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‘Instruments are so over’

Björk has just recorded Medúlla - an a cappella album that sees her fascinating voyage of discovery taking her further away from mainstream music than she has ever been before. “Instruments are so over,” she tells Jonathan Wingate

Given that Björk’s sixth album is the bravest of her pioneering career, it comes as no surprise to learn that Medúlla is also the least radio-friendly music she has ever created; as anyone who has been listening in on her weird world since she arrived with The Sugarcubes at the end of 1987 will know, that’s really saying something.

Björk has redrawn the boundaries of what one woman can accomplish simply by mixing pop and art. Of course, if it were that simple in reality, then everybody would be doing it. But as it is, the only major star making music this far out of this world is Björk. Her music is proof that pop can transcend its influences at a time when we are in desperate need of someone who dares to be different to fly the flag for artistic freedom.

“At first I was recording the album with all sorts of instruments, but it just wasn’t working,” Björk explains, sitting in a private dining room of a favourite restaurant near Reykjavik’s main square. “I was trying to figure out why, thinking, ‘Where are the songs in all this mess?’ Then I sat down at the mixing desk and started muting the instruments, and it was like, Oh, there they are. I figured out that if I removed everything, that was OK. The only other rule was for it not to sound like Bobby McFerrin. It really just happened by itself. After that, it became a very spontaneous, carefree album to make. It really wasn’t planned.”

These days, she spends half the year here with her boyfriend, American artist, Matthew Barney and their two-year-old daughter, Isadora in their new place round the corner from the city centre. The rest of the time they spend in their house, once owned by Noel Coward, across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

A Creative Life

Björk is besotted with Barney and their little girl, and despite her palpable nervousness when the tape recorder is switched on and we begin the interview proper, she is obviously more at ease here than she was the last time we met in London three years ago.

“It’s surprising how exhausting talking about yourself is,” she says. “I probably do it totally wrong. For some reason, it sort of feels like I’ve done a four-hour show or something really physical. I’m just wrecked afterwards. It’s just really extreme, that’s what it is. I mean, I probably won’t sleep tonight and I’ll be going over all the stuff I’ve said in my head.”

Would you say you are working on music most days? “Um, usually there are things going round in my head. But I wouldn’t call that working,” Björk grins. “I’ll sort of be working, but I mean, every day? It’s not every day. Anyway, it doesn’t feel like work really.

“I think people like me who make music have always sort of stayed the same, but in the meantime, the music industry has grown from zero to nine hundred billion trillion million billion and then collapsed. The monster just got bigger and bigger, but at the end of the day, it’s no big deal - putting a record out. It’s so easy,” she shrugs. “We started doing it here in Iceland when I was 14. You just record a song, you make a poster, glue the poster up and then you sell it.”

All Stripped Down

Much of the Medúlla was recorded on Dictaphones with Björk and her buddies singing their hearts out whilst they walked over mountains and through caves. The album was made in 18 different locations including New York, Iceland, Venice, the Canary Islands and Lincolnshire.

“I ended up in a cave somewhere, just going out singing,” she explains. “I liked all of us to make up special noises whilst we were recording this album. You know, we don’t need those ghetto blasters, we don’t need those tools. Let’s just have a good time. You do the basslines and you can do the drum machine noises. We can just do it ourselves.

“I had to use a Dictaphone after I had my daughter, because the only thing you can remember is you and the baby. I had to exercise that muscle with Dictaphones until I got my memory back. You can work on an idea and make it better and better, but there’s something very important about the first time you record it. That is usually the take that stays. I can’t record it again. I have to use the original recording.”

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