Wire

Soundcheck - Livebox

As Björk has become steadily more interesting as a musician, she has become less compelling as a vocal performer. The poetry of the songs and the theatre of her presentation have receded as her musical conception has become more sophisticated. These four CDs are basically concert renditions of her four albums : the innocently confident Debut, the more assured Post (which she considers as a ‘before and after’ pair), the sumptuous, mournful Homogenic and then Vespertine. Inevitably, favourite songs and big hits hang over onto later tours and part of the intrigue of this set is to hear how differently they are executed in new contexts.

In a long and sometimes confusing interview in the booklet, she discusses her collaborations with Nellee Hooper, Icelandic compatriot Sjon, and others, describing how she creates alphabets of beats for her musicians, ceding to them the exact distribution of rhythmic material within a song. This is immediately evident from the later recordings on Livebox. You sense the songs are neither reconstructed from her studio originals, nor deconstructed and detourned by performance ; nor indeed merely remixed live. It’s like every song, notably “Generous Palmstroke” and “Pagan Poetry” from Vespertine, and the magnificent “Human Behaviour” from Homogenic, has gone through a mathematical translation that reveals it as a multidimensional artefact that’s different with every performance.

The most recent material comes from her intensive Vespertine tour in 2001, when her group included Zeena Parkins on harps, celeste and accordion, and MC Schmidt on synth and soundscapes. Björk’s ability to find a group that doesn’t so much reproduce her conception as realise it in a series of controlled improvisations is formidable. By contrast, the Homogenic set comes from her 1977 dates. The integration of voice, electronics and the Icelandic String Octet was always variable. These are not necessarily the best recordings, but those which appealed to Björk musically, as when “I Go Humble” and “Hunter” are on the verge of breaking down but hold their line almost by force of will. Post is the most intractable and bravest of her albums and here it reshapes itself as a powerful declaration of independence. This is the kind of thing that made Iceland’s President Vigdis declare the singer a model of female self-determination.

Björk admits that the Debut tour was an “emergency” set-up, not because of no-shows, illness or accident. Simply, she hadn’t anticipated the album’s success or the need to tour it. It was all somewhat shambolic, but out of it came a legendary appearance on MTV Unplugged, included here on the set’s DVD. The sheer richness of sound is already shifting the focus from Björk’s voice, which begins on “Human Behaviour” somewhat distant in the mix. Talvin Singh is a dominant presence, and the roster of guest stars — harpist Corky Hale, percussionist Evelyn Glennie, saxophonists Julius Hemphill and Oliver Lake — is astonishing. The one non-MTV track is a pared down reading of “Venus As A Boy” with Guy Sigsworth in support. As a document of the early stages of a perplexingly brilliant career Livebox is brilliantly sequenced and beautifully crafted.

Brian Morton

publié dans Wire - 01.10.2003

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2003

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