of view in recent years and I confess that I'd half-forgotten how interesting she was as an artist – and just how long she'd stayed interesting.

Björk's career of innovation kicked off in early 80s Iceland with the "primal punk" of KUKL. Then came the Sugarcubes, the house band of Reykjavík's incestuous bohemian scene of absinthe-swigging surrealists and poets. Oscillating wildly between sublime and quirky, the Sugarcubes became the toast of the UK music press with unclassifiable art-pop tunes such as Birthday,which featured Björk's inimitable hypergasmic vocals.

In 1993, she went solo with Debut, a joyously juicy adventure in contemporary dance styles. Enchanting and inventive videos such as Human Behaviour (directed by Michel Gondry) made her an MTV star in America. Then 1995's Post tapped into the vortex of multicultural energy that was mid-90s London, where she had relocated and where strange hybrids such as jungle and trip-hop were bubbling. Homogenic, which followed in 1997, was even more experimental, reconnecting Björk with her native land's elemental rawness. Then 2001's gorgeous and glassy-sounding Vespertine withdrew into a cocoon of domestic bliss, paralleling her new life in New York with artist Matthew Barney.

The past decade has seen Björk veer from vocals-only extremism (Medúlla) to R&B flirtations (Volta), interspersed with soundtrack albums such as Selmasongs and Drawing Restraint 9. Now with the almost ludicrously ambitious Biophilia, Björk is on the cutting edge of finding ways that new media technology can enhance and expand the aesthetic experience of music, rather than deplete and cheapen it.

"Every one of Björk's records is different," enthused Brown. "And that's partly because she's always working with new people." Her taste in collaborators is indeed impeccable – Tricky, Matmos, Robert Wyatt, Timbaland, 808 State's Graham Massey, LFO's Mark Bell, Zeena Parkins, Rahzel – but it's always her vision and personality that sets the tone, and it's her talent that brings out the best in her audio-accomplices.

When it comes down to it, Björk simply has no rivals for sustained pop innovation over the long haul. Who else can match her nearly 30 years of being so artistically restless, so fruitfully? David Bowie pretty much invented the model of the pop shapeshifter, but after a dozen years of unrelenting brilliance, his career dwindled into a twice-as-long coda of bold misfires and catastrophic lapses. Kate Bush, the female Bowie, has been a dormant volcano for most of the last 20 years, but made a tentative return this year with Director's Cut, which revisits songs from her least fondly regarded stretch of output. As for Björk's partners and peers from the 1990s, charismatic sound-wizards such as Tricky, Goldie, and the Aphex Twin have either faded in potency or been sidelined into the dread zone marked "famous for being famous". After their Kid A/Amnesiac spurt of weirdness, Radiohead went back to doing what they do best. U2, similarly, became their own tribute band. Competition gets thinner still when it comes to the 00s: Animal Collective and Joanna Newsom do one thing very well, Gaga and MIA are aggregators not innovators. Björk is peerless.

Cultural impact does not always correlate with sales figures. Nobody much listens to Blood, Sweat and Tears or the Moody Blues these days, but music fans and young bands are still inspired by Love and the Velvet Underground, both failures in the marketplace of their day. The same applies to Björk: she is so much bigger a figure than the crude measure of units shifted would indicate. Alongside Beck and Trent Reznor, she is one of the figures who defined MTV in the 90s, but amazingly she never had a real American hit single. Here in the UK, her commercial profile is a shadow of what it was. But Björk remains an icon: tiny but titanic, thanks to the size of her voice and the scope of her imagination.

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Re: Bjork

Post  eddie on Fri May 04, 2012 2:06 pm


The look: Orange wig/woven dress/harp belt montage

What? On the cover of Biophilia, and in the video for Moon, Björk wears a preposterously giant frizz-wig of multi-ginger, blue facepaint and a belt made out of a harp by Three-As-Four (which in the video she strums), all accessorised with giant chunks of coloured quartz rock (which in the video she waves).

Verdict: 6/10. Not functional you say? Bah. I am wearing braces made out of a glockenspiel as I write this with an enormous calcite quillPhotograph: Album Sleeve

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Re: Bjork

Post  eddie on Fri May 04, 2012 2:08 pm


The look: Gargantuan pom-pom headgarb-meets-1980s bridesmaid

What? Ha. Exactly. Björk’s recent European tour obviously required something a little bit special; a Soren Bach headpiece made of rainbow-hued furry balls big enough to blot out the sun atop a shiny sweet-wrapper frock was the answer.

Verdict: 8/10. The size of the headress is one thing, but how does she manage all the pixie-like hopping at the same time?Photograph: Brian Rasic / Rex Features/Brian Rasic / Rex Features

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Re: Bjork

Post  eddie on Fri May 04, 2012 2:17 pm


The look: Superhero-meets-stegosaurus in a craft shop

What? This year’s Polar music awards outfit inspired so many questions. Such as: is that a seamed stocking detail on the midriff? Is purple really back? Where can I buy winged trainers? And do I perhaps need a bit of a lie down?

Verdict: 7/10. The 3D aspect gains points, as does the brave decision to layer crocheted cobwebs over a bodystocking Photograph: IBL / Rex Features/IBL / Rex Features

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Re: Bjork

Post  eddie on Fri May 04, 2012 2:20 pm


The look: Cactus/gemstone/bolero fusion experiment

What? Well, Swedish fashion designer Bea Szenfeld, who designed the dress our heroine wore to the 2010 Polar music prize, works with bits of paper, which she pleats, folds and glues by hand to create what she calls 'haute papier'.

Verdict: 5/10 Aaaallmost wearable, but basically the opposite of a 'figure fixer'. And what happens if it rains? And how do you hug her? Photograph: Most Wanted / Rex Features/Most Wanted / Rex Features

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Re: Bjork

Post  eddie on Fri May 04, 2012 2:24 pm


The look: Multicoloured knitwear mashup face mask thing

What? An addiction to futuristic knitwear seems to have taken hold of our chanteuse circa 2007’s Volta, when the Icelandic Love Corporation made what Bjork described perfectly as, "grannydoilycrochet in neon colours this wild woman voodoo mask".

Verdict: 9/10. It has gone beyond fashion. I'm amused yet scaredPhotograph: Bernhard Ingimundarson/Bernhard Ingimundarson

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Re: Bjork

Post  eddie on Fri May 04, 2012 2:27 pm


The look: Egg-dropping fashion-meets-performance art

What? In 2001 (with Lady Gaga still an ambitious twinkle in Stefani Germanotta’s eye), Björk sported this frilly Marjan Pejoski swan dress at the Oscars, and ‘laid’ several ‘eggs’ on the ‘red carpet’ while ‘actors’ looked on in ‘awe’.

Bonkers verdict: 3/10. Good legs, nice beak. With the benefit of hindsight e.g. Jean Charles de Castelbajac, Viktor & Rolf, meat dresses etc this is quite understated isn’t it? And really quite pretty! Photograph: STEWART COOK / Rex Features/STEWART COOK / Rex Features

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Re: Bjork

Post  eddie on Fri May 04, 2012 2:32 pm

Björk answers your questions

The Guardian Music Blog

We asked you to send in your questions for Björk, whose new album, Biophilia, is out now. She answered live online – here's what she said


Biophilia … Björk's new album muses on the universal and personal


MitchellStirling asks

I am going to Iceland for my birthday in a few weeks. As the world's most famous Icelander what do you recommend we should see?

Björk replies

Landmannalaugar is a good one, relatively easy to get to and you can have a wonderful walk in one of the most beautiful landscapes in Iceland without having fancy mountain gear stuff. Just a stroll through all different coloured clay and volcanic areas

MichaelCragg asks

Is there any chance of you leaking (or releasing) the songs you made with RZA around the time of Homogenic?

Björk replies

Hi there, probably not, these were more sketches really ...

Eulalio asks

Hi Björk! I've had the chance to listen to the album on stream (no luck experiencing any of the apps yet, sadly) and I loved it. Do you already have plans for the next cities you will visiting with your project? Any chance to include a city in Latin America?

Björk replies

We are receiving offers from some cities now ... nothing had been decided yet ... we will put info on the website as soon as we know ...

Eddie209 asks

I was at Bestival when you performed last month, it was great. Did you get scared when the Chinese fire lantern flew into the stage? I thought the stage might go up in flames. You did not even flinch.

Björk replies

Oops ... I didn't even notice it ...

TheHarry asks

I can't wait to hear your new album but I remain more interested in experiencing an artist's vision than having it presented interactively. As Alexis Petridis said in his review, isn't music already interactive?

Björk replies

Very good point!! I have always been very skeptical of interactive music. That's why I place a virus in the role of generative music in the song virus. Sort of a passive aggressive thing, right? But because it is a taboo to myself it really turned me on to brake it, because it was sort of impossible to do it well. But at the end of the day, like anything, you have to try it and see what it feels like. And if it is good, it is good and if it is bad it is bad.

trebornotrab asks

In 'Human Behaviour', you sang "There's definitely, definitely, definitely no logic to human behaviour". For some years I've quoted this in a lecture on the evolution of human behaviour that I give to 3rd year Anthropology undergraduates. Did you mean that - unlike all other animals - human behaviour does not follow any evolutionary logic at all? That we have somehow transcended our genes and are no longer subject to the forces of natural selection? Or just that it is harder for us to discern the "logic" in the complex patterns of human existence?
Robert Barton

Björk replies

Good question ... which is also something people say when they don't know exactly how to answer it ... at the time I wrote it I was referring to my childhood and probably talking about how I felt more comfortable on my own walking outside singing and stuff than hanging out with humans ... I experienced harmony with kids, the mountains and the ocean surrounding Reykjavik and animals I guess but found grown ups rather chaotic and nonsensical. When I went into sixth form school I choose science, math and physics and thought psychology, anthropology, sociology and history and such was for sissies. A huge majority of Icelanders do the same thing. They call subjects in school about people "kjaftafog" which means nattersubjects. As I got older and became a grown up myself I have learned to appreciate nattersubjects and recently read many books for the first time about psychology and I guess my last album volta had a anthropology angle on it ... so I have learned a little about humans. Now I can keep up a conversation (still rubbish at small talk though) and through my experience probably understand them a little better ...

roopsta asks

Hi Bjork,

Being a 3d animator by trade, me and my colleagues were pretty blown away by the visuals coming with Biophilia. Particularly the footage accompanying your Bestival gig.

Is it all the work Scott Snibbe? If not who was involved with the live stuff and how did they achieve it? (the dna strands especially, love to know something about the way it was done)

Keep up the good work!

Björk replies

There is a lot of people behind it. The DNA strands are by Drew Berry, Scott Snibbe's team did the viruses and the lightnings, Luc Barthelet did Crystalline, and Max Weisel did Moon, Solstice and Dark Matter but I think those last 3 he did, none of them where on the screen at Bestival. But Scott Snibbe was the project manager as well as making individual apps ...

AmieVarney asks

Hi Björk, do you think science and art can ever be combined successfully? Was Biophilia perhaps an attempt to breach the divide between science and art?

Björk replies

Well, seems like science and art were pretty much the same thing for thousands of years until the industrial revolution and the enlightenment separated them. I feel the 21st century is going to be the one where not only they can unite again but they have to ...

perfidy22 asks

My 2003 Saab 9-3 pulls to the right under heavy braking. I've had the tyres, tracking and steering checked and they look fine ... but it still happens.

What do you suggest?

Björk replies

Bicycle ...

RPMacMurphy asks

Dear Björk,
Birthday by The Sugarcubes is one of my all time favourite songs and it still sounds beautiful and unlike anything else I've ever heard.
I was a gooey teenager when I first heard it and I fell a little bit in love with you when I saw the video on the Indie chart on the chart show.
Anyway, my question is, what's does the line "sows a bird in her knickers" mean?

Björk replies

Thank you. Obviously it is about haberdashery ... and embroidery of course ...

Camdenlife asks

Hello from Scotland Björk!

I have recently just read the book about your music by Nicola Dibben and I wondered if you were aware of the book and how you feel about your work being examined within such an academic context?

Thanks!

Björk replies

I got it given afterwards and read it few years later when I became less shy of it. I liked it because it wasn't about my boyfriends or my children which female artists get a lot ... but seemed to be quite up front and down to earth about my music. She also seemed to be able to cover both the electronic and the more academic angle of my music which is rare. You either have the pop folks being intimidated about the string and the choir arrangements or you get the semi classical lot who sort of seem keen of "promoting" me into being a composer my fair lady style. Like they want to rescue me from pop. Which I am quite comfortable and proud to be part of. Nicola Dibben seemed not to care about either of those hurdles. And then she also took on the emotional angle of my music and I remember one sentence where she talked about me feminising techno which was very flattering ... there are biographical errors in it and some facts are misquoted from the press but rather minimal really ...

RueDesRigoles asks

What musicians do you like to listen to when at home or going out etc?

Björk replies

I have been listening to Oval, James Blake, Joanna Newsom, Dirty Projectors, Micachu, Antony and of course some good r'n'b on Friday nights. Stuff from sublime frequencies , soul music from sixties south-east Asia ... I also have by now a selected songs from thousands of all sorts of CDs and stuff I have gathered together on playlists, mostly something people would call "world music" even though I think it is a hideous title, music from various times from various areas of the world ...

ballboy asks

Hi Bjork,

I have sadly never had the chance to see you perform live - but I live close to a perfect venue for you to play a gig, The Eden project. Please can you come to beautiful Cornwall next summer and play among the biomes of Eden? It would be a perfect setting and a dream come true!

Thanks
BB

Björk replies

Funny you say that, we were looking at that building during the research of Biophilia, we are getting offers in now about places to play but haven't committed to anything yet ... we'll see ...

thedudeishere asks

What do you envision the music industry to become in the near future, in terms of efficient business models, artists creativity, successful formats, etc?

Björk replies

I think overall people are overrating my abilities and interest in rescuing the music industry ... I am more interested in the freedom of expression. The touchscreen is an incredible tool to write music with. But it isn't all lazy, just touch and stroke ... you would have to make the programs that turn you on to bring it individuality and that it is about what you want to express ...

EugeneFlower asks
Q: Dear Björk,

I would have two questions:

1. This new album stands out from your previous work because it is musically quite "stripped down". Your previous albums always had the tendency to accumulate layers of sounds/music and on Biophilia there is a lot of space.. was that conscious? what were your motivations?

2. Again Biophilia is different from the previous albums because it does not seem to aim at always creating unheard "sonic textures"; instead the emphasis here seems to be the composition (song structures, choir arrangements etc). Were you aware of that? Was that a delibarate risk you took?

The album is great, all the best!

Björk replies

1. Yes , it was conscious. I kept thinking about how sound operates and thinking it behaves similarly to atoms or the planets, with a lot of dark space around each blob. Also the stars of the album are the natural elements and the patterns they make, like for example how crystals grow or how viruses multiply or an lightning arpeggio and so on and you couldn't clutter that. This album for me is similar to Homogenic in the way there are few big things. When Vespertine for example was about many small things. I guess I also came out of Volta which was a chaotic wanderlust album and Biophilia for me is about clarity .

2. Thank you, that is so spot on. I feel grateful someone gets me. This album is about patterns and structures. The sounds of the bespoke instruments are not so out there actually, harp, organ, gamelan. The unique thing about them is that they can understand digital information, read midi, so they can react immediately to whatever patterns are formed on the touchscreen .


MrOblong asks

Do you plan to work with Tony Ferrino again?
'Short term affair' was a classic.

Björk replies

No plans but if he comes into my part of the world, you never know ...

zibibbo

Isn't all the interactive stuff just a distraction from the music and an advertisement for Apple? Not many people own or can afford Apple products.

Björk replies

For me it is about the music first and last. But I agree, in the interviews I have been doing they seem to put way more importance into that side of things than the songs. Like every fifth interview I would be asked one song question. My angle on the touchscreens is that they help me lay out the tools I want to work with when I'm writing. This time around I was interested in structures from nature and playing with them and singing along. I did this with a touchscreen called Lemur. We have been working with touchscreens like Lemurs and reactable since 2005, 2006. Four years before the iPad came out. When the iPad came out, we had already spent two years writing and programming the songs on a touchscreen. So it seemed silly to not put it out on a touchscreen. I think it will be soon enough that touchscreens will be cheap and available to everyone.

MarcoBoi asks

Which was the first album you fell in love with, and why?

Björk replies

dyrin i halsaskogi by thorbjorn egner. norwegian childrens play. It was huge in Iceland. and still is.

CrispyCrunchy asks

Hi Björk!
I wondered whether you have an special rituals or things you look forward to about the darker months as winter approaches?

Björk replies

We make icelandic haggish, I get also very excited about the Christmas present wrapping and sometimes start preparing that with my children way before. We did pick berries and sometimes prepare them ... the light in Iceland is only couple of hours in the darkest months so you kinda run out and do physical stuff like walk or bike and you kinda make more sure you enjoy it while it is there. I'm up in the north west Iceland right now and we watched the northern lights last night and they were spectacular!!!!

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