Every time Bjork drifts in a musical direction you don’t love, just wait. Her latest collaboration, Earth Intruders, with Timbaland producing, sounds utterly fantastic. Listen closely, and it’s also deeply disturbing, a bit like the violent lyrics of the early-century Italian Futurists (check them out if you don’t know them), but set in a terrifying, real now. Timbaland aside (and the crisp combinations of synths and drums might redeem him if you’re still mad about that chiptune thing), Bjork’s vocal performance is center-stage.

All of this bodes well for the new album coming this summer. More press coverage and links on the single:
bjork.com news

The artist is also playing Coachella this year, and in honor of that, Michael Todd takes us on a flashback to a BBC special from 1997 called Modern Minimalists. Bjork makes an impassioned plea for embracing simplicity in favor of intellectual complexity and maximalism, flanked by minimalists from Estonia, Scotland, and Finland (including none other than Arvo Part) as a glass harmonica plays in the background.

It’s good creative/inspirational fuel, and wonderful to have an advocate and unusual personality in Bjork fighting musical blandness. Oh, and Maestro Part fittingly enough looks like as ever like an Orthodox religious icon:

and part two:

For more insanely talented and inspiring women in music as featured by BBC documentaries, see Delia Derbyshire and Alchemists of Sound, as discussed here on CDM last month.

And, BBC, why not officially send this stuff to YouTube and let them carry your bandwidth costs?

  • bliss

    Wow, thanks for bringing those videos to my attention, Peter. "It seems to be in these speedy times the most bravest thing you can do is to be still." One of the many reasons why I

  • bliss

    …love her. 🙂

  • I can't believe you didn't mention the make the second video contest she's got going on for "Innoncence"

  • dead_red_eyes

    Thanks for those videos Peter, I

  • Will post the video contest to createdigitalmotion.com; was just waiting on availability on the current video for this.

    Why is everyone cutting off comments? That's not our fault, is it? Just accidentally hitting submit? 😉

  • bliss

    Actually mine cut off after I proofread everything for once. I thought it was a joke. lol

  • anon

    Ahh it's not just his finger vibrating, it's the glass. Just like strumming a guitar string. So much for that theory…

    The problem with all this is that there are myriad muso's out there doing just this, who get ignored because they lack marketing. This isn't about art, it's about business.

    The move from 'blocks' to 'textures' is nothing new, it's been coming and going for years, like all fashion trends do.

    I don't think this is visionary in any big way, in fact I find it to be restrictive – Why choose between minimal amounts of maximal sounds, and maximal amounts of minimal sounds? Why not both? Why not involve the minimal kind of ethos which these guys embrace, as well as the maximal point of view?

    Of course, I choose to avoid mainstream popularity, so I don't sell lots of records, so what notice will anyone take of my opinion? After all, record sales are always a rupresentation of a musicians ability, right Britney?

    But seriously, how is this fighting musical blandness? Seems to be encouraging it to me.

  • bliss

    anon, whatever you're going through, I hope you figure it out.

  • Michael Tod

    I'm pretty sure you are just flame-baiting, but I'll throw in my two cents anyways…

    I don't think she is trying to take credit for any minimalist movement but rather trying to draw attention to other artists that she respects – she even starts by putting the whole conversation in a larger historical perspective.

    Personally, I don't find Alvo Part or responsive mechanical string installations "bland", but it could be just me :).

    On a side note, how bad-ass was the gear in the first clip? Especially the cigar box – I'm pretty sure I didn't have friends that made stuff like that 10 years ago…

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  • Qua

    Thank you so much for making these videos (incl Delia Derbyshire and Alchemists of Sound) more accessible than they would otherwise be !!

  • I think everybody here may be interested in the SNL videos of björk, posted by axou on the Ableton forum: http://www.ableton.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=6318




  • anon

    Nah Michael I'm not flame baiting. Funny how fast people jump to that conclusion these days… I guess that's what the net has become…There's so many !#$%ing trolls nobody takes an honest critic seriously.

    I'm making comment on PK's writeup of the videos and just adding my 2c. It's meant to be part of an intelligent conversation but some people seem to have nothing of substance to add and choose to reduce themselves to making snyde remarks. I'm glad you didn't 🙂

    The article makes out like Bjork was doing some super special thing, but it's nothing that thousands of others haven't said before… It just seems that teaming up with a plagiarist (no I don't just mean the tracker thing) and pushing out an album made it newsworthy, and I think it's a shame that so many small-time muso's get ignored in the meantime. Marketability has little relation to talent and knowledge. As independent media, CDM can and frequently does give positive publicity to small time stuff, I just think this was an exception. I didn't even start on the flippant mention of Timbaland's recent plagiarism. To speak of it so light-heartedly is disrespectful to the indy musicians, the would-be victims of this kind of thing, and I imagine that said musicians would make up a large percentage of the readers of this blog.

    That's bad enough in itself but the video also contained some misinformation which I pointed out. It's not flamebait it's just a correction or two.

    And just for conversation I decided to throw in my own 2c on the minimal vs maximal argument, which is: "why choose one or the other". Again, not trying to flame, just my 2c.

    Look I appreciate the beauty of the glass installation as much as anyone with an ounce of taste would, it sounds beautiful even on youtube 🙂 My favourite sounds in the whole world are to lie amongst trees and listen to the wind blow through them, the sound of the ocean lapping against the hull, and shakuhachi – I'm a fan of minimalism for sure, but it seems that to encourage minimalism over maximalism is limiting, and that's why I made the comment disagreeing that Bjork was "fighting musical blandness". Introducing limitations is not going to make things more lively….Not to mention that maximalism is required in order to develop the very source of her livelyhood – for example have you seen a mixing desk's schematics lately? 😉

    Just my 2c, no trolling or flamebaiting will come from me. I care about music too much to waste my time like that. I hope people keep up the intelligent replies, because it contributes to the music for us muso's to learn from one another. Sheep make bad tunes 😉

  • Anon, I appreciate your feedback. I should clarify: this one, ten year-old video is not fighting musical blandness. But I think over Bjork's career, she's been an important influence on many people and has simultaneously advocated lots of great music, including many independent musicians.

    I don't honestly know the exact circumstances by which Bjork and Timbaland worked together. I don't mean to be flippant. I think, regardless of how I feel about Timbaland's plagiarism, he's produced some great-sounding tracks, and the part of me that wants *not* to like some of those tracks because of what he did unfortunately has to contend with my own ear and tastes. That's not to take anything away about the rightful debate over the plagiarism incident — on the contrary, it's just an observation that the musical objects produced by people can be separate from how we feel about the personalities themselves. (And, boy, does that apply to a lot of situations …)

    I don't think it's necessary to exclude successful musicians.

    I'm also not advocating minimalism. I think Bjork and her guests (whom I also respect, and — even in the case of Part, unfortunately — are lesser-known by the general public) made some insightful comments. And they're articulate about their own musical decisions, whether that's the right course for other musicians or not. I don't know that I agree with Bjork's assessment of musical history, even — but in terms of describing her own tastes and decisions, I find it meaningful.

  • anon

    Thanks for the extra words Peter 🙂 I think I see where you're coming from now. It seems like maybe you were just a bit excited when you posted. Good tunes will do that 🙂

    Any way you cut it, they're certainly interesting vids, and an interesting lady. I wanna hear a collab between her and El-P 🙂

  • No offense meant, and no flame taken :). You've got to love CDM – good comments all around.

    I'd have to say that it has always been true (and always a shame) that the greatest and most innovative musicians aren't always popular in their own time; it is an even worse shame when great talent gets diluted or stunted from popularity when it does strikes.

    I would like to think that Bjork is among a handful of popular musicians (Thom Yorke and Trent Reznor also come to mind) that have maintained creative integrity and autonomy throughout long and very public careers.

    As far as her collaborations go, I might even agree that Timbaland may not have been the best choice. The two singles that he worked on (Earth Intruders and Innocence) don't sound *that* good. I'm obviously a Bjork fanboy, but I'll be the first to say that they are uninspired and sound like quick covers of songs from "Homogenic".

    That being said, Bjork has worked with so many others – Mark Bell, Matmos, Mike Patton, and now Brian Chippendale and Chris Corsano – that I think she's allowed a Timbaland now and then. Her body of work speaks for itself.

    I'll be seeing both her and el-p at Coachella in a couple of days. Who knows, maybe they will team up :). It should be a great time either way, I'll be sure to report back…

  • Appropriately enough, I just got an email invite from Opus 21 for their "postminimalism" concert. Weirdly, Andriessen, David Lang, and Reich all show up, who are sometimes categorized under the first minimalism. The terms are all breaking down at the moment — but then, they very often do. I guess what I like about people like Bjork is at least they're unafraid of interfacing with a lot of these worlds, whatever they might be called.

  • anon

    "You’ve got to love CDM" Darn right 🙂 There's a lot of intelligent discourse to be had here.

    I think you're both right, in that artists such as those you mention somehow manage to allow themselves to be subject to a broader artistic horizon, whilst simultaneously maintaining their integrity. I think it's evidence of their sense of musical 'direction' combining with on open mind… I'm not sure that makes as much sense as I want it to heheh.

    Half the names you just reeled off are some of my favourite artists so I got more curious… OK so I admit… I had to Google Coachella cause I hadn't heard about it yet (how did I miss that? Did any other Aussies hear about it?)

    Damn, what a lineup! Just about wishing I was Stateside now… Have fun guys!

  • bliss

    @ anon

    If your initial reaction had been an intelligent response, perhaps I would have responded in kind. It appears to be an argument but it is a plea that also misleads. Instead of picking it apart I wrote what was meant to deflect the sarcasm and contempt it contained. I suppose my initial comment only succeeded in reflecting yours.

    The glass harmonica player clarified that through his fingertips he brings vibrations to the glasses. He did not say that the glasses do not also vibrate corresponding to his touch. He went as far to explain how different his technique is compared to other techniques such as bowing and the use of mallets. You mention strumming a guitar as being the same as what he does, but it isn't. Strumming a guitar using the palm of one's hand is akin to bowing; strumming is plucking when using fingernails or a pick.

    The documentary was made for the benefit of the general public. Its presentation takes into consideration that some members of its potential audience might not be as well informed about the history and progress of music as are its featured artists. The highlighted concepts and perspectives may very well appear to be new and visionary to some members of the audience.

    No one in the documentary said that an artist or a hobbyist has to do anything, or that minimalism was the best approach. The artists only clarified their conceptions about what they do. The documentary is an exposé of different perspectives relating to minimalism with some placement in historical context. It is not a manifesto against maximalism.

    You appear to champion the ignored and overlooked, but then you proudly proclaim that you are an artist who chooses to be obscure. Well, some champion you are for those who wish for wider recognition. And how great for you that you are getting exactly what you want. Paradoxically you complain about lack of marketing and lack of ears and eyeballs to validate your voice and ability.

    Basically, your comments came across to me as disgruntled nonsense. You didn't provide context or support for anything that you wrote. "Ahh it’s not just his finger vibrating, it’s the glass. Just like strumming a guitar string. So much for that theory…", you said. Where are the references and evidence to sustain that? Never mind all the rest that follows. You may as well have been speaking to yourself.

  • anon

    Hi Bliss,

    Chill mate, I think I have worded my post poorly and got you (and everyone else) on the defensive – my apologies. I tend to be fairly tongue in cheek in person and it clearly was taken seriously here. Maybe you'd like to reconsider my first post with a more humourous tone.

    I take offence that you suggest that your comment was a reflection of mine, I did not make any disparaging personal insults as a result of something I didn't agree with, I simply stated my opinion – poorly perhaps (almost certainly), but I didn't stoop to your level. You're still making insults to my level of intellect (not that I care, my IQ is in the top percentile, but it's still a rude thing to do). I get the feeling you have some good stuff to add but your ego is really getting in the way of a nice chat.

    As for the vibrating glass things… When Alasdair (sp?) said "My finger actually vibrating on the glass" that kinda caught my ears as not being entirely correct… I thought he was trying to say, that his finger vibrating created the sound; when he was actually trying to say that the finger vibrating, created those 'same' vibrations within the glass, which created the sound.

    I think that on listening to it again, you're quite right, what he is trying to point out is that the vibration of his finger is directly correlated to the vibrations within the glass… So you can see that you're not the only one susceptible to misunderstanding things the first time 🙂 I only mention it because I don't want a squillion readers thinking they can make their finger make that noise 😉

    Just some food for thought, there is an old Chinese instrument that I have seen people playing by using their finger(s) as the 'bow', but it's more of a 'trick', like say hammer/pull on a guitar, than the primary method of playing (which was by hammer or finger pluck). I don't suppose anyone has a clue what that instrument is called? It's like a lap-violin with too many strings 😉

    Also, if you consider it methodically like this:

    Glass harmonica:

    Finger – Glass – Sound


    Human – Device – Result

    Path is 3 steps


    Finger – mallet – key – sound


    Human – actuator – device – sound

    Path is 4 steps


    Lips – sound


    Human – sound

    Path is 2 steps

    Then there are actually a few instruments where the path from human skin to sound is just as short as the harmonica or even shorter. Where Alasdair is enjoying the fact that the human has become the actuator in the glass harmonica, it is also possible for the human to become the device, thereby also being the actuator. Note that I haven't taken into account the resonating chambers of these instruments here, and probably a few other important factors, so it's by no means solid theory, just a thought. Anyway this is nothing to do with my earlier posts, just something that popped into my head.

    Getting back to the subject, the only relationship I intended to make between the glass and a guitar string, was that the actual sound comes from the device – the glass or string, and not the finger which actuates the device. I hope that clears it up.

    "It is not a manifesto against maximalism." Not directly, but I feel that in places it was implied. I didn't say, that they are saying that people have to do anything, but there are a few moments where the dislike for maximalism is clear (the first one being the way Bjork says that they were being "clever" heh)… Each artist to their own, like I said, I prefer a balanced approach. That's just me, and had I shot a video, not surprisingly I'd have been just as obvious about my preferences as they were, and they would probably have disagreed with some of my points 🙂

    "You appear to champion the ignored and overlooked, but then you proudly proclaim that you are an artist who chooses to be obscure."

    What's wrong with that? I choose obscurity, but a great deal of talented musicians are forced into it, and I think it's sad, so I speak out about it. I don't even know what you're on about this time. Maybe you didn't consider, that I consider the situations of other people as well as my own.

    "Well, some champion you are for those who wish for wider recognition." OoOoOoh! 😛 See that's not productive chatter, man.

    "Paradoxically you complain about lack of marketing and lack of ears and eyeballs to validate your voice and ability" That was a joke, that's why the very next words were "But seriously". Again, I think I've inadvertently got you on the defensive. Regardless, I don't see the paradox there, I think you've missed the point – which was that marketing and 'ears and eyeballs' should have no influence on the validity of a person's opinion. Like I said, "The problem with all this is that there are myriad muso’s out there doing just this, who get ignored because they lack marketing." That doesn't mean they need the marketing so people will stop ignoring them, it means that people's opinions should be considered for their own worth, the worth of the opinion itself, without any consideration of the person it comes from or their level of 'success'.

    Don't feel like I'm singling you out, as I said I believe that I've worded my post poorly. Peter seems to have misunderstood what I meant there too, because he said "I don’t think it’s necessary to exclude successful musicians." That's not what I meant, it was that unsuccessful musicians tend to be ignored because nobody takes them as seriously as they do the music professor or the top selling artist.

    "You didn’t provide context or support for anything that you wrote. “Ahh it’s not just his finger vibrating, it’s the glass. Just like strumming a guitar string. So much for that theory…”, you said. Where are the references and evidence to sustain that?"

    If you want context and support, all you need do is ask. No need to react in that way.

    Try it – do the vibrating glass thing, then take your finger off. Does the vibration stop when your finger is removed, or does the glass 'ring' for a bit until the kinetic energy is dispersed?

    "Never mind all the rest that follows. You may as well have been speaking to yourself."

    Cranky, cranky 😉 Look, I can see how my post can be misunderstood, and I'm not above apologising for any problems that causes, but you're really being a bit too rude for my tastes. Criticise all you want but let's keep it constructive and civil huh? 🙂

    PS Hey Peter, a preview button for comments would be awesome! I find it hard to structure long comments in this little window… Maybe that's why that first post of mine is such a grammatical trainwreck…

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  • bliss

    [b]anon[/b], as I said, you didn't provide any context for your statements. Perhaps I wouldn't have missed your points if you had provided them in the first place. In my opinion, there was an extreme lack of clarity of what you were trying to say. I reread your post many times, wondering, giving you the benefit of the doubt, and even reading it now I still reach the same conclusions about every point that I made. Sure, you didn't intend for it to be contemptuous, sarcastistic nonsense, but since this is a community you should make an effort to speak to others in a more direct fashion. Your subsequent posts are good examples. And it's true, I could ask questions, but if your comments result in poor communication, then others and myself cannot be blamed for misunderstanding them. If your writing had been clear, and I had missed certain keywords or phrases, then I'd understand that I misunderstood. I would have been in a better position to ask penetrating questions, rather than something like, "What the frack?" Being a member of the audience I have to endure whatever it is that you put across.

    Anyway, thanks for responding, I do appreciate it. Now back to this wonderful community we have here.

  • Not fairly. Corporations are going to be the new kingdoms. CEOs of massive corps normally have contingents of bodyguards in public, both visible and covert, today. The corporations claim ownership of resources, property, land, processes, and tips, by means of channels that are not out there to ordinary citizens due to social access, monetary requirements, and so forth. They acquire political influence, write laws, install their very own constituents, and subvert the law if it can not be rewritten. They actively fund international bloodshed, extort their very own citizens for profit, directly cause their needless suffering by acting as cash batteries to keep medical care obtainable only for the rich, and use everyone's personal and religious beliefs against them on a daily basis.