Medúlla, BjörkAll the voices of the body

Records 24.08.2021

Singer, composer and musician Björk Guðmundsdóttir (1965, Reykjavik) grew up in a hippie community where her mother, a feminist activist, lived. She enrolled at Barnamúsíkskóli in Reykjavik at the age of five, where she learned flute, piano, music theory and music history. She sang in various choirs and took an interest in jazz, and was introduced to the contemporary music of Messiaen, Cage and Stockhausen, for whom she has a deep admiration, while at the same time being influenced by the folk music heritage of her two Icelandic grandmothers.

From 1981, Björk sang in various punk bands, including KUKL ("black magic"), founded in 1983, and then in 1986 in a new pop/new wave band, The Sugarcubes, whose fame grew in the UK.
After the Sugarcubes split up in 1992, she moved to England and recorded her first album, Debut, in 1993 with the help of Nellee Hooper, in an electronic pop style influenced by Kraftwerk and Brian Eno and tinged with house music, techno, world music and jazz. It was a success.
From then on, she multiplied her fruitful collaborations: Graham Massey, Talvin Singh, Tricky, Zeena Parkins, Antony etc. Michel Gondry directed eight videos for her. The albums Post (1995) and Homogenic (1997) perfected her baroque style and refined her exceptional voice, a subtle mixture of fragility, spontaneity, technicality and virtuosity.

She was invited by conductor Kent Nagano to sing Schönberg's Pierrot lunaire at the Verbier Festival (Switzerland) in 1996. In 1998, when she returned to live in Iceland, her aesthetic took a new, more intimate and experimental direction. She played the lead role of Selma in Lars von Trier's film Dancer in the Dark , for which she also wrote the soundtrack (2000). The album Vespertine (2001) was conceived with the duo Matmos, Matthew Herbert and arranger Vince Mendoza, who helped her realise increasingly refined musical ambitions.

In 2002, the singer married visual artist Matthew Barney and moved to New York.
She then considered composing a new album based entirely on the voice: " I wanted to move away from the instruments and electronics that made up the sound universe of Vespertine, my previous album. I want to explore what can be done with all the emotional registers of the human voice - solo voices, choir, worked voices, pop voices, folk voices, weird voices... And not just in melodies, but everything else, all the noises a human gullet can make."(AlexRoss, Listen To This, Music in all its states, p 220)

Most of the fourteen tracks that make up the album Medúlla were composed in 2003 during a trip to La Gomera in the Canary Islands. The recording process lasted until July 2004, starting in Reykjavik with producer Valgeir Sigurðsson, who has worked with Björk since 1998, and continuing in El Salvador, London and New York. The artist has attracted many singers to collaborate on her project: The Icelandic Choir and The London Choir, singers Gregory Purnhagen (classical baritone), Mike Patton (ex-Faith No More), Tanya Tagaq (Inuit vocals, already present on Vespertine), Robert Wyatt (ex-Soft Machine); the three beatboxers1 Dokaka, Shlomo and Rahzel; joined by musicians Mark Bell, Leila Arab, Olivier Alary, Peter van Hooke and Nico Muhly. The aesthetic universe of New York artist Meredith Monk has greatly influenced the colour of the album.

Medúlla is the scientific name for marrow. Björk originally wanted to title the album Ink to refer to " that black blood that has been flowing in all of us for five thousand years; an ancient, passionate, dark spirit; a spirit that survives ". (The Independent, 13 August 2014, James McNair "Björk: Passion in a cold climate")

This album is mystical, spiritual, philosophical but also political, taking a stand against racism and the violence that followed the attacks of 11 September 2001. It is also inhabited by the birth of his daughter Isadóra, in 2002.
The voice is omnipresent, from its most carnal primal expression to the refinement of computer processing. Only a few rare instruments appear here and there (piano, gong, synthesizer).

" Pleasure Is All Mine " (1) features Tagaq's distinctive voice, with its Inuit gasps, breaths and guttural sounds, from the very first vocals, while Mike Patton's deep bass is complemented by Rahzel's rhythm. The Icelandic Choir's outfits provide a gentle backdrop for the singer's voice, which proclaims the benefits of generosity.
Recorded as close as possible to Björk's vocal organ, her a cappella solo " Show Me Forgiveness " (2) suggests the intimacy and depth of a prayer, which contrasts with the masses and rhythmic violence of " Where Is The Line " (3), which is similar in size to the first track. Rahzel's voice is sampled, chopped up and rhythmic, but never transformed, and Patton's powerful bass lines double Björk's choruses, while the choirs infuse the whole track with eerie harmonies.

" Vökuró ' (4, Watch) is a lullaby by Jórunn Viðar to a poem by Jakobína Sugardóttir, sung with subtle choral accompaniment. The interlude ' Öll Birtan ' (5, All the Shine) features overlapping loops of onomatopoeia, which opens with ' Who Is It ' (6), a collaboration with Matmos, and lets Rahzel's powerful beatboxing shine through in a song with a thousand whispers and a chiselled chorus, ' a song between pop and the choral meditations of Arvo Pärt '. (Alex Ross, op.cit., p 221)

" Submarine " (7) multiplies Robert Wyatt's voice, his vocals, his sound effects, his breaths, which merge in bewitching harmonies with Björk's call to action. The sizzling background sound of the meditative ' Desired Constellation ' (8) is programmed by Olivier Alary from a sample of the singer's voice. This minimalist accompaniment gives strength to Björk's melody, which gradually increases in intensity. In ' Oceania ' (9), The London Choir performs dynamic ascending and descending glissandi in reverse, supported by Shlomo's energetic rhythm and Robert Wyatt's vocal samples. Björk sang this track at the opening ceremony of the Athens Olympics on 13 August 2004, shortly before the album's release.

" Sonnets / Unrealities XI " (10) is based on a poem by E. E. Cummings, while " Ancestors " (11) is a fascinating vocal joust between Björk and Tagaq supported by a discreet piano. The end of ' Mouth's Cradle ' (12) sends Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush back to their responsibilities. This track relies on snippets of sampled voices and a rich choral texture: " What I want is a pagan feel and also something Slavic ". (Alex Ross, op.cit., p 222)

The transitional ' Miðvikudags ' (13, Wednesday) is an echo of ' Öll Birtan ' leading up to ' Triumph Of A Heart ' (14), a pop song in praise of the human body that reveals Dokaka's vocal talent in a frenzied rhythm backed by Rahzel.

Mark "Spike" Stent mixed and produced the album, which was released on 30 August 2004 in the UK. The extent of the resources and the creative comfort of an artist with star status can be dreamy. They allow for the creation of a collective work, reminiscent of the artist's studio or the work of the Beatles, from the conception of the songs to the refined video-clips (Spike Jonze, Gabriela Fridriksdóttir...). The multiple skills brought together are orchestrated by Björk's talent in the service of her artistic vision. She embraces the possibilities of virtual reality and interactivity ("Björk Digital" exhibition, 2016).

His originality and inner world continue to be expressed through all subsequent albums, transcending ever more popular, scholarly, experimental or folk music categories.

Guillaume Kosmicki

From "Musique savantes, De John Zorn à la fin du monde et après..." 1990-2015 published by Le mot et le reste

1. Human beatbox , or simply beatbox , is a vocal technique that emerged with hip-hop culture in the 1970s, in which the singer imitates the sounds of a drum set or drum machine with his or her voice, but also of all sorts of other instruments.

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