Wednesday, August 18, 2010

FOCUS ON: BJORK


One thing that is safe to say about Bjork: people are certainly not ambivalent about her music. Either you feel that she is a talented artist with a unique dulcet vocal or that she is someone who is just making a lot of irritating noises. I am of the former point of view and I just love her special and very different approach to making music.

She has taken all of the many musical influences that she has been exposed to in her life and combined them all to create her own individual sound  Her voice expresses so much emotion and can go from a small yelp to a wailing scream. Bjork is unafraid to experiment with her songs or with her image which she is constantly surprising her audience with a strange and unexpected twist in her look.

Bjork Guomundsdottir was born and raised in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1965. As a child, she studied classical piano in school. A teacher sent a recording of Bjork playing to, at the time, the only radio station in Iceland. After hearing it, a record company offered Bjork a recording contract and at the age of eleven, her first album was released in 1977.

She performed in a variety of different bands as a teenager which included a punk band called, Spit and Snot. In 1984, Bjork joined the band, KUKL, which means "witch" in Icelandic, that was made up of musicians who had also been in many other groups. The band included Einar Melax on keyboards, Einar Benediktsson on vocals/trumpet and Siggi Baldursson on drums. By 1986, KUKL evolved in to The Sugarcubes which added bass player, Bragi Olafsson and Bjork's then-husband, Thor Eldon on guitar.

The Sugarcubes released their first album, "Life's Too Good" in 1988. The album was an international success which helped put the Iceland music scene on the map. Thor divorced Bjork and married Magga Ornolfsdottir who joined the band to play keyboards after Einar Melax left the group in 1989. The Sugarcubes went on to record a total of three highly regarded and influential albums before they disbanded in 1992 but all have remained friends and are all still involved in the management of their record label, Smekkleysa ("bad taste" in Icelandic).

Bjork headed to London to begin work on a solo career. She met with Nellee Hooper, who had produced such artists as Massive Attack, Soul II Soul and Sinead O'Connor, and together they completed the album, "Debut" in 1993. Although, this was far from her first musical endeavor, the title was to signify the start of something new. The sound of this record was a big departure from her work with The Sugarcubes which uses house, trip-hop and even some jazz arrangements for some of the songs. The album was a huge critical and commercial success that included the hit songs, "Venus As A Boy (LP Version)" and "Big Time Sensuality (LP Version)".

In 1999, the director, Lars von Trier asked Bjork to write the musical score for his upcoming film, "Dancer in the Dark (New Line Platinum Series)". It is a musical drama about an immigrant worker trying to save up money to pay for an operation for her son to prevent him from going blind. Mr. von Trier soon asked Bjork if she would play the lead because he was convinced that only the composer of the songs could properly play the part. She was hesitant but soon agreed and co-starred along with French acting icon, Catherine Deneuve.

The film premiered at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Palme d'or and Bjork received the award for Best Actress. The music from the film was released on the soundtrack, "Selmasongs: Music From The Motion Picture "Dancer In The Dark"`" and the song, "I've Seen It All" was nominated for an Academy Award. Bjork performed the song on the 2001 award telecast wearing the infamous, "swan dress" which got her more attention than the actual performance. Despite the success of her first film, Bjork stated that the filming was too physically difficult and emotionally draining and that she would never do another major role.

Bjork is currently involved with performance artist, Matthew Barney and they have a daughter, Isadora. She also has a son, Sindri that she had with ex-husband, Thor Eldron.

She has released seven albums to date and has sold over fifteen million CDs during her career. She is also well known for her creatively innovative and sometime, controversial music videos. She collaborated early with a couple of directors who went on to later have successful film careers. Spike Jonze, who directed Bjork's 1995 video, "It's Oh So Quiet" has made the films, "Being John Malkovich" (1999) and "Where the Wild Things Are" (2009) and Michel Gondry who directed.several of her videos went on to make, "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (Widescreen Edition)" (2004) and "The Science of Sleep" (2006) which Mr. Gondry offered Bjork the female lead but she declined.

Bjork can be strange, temperamental and complicated but that's what makes her such a compelling and fascinating artist. I look forward to being confused, enchanted, and pleasantly surprised by whatever new musical direction she decides to take on next.

Here are a few of my favorite songs from this performer:

Play Dead
Big Time Sensuality
Venus As A Boy
Army Of Me

And here is the very strange but visually stunning video for "Human Behavior (LPVersion)" that was directed by Michel Gondry, and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Music Video-Short Form:

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