The avant-pop star talks new projects, music education, punk teendom, and tour snacks
MUSIC Can you even recall your first run-in with the mythic, boundary-less creature that is Björk? Perhaps it was bounding through the neon blue forest with tiny crystals underneath her eyes as a giant paper-mache bear chased her through Michel Gondry's video for "Human Behaviour," off 1993 solo album Debut. Or maybe it was poised for the tabloids in an elegant swan dress, holding a large egg purse and preening for the worst dressed lists at the '01 Academy Awards after her devastating performance in Dancer in the Dark (2000). Those long obsessed will likely point to first hearing '88's "Birthday" by the Sugarcubes, her early Icelandic act (post teenage punk bands), on international radio.
Whenever — and however — it went down, it left a lasting impression, the stunning shock of that otherworldly voice tends to permeate memories. Solo, Bjork has long coupled that voice with innovation, always grasping at new objects and sounds, or as she described it to me in conversation, she's "like a kid in a toy shop."
Her latest triumph was Biophilia, the '11 album that paired science, nature, iPads, Tesla coils, and tinkling church bells. Since its release, she's hopped the planet with her sonic education in tow, spreading pixie dust and learning tools at schools and museums along the way. Next up, she'll play a trio of shows at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond (Wed/22, Sat/25, and Tue/28). Also during that time, her Biophilia Education Program comes to the Exploratorium, which means interactive workshops exploring connections between music and technology, Wed/22 through Tue/28.
In her unassuming but confident way — with the most endearing accent I've ever heard — the avant-pop megastar opened up to the SF Bay Guardian about her song writing process (yes, there's a new project in the works), early punk career, natural musicology, and how to keep it all DIY:
SF Bay Guardian How did you initially come up with idea to include apps for every song on Biophillia?
Björk It started in 2008. I wanted to use touch screens...though the iPads weren't out 'till 2010 or something. But I'd been using touch screens on my Volta tour, but more just to perform on stage. When I started doing Biophillia, I was very determined that I wanted to write with [touch screens], not just perform. That's when I started to map out, to visualize. I had to decide, what did I want to hear on the touch screen when I'm writing this song. That sent me back to my own music education as a child, when I felt the way they explained scales and rhythms and those basic musicology themes, was way too academic. It was like reading a book to learn to dance.
Music is something that doesn't work that well in the written word, you know? Especially not explaining to kids. So I started making my own map...this is how I would I like to have scales and this is how I would like to have chords and this is how I would like to have arpeggios and this is how I would like to have counterpoint, and so on. This project became naturally educational. I was kind of like, repairing my own education. I was trying to cover what I thought was lacking when I was in music school. In that way, I was able to share it.
We [created] a different program for each song. For example, one song would feature arpeggios, and then I would pick an actual element that would be the simplest way for a kid to understand what an arpeggio is, to visualize it. So we took a pendulum to explain counterpoint, a little bit like how church bells swing back and forth, and that's like a bass line that swings.
I wrote 10 songs and we did different programs for each song, and it came together using natural elements. For example, one song is called is called "Crystalline" and there are crystals kind of growing as the song changes.