EMO­TIONAL LAND­SCAPES

Björk talks mu­sic, art, style, heart­break and cre­ative chem­istry

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE - ■ Vul­ni­cura is out now. Björk: Ar­chives, a ret­ro­spec­tive book cov­er­ing her ca­reer, will be pub­lished by Thames & Hud­son on March 30th

Björk has an ap­point­ment to keep a few hours we speak. She’s due at the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in New York to dis­cuss some as­pects of the mu­seum’s forth­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion of her work. By the num­bers, that’s the stuff of 20 years and eight al­bums, dis­tilled into five gallery rooms.

Björk says she was sur­prised and non­plussed when she was first ap­proached about the ex­hi­bi­tion. “It’s a re­ally func­tional prob­lem, just how do you put mu­sic and sound in a vis­ual mu­seum? I told the cu­ra­tor that it couldn’t be just me­mora­bilia be­cause that would be very bor­ing, all those dresses.”

Bit by bit, the ex­hi­bi­tion took shape. “Some as­pects are ob­vi­ous.We have the Bio­philia in­stru­ments, which are pretty phys­i­cal, and you can put them in a room and you also have the apps.

“There’s an­other room which will be al­most like a cinema with all the videos I’ve done be­fore. For a lot of the di­rec­tors, you can only see their work on YouTube with bad sound and bad vi­su­als, so it’s very sat­is­fy­ing, im­por­tant and re­ward­ing to put them on show with amaz­ing sound and vi­su­als.”

She’s ex­cited about the tech­nol­ogy in­volved and is on her way to visit the mu­seum and test if the GPS sen­sors and the rest of it work “both tech­ni­cally and emo­tion­ally” in the space. There was a long lead-in time to test the apps that ac­com­pa­nied Bio­phil

ia, but she doesn’t have that luxury with this ex­hi­bi­tion.

Björk also knows she can’t avoid the frocks. “The riski­est part of the ex­hi­bi­tion is that ret­ro­spec­tive. I get it when you have a crazy crafts­man or fash­ion ge­nius and you want to see their work in a mu­seum, but it’s a much dif­fer­ent con­text when it comes to a mu­si­cian and clothes.

“We’re try­ing to some­how show peo­ple that th­ese out­fits I wore were an ex­ten­sion of the mu­sic and that they were part of an emo­tional jour­ney. When I asked Alexander McQueen to do a dress, it was not be­cause it just looked great. Of­ten if you’re do­ing a tour, you have to choose an out­fit that you can run around and sing and sweat in, and that is part of the mu­sic that you are mak­ing.”

It al­ways comes back to themu- sic. “The mu­sic is more im­por­tant than any­thing else,” she says. Ev­ery­thing else takes a back­seat. All those elab­o­rate out­fits, all those apps, all those aids and as­sists: it be­gins with the mu­sic.

And the mu­sic usu­ally be­gins with a walk. Ever since she was a child, Björk has found that melodies come eas­ier to her when she puts one foot in front of the other. Strolling and stomp­ing have pro­vided the start­ing points for so many songs and al­bums down through the years.

Army of her

Af­ter the walk­ing comes the rest of the work. It’s a soli­tary pur­suit, an­other rea­son why putting her songs on the walls of proved so dif­fi­cult. “It’s a part of what I do which hasn’t been doc­u­mented for the rea­son that you can’t doc­u­ment it. If you did, it wouldn’t be soli­tary any more.

“I would say that 60 or 70 per cent of mak­ing my al­bums is done by me on my own. That could be work­ing on a piece or writ­ing lyrics. When it comes to the ar­range­ments, when I sit in front of the com­puter and work on the struc­ture of a song and that kind of thing, it goes up to 80 per cent of the al­bum, which I do in pri­vate on my own. I only in­vite in guests and col­lab­o­ra­tors at that stage when nearly ev­ery­thing is done.” In the­case of new al­bumVulni

cura, writ­ing those songs was even more dif­fi­cult be­cause they were about the break-up of her long-term re­la­tion­ship.

“I had to ex­press my­self, it was so im­pul­sive be­cause I had to deal with it. I couldn’t do any­thing else be­cause this was the process I had to deal with the heart­break. The songs came flow­ing and I had to do some­thing with them. It was dif­fi­cult.” Her two main col­lab­o­ra­tors on

Vul­ni­cura were Venezue­lan pro­ducer Ale­jan­dro “Arca” Ghersi and Bobby “Haxan Cloak” Kr­lic, but there was also in­put from Ir­ish pro­ducer John Flynn.

“I’d been try­ing to put some beats to Quick­sand and noth­ing worked,” Björk says. “It’s a song about my mother who had a heart attack and she was in a coma for six days – she’s much bet­ter now – so it’s in a dif­fer­ent cat­e­gory to all my other songs be­cause I’d never writ­ten a song about my mother be­fore.

“I heard John’s beat on­line and I knew im­me­di­ately that it would fit ex­actly with the song. I con­tacted him and it was very awk­ward be­cause I had never worked like this be­fore. I said to him, ‘it seems like I’ve made a mash-up of your song and my song and this is what we got. Are you okay with this, can I re­lease it, how do you feel about this?’ John said yes and we put it on the al­bum. I was re­ally lucky that he was up for it.”

For Björk, col­lab­o­ra­tions are about the right chem­istry. “I’ve been lucky enough to do so many col­lab­o­ra­tions and ev­ery one has been dif­fer­ent. Some­times, I hear some­one’s work and I de­cide I want to work with them there and then. Other times, I might know some­one for years and sud­denly, af­ter five years of do­ing stupid things and get­ting drunk and par­ty­ing, we have a song. In those cases, when it’s friends of friends and there’s a con­nec­tion, you trust them a lot quicker.

Chem­i­cal sib­lings

“One thing which is very un­der­rated is the chem­istry be­tween two peo­ple. You might have some­one who is very tal­ented and amaz­ing but the spark is not there. I re­ally re­spect this chem­istry thing, it’s such a pow­er­ful, sa­cred, spe­cial thing. When it hap­pens, you have to be care­ful and not take it for granted and not abuse it. You get that mu­tual feel­ing and you get the rush and high that comes with it and you have to re­spect it. You can’t mess with it or squeeze some­thing that’s not there out of it. It has to be un­con­di­tional, it can’t be all about the prod­uct. If it be­comes about the song, you’ve lost.”

She has strong views on what’s cur­rently hap­pen­ing at home in Ice­land. “We sent some banksters to jail but it’s taken six years for that to go through the sys­tem. I don’t mean it in a nasty way and I don’t want peo­ple to go to jail, but I think it’s im­por­tant for the next gen­er­a­tion to see this ex­am­ple of what hap­pens if you steal peo­ple’s money.”

Yet she fears that a lot of the changes that have oc­curred in Ice­land over the last few years could be un­done. “We had a very left-wing gov­ern­ment for four years af­ter the bank crash and they had to tidy up a lot of the mess caused by the neo-lib­er­als. A new gov­ern­ment was elected over a year ago that is re­ally the same peo­ple who caused the bank crash, and re­ally right-wing, and they’re do­ing some hor­ri­ble things.

“They’re ba­si­cally un­do­ing what the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment did, pri­vatis­ing the health sys­tem and ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, ap­prov­ing the dams that we fought against and al­low­ing alu­minium fac­to­ries to be built ev­ery­where. The list goes on.

Non-vi­o­lently un­happy

“I’m not say­ing for a sec­ond that I’m very left-wing: I’m very neu­tral, I’ve never voted for any­thing in my life. I ap­proach this more from an en­vi­ron­men­tal an­gle. But the sit­u­a­tion now is so bad that you have to hope there will be an­other revo­lu­tion. Dur­ing the crash, a lot of Ice­landers went to Aus­turvöl­lur square and hit pots and pans for months un­til the gov­ern­ment re­signed. I feel that this is some­thing which should hap­pen now be­cause what this gov­ern­ment is do­ing is even worse than be­fore.”

She ends the con­ver­sa­tion by go­ing back to mu­sic. In Björk’s world, mu­sic is about meet­ing a need. “What I like about mu­sic is that you can use it for so many dif­fer­ent things,” she says. “You can use it for sa­cred, re­li­gious things. You can use it to write love songs. You can go dance crazy on a Fri­day night. You can do it for a living or as a hobby.

“We need mu­sic so much. Peo­ple write mu­sic be­cause we need it. Sym­phony halls are full of peo­ple play­ing mu­sic be­cause we need it. There are tons of ra­dio sta­tions play­ing golden oldies be­cause we need it. I’m all for va­ri­ety and that each per­son has a dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ship with mu­sic and how they in­ter­act with it and what po­si­tion it has in their daily life. But all of this is be­cause we need it: we need mu­sic.”

One thing which is very un­der­rated is the chem­istry be­tween two peo­ple. I re­ally re­spect it, it’s such a pow­er­ful, sa­cred, spe­cial thing

MU­SIC, MOVIES THEATRE, ART, FES­TI­VALS, MAR­KETS & FAM­ILY EVENTS

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