Bjork’s Big Dilemma

New York Daily News, 30 septembre 2001

Pop star wants her soldout shows at Radio City to be intimate.

In an ideal world, hearing Bjork’s latest album would be like having a private audience with a reclusive muse.

The sprightly singer would sit you down, maybe have someone bring you a cup of tea, and then she’d get to work, performing "Vespertine" for the smallest crowd possible.

"Emotionally, I should have just a few musicians and invite one listener at the time into the room because it’s so personal," says the singer. It’s the same impulse that drove her to stage an impromptu show at Riverside Church in May, playing without microphones or amplification.

"When I’m playing small rooms for 200 people, it’s actually very liberating, because that’s how I learned to sing," she says. "I used to walk around to school, back as a child, and I would sing at the top of my lungs. In venues with 3,000 people, I did try to sing acoustically, but it wasn’t even brave. It was foolhardy. It’s just not possible."

On Thursday and Friday, Iceland’s most famous export appears at two soldout shows at Radio City. She’ll be backed by an orchestra and choir, which is something she calls an "enjoyable little struggle."

"It’s such a contradiction in a way, to have an orchestra and a choir," she says. "Because you’ve got 74 musicians and 3,000 people watching you. And we’re trying to create a one-on-one situation."

For Bjork, her newest collection of songs is all about hushed moments and intimate revelations. Her most personal works to date, they offer images of love fulfilled and oneness with nature. The warmth is broken only by the incessant thrum of digitally manipulated scraps of sound that are meant to replicate ice cracking and glaciers slowly moving.

"I was collecting together all the noises that I know that are like hibernating and that sound like the inside of your head," she says. "I guess ’Vespertine’ for me was going really, really, really internal and trying to make music with huffs and whispering and music boxes."

As both a member of the Sugarcubes and a solo artist, Bjork, 35, has become one of the most influential pop artists of her generation. Although she gets little airplay, she is renowned for staying two steps ahead of the industry, making albums that fuse her oddly lilting voice with electronic soundscapes.

She may be a cult figure in the U.S., but in Europe, Bjork is a major star ; she has sold 10 million records worldwide. Last year, she brought her unique persona to the screen in Lars Von Trier’s musical melodrama "Dancer in the Dark." Her portrayal of a single mother with a congenital eye disease who is led mercilessly to the gallows won her the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival. Although wary of the movie business, she subsequently showed up at the Oscars in a fanciful swan dress, from which she produced a freshly laid egg.

She wears the dress in her promotional photographs, and the cover art of "Vespertine" features a swan. But Bjork can’t quite explain shy she’s so fascinated with the stately bird.

"It’s just one of these things where I’m not sure exactly, but probably everybody can see it but me," she says. "I just know it was right and a powerful decision. Maybe I’ll go back in a few years and go, ’Of course, it’s obvious, silly.’ But it seemed to sum up a lot of things for me."

Safe Haven

While she’s happy to have made the venture into movies, once was enough for Bjork, who says her attempt to disappear entirely into her character was an emotionally grueling experience. She wrote and recorded much of "Vespertine" while making and promoting the movie, keeping the album as a sort of safe haven from the film world.

"You go out there and people stare at you and there’s the pressures of that kind of thing, which I don’t like," she says. "But you take it on because you know that in a few minutes or hours, you’re going to be surrounded by all the things you love, microphones and equipment. Because I can stay in studios for days and weeks and make music with all my favorite people."

In her private life, Bjork has been seeing the artist Matthew Barney, who is best known for his sexually charged series of "Cremaster" films. Barney, who frequently appears in his work as a red-haired satyr, may be the only person Bjork could date who makes stranger, more jarring art than her own.

While she politely sidesteps questions about the relationship, it’s clear that both of them are interested in constructing challenging images of fantasy, nature and sexuality. For Bjork, the principal symbol on "Vespertine" is a cocoon in which she can be coddled, "hermit-style."

It’s a typically naturalistic image for the singer who grew up in the rugged terrain of Iceland, though she describes her homeland as a place that straddles two worlds.

"I was brought up with nature, so it’s as normal to me and everyday as Times Square is for Manhattaners," she says. "The stereotyped Icelandic person is someone who believes in elves and makes a concrete road that goes in a circle around an elf rock [so as] not to upset the elves. But they still have a mobile telephone and a laptop. I’d like to say that I’m like that. Truthful to nature and truthful to technology."

par Isaac Guzman publié dans New York Daily News