A Love Letter.
It’s not often you come across a musician whose work you connect with on a deep, personal level, in such a way that it gets absorbed into who you are as a person and how you see the world. It’s even rarer to find such a connection once you move past the emotional intensity and uncertainty of your teenage years.
It seems like most people experience this relationship with artists or bands they’ve been familiar with since childhood or their early teenager-hood; musicians whose music has quite literally guided them through the confusing mire of growing up and confronting life’s challenges. This is very much how I would characterize my relationship with Icelandic experimental songwriter Björk, so it’s surprising that I only really started listening to her music around a year ago. But what I’ve come to realise is that it’s never too late to find an artist who radically transforms your perspective on your life and the world around you.
I’ll confess that I didn’t even get into Björk right away. She is admittedly not the most accessible songwriter out there. But there was something about her – maybe it was the captivating alien-ness of her voice, videos, and costumes, or maybe it was her extraordinary ambition as an artist doing things no-one has ever done before – something that gradually got me hooked. Delving into Björk’s songwriting with an urge to learn more about her startling lyrics, challenging musical structures and experiments with bizarre new sounds prompted me to think and engage with music differently, and this voyage of discovery turned out to be just as significant as my enjoyment of the songs themselves.
To fully appreciate Björk’s music, I found you do have to learn to really listen; to become entirely present in the sound. It’s a different kind of listening experience from what I was used to, one that’s active rather than passive, and a whole new spectrum of possibility is opened up as a result. The emotional response her music can evoke is far-reaching and boundless. From the deep, heart-aching reflectiveness of her most recent Vulnicura record, to the explosive passion and insatiable thirst of Homogenic, to the unrestrained, “violently happy” beats of Debut, listening to a Björk record from start to finish gives you more than just a relaxing 45 minutes with some good tunes. It’s an emotional, cultural and creative experience.
But what is it about her that makes her so absorbing? When you look back over Björk’s career and all the remarkable things she’s done it’s hard to know where to begin, but I will say this: as an artist, she is utterly fascinating. Just look at her 2011 concept album Biophilia, an elaborate exploration of the intersection between natural forces and technological innovation.
Björk collaborated with scientists, engineers and artists to create special custom-built instruments, including a Telsa Coil that uses high voltage electricity to produce the background beats on the single ‘Thunderbolt’, and a “gravity harp” made up of pendulums responding to the movements of the Earth. You don’t have to know much about music or science to appreciate how cool that is. And when you look at the genius of her full-orchestra live performances, or watch the spellbinding artistry of her music videos, you realize there’s no end to her originality as an artist. It’s especially inspiring to see a female artist play such an important, pioneering role in a music industry that’s all too often dominated by male voices.
One thing I really appreciate about Björk is her thoughtfulness and introspection, and the way this shines through in her work. There’s an undefinable and unapologetic spirituality within her music that really resonates with me, and I think it’s very rare to find it expressed in such a powerful way. In interviews she often talks about her close relationship with the landscape and geography of her native Iceland. She’s not religious, she says, but finding solace and inspiration in nature is itself akin to having a religion. It’s not hard to see how this has shaped her as an artist. The swooping strings and chaotic rhythms of ‘Joga’, for example, perfectly encapsulate our fragile position in a vast world of rugged landscapes and seething geometric patterns, and encourage us to abandon ourselves to the incredible and incomprehensible forces around us. Her music is an active reminder of our inter-connectedness with an ecology that is both physical and metaphysical.
What’s truly radical about Björk’s work is that she explores what this connection means on a personal level, in the day-to-day lives of individuals. I’ve found deep personal significance and even catharsis during periods of extreme anxiety and unhappiness in songs such as ‘Unison’, which I take to be specifically about finding reconciliation and love within yourself. And I know just from scrolling through Youtube comments (something I would never normally recommend), that I’m just one of countless people to have been deeply moved and uplifted by the lyrics of the classic ‘All Is Full of Love’, which, although quite simple, are worth repeating to yourself every single day:
“You’ll be given love / You’ll be taken care of / You’ll be given love / You have to trust it / Maybe not from the sources / You have poured yours / Maybe not from the directions / You are staring at / Twist your head around / It’s all around you / All is full of love / All around you”.
To see Björk live in concert is my dream; to own all her albums on vinyl and display their beautiful cover art in a custom-built display case in my future home is a vision of delight. But most of all, I’m just happy that her songs keep on giving, and I really do take comfort in the fact that no matter what happens in the future, I’ll always have a whole world within her music to fall back on.
[Cat Acheson – @cat_acheson]