Björk on nature and technology

the creative independent , 27 septembre 2016

Nature and technology have always overlapped in your work.
For me, na­ture and tech­nol­ogy stand for hope, and for a move­ment on­wards to the fu­ture. I’ve al­ways been like that. I think it has to do with be­ing brought up in Ice­land. Even though it’s a cap­i­tal in Eu­rope, right now I’m out­side my house, and I am lit­er­ally walk­ing on the beach. It’s a lot of space ! I re­mem­ber the first time when I was re­ally into tech­nol­ogy was go­ing to the den­tist. I was in this hip­pie school where every­thing was very wooden and real. Then it was a den­tist’s of­fice, and I was like, “Wow. This is the fu­ture !” He put all these things in my mouth, and I was like, “Okay, the fu­ture is here, this is where shit hap­pens.”

I think it’s also some sort of in­stinct, just know­ing that if there is to be hope, we have to unite tech­nol­ogy and na­ture. You have to make them co­ex­ist, and they have to be able to work to­gether. I mean, it has to hap­pen, if we’re go­ing to sur­vive. Maybe I’m be­ing a bit lim­ited, but the older I get, I re­al­ize bet­ter and bet­ter how I’m formed by my ori­gins and where I’m from. But some­how it’s eas­ier for me to imag­ine that hap­pen­ing in a nat­ural sit­u­a­tion—like me talk­ing on a phone on the beach to you now from a cap­i­tal in Eu­rope. You have tech­nol­ogy, or Garage­Band in your iPhone and record a tune on top of a moun­tain.

This has al­ways been the ideal hope­ful mar­riage for me. I’ve more or less al­ways been into this—every al­bum, I was like, okay, now I’m go­ing to do some­thing I’ve never done be­fore. Then it al­ways goes back to the same thing. Ever since I was a teenager in punk bands, and what­ever, it’s been pretty per­sis­tent.

When we were do­ing the tour of the al­bum Volta, we had touch­screens. This was be­fore iPads. When­ever there’s new tech­nol­ogy, one of my fa­vorite things—a sort of mur­der mys­tery thing—is to fig­ure out, “Oh, what’s this for ?” A lot of things are rub­bish, but there’s al­ways one thing where it’s like, “Oh, tech­nol­ogy fi­nally caught up with us, and now it can map out this very nat­ural func­tion in me.” It makes life eas­ier. Peo­ple think I’m re­ally, re­ally good with tech­nol­ogy. Ac­tu­ally, it’s the other way around. I’m re­ally rub­bish. When an iPad comes along, it makes tech­nol­ogy us­able for me.

When I did Biophilia, I was so ex­cited about fi­nally map­ping out how I feel about ed­u­ca­tion and how I feel about mu­si­col­ogy, be­cause when I was a kid in mu­sic school, it was al­most of­fen­sive, how I was forced to study mu­sic, or res­o­nance, or tim­bre, or scales—every­thing from a nor­mal book, and sit and read some­thing for hours. If it’s be­ing seen and heard, it was some­thing that needed to be felt and be­come vis­ceral and phys­i­cal. For me to do Biophilia, I rented this house on the beach, and we were there pro­gram­ming all the ba­sic things in mu­si­col­ogy, like rhythm and chords and melody and so on.

It was very ob­vi­ous some­how that the touch­screen was ba­si­cally a 3D book. You can see that now. How it’s mostly used, it’s great for schools, and es­pe­cially things like physics or math or mu­sic, or things that have to be 3D. It’s the same thing. It makes sense for me to go back to this, be­cause it’s sort of like first you dis­cover the tool, then it’s like meet­ing a new friend, and then you can try and fig­ure where the magic hap­pens, where the most po­ten­tial is to grow. It’s that heat point, and that feel­ing of en­ter­ing the un­known, that re­ally ex­cites me.

How did you get interested in virtual reality ?
I’ve got a close col­lab­o­ra­tion with An­drew Huang, who I’ve done sev­eral videos with now. My in­ter­est in vir­tual re­al­ity came from that. When I was com­mis­sioned by MoMA to do the “Black Lake” video, we were go­ing to do it in 360. Try­ing to squeeze into MoMA was a very ex­cit­ing pro­ject for me. I think the shape of that song is in­flu­enced a bit by the fact that I was go­ing to have it pre­sented in a room, and I was think­ing that peo­ple would walk in and out all day. It was this song that could loop for­ever.

So, we were first go­ing to film it in 360, and it was go­ing to be in a 360 dome in­side MoMA. Then that was­n’t pos­si­ble for func­tional rea­sons, so we ended up do­ing it on two screens, which was ac­tu­ally per­fect : I found a po­etic rea­son for that be­cause the song was writ­ten in a dark crevice in the mid­dle of the night in Japan, so it was that claus­tro­pho­bic feel­ing of be­ing in a tiny canyon. [laughs] We set it up like that, and then just had crazy subs mas­sag­ing you. That was that one piece.

For me, the in­ter­est in vir­tual re­al­ity has been a grad­ual de­vel­op­ment. It’s been the op­po­site of Biophilia, where I ba­si­cally cut every­thing off and cre­ated this space, went to a for­eign is­land, and de­cided to make all these plants grow si­mul­ta­ne­ously ; the tech­nol­ogy, the pro­gram­ming, the mu­sic writ­ing, the lyric writ­ing. When we re­leased it, it was ready on all the lev­els. But Vulnicura was al­most the op­po­site, where the al­bum was writ­ten re­ally quickly, and then it leaked, which suited its char­ac­ter. It was like, okay, it’s this kind of beast. Think­ing about it now, the leak in­flu­enced us in a good way, be­cause my team kind of went, “Oh, okay, it’s one day at a time. There’s no mas­ter plan… fuck that.” So we had to be very re­ac­tionary and work with what we had.

Like, when we were film­ing “Black Lake” in Ice­land, we hap­pened to have a cam­era with us that was 360 that this com­pany had lent us. We were go­ing to film “Black Lake” with it, and then me and An­drew looked at each other one evening and said, “How about we do ‘Stone­milk­er’ to­mor­row ?” That was the spon­ta­neous sib­ling of “Black Lake.” It could­n’t have hap­pened that spon­ta­neously if there had­n’t been a year of dif­fi­cult ef­fort put into the “Black Lake” one. They co­ex­ist some­how.
It’s been like that ever since. Next thing, we asked Jesse Kanda to do “Mouth Mantra.” I was at a place in my life where the only plan was that there is no plan. You just have to go with the flow, and go to­tally with your gut. If it feels right, it’s right. If not, then, you know, just go off the map. You lost your map, so just go off it.
We are up to six videos now with eight dif­fer­ent peo­ple. And, one thing with VR that you learn very quickly : VR is­n’t just VR. 360 is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from VR, and then it’s like do you show it in a dome, or do you show it in the glasses ? We al­most just de­cided, me and James Merry, my co-cre­ative vi­sual di­rec­tor. I was ac­tu­ally just with him, and talk­ing about stuff for three hours. It’s re­ally a chal­lenge for both of us. What we de­cided to do while this tech­nol­ogy is still in the mak­ing—and it’s still be­ing dis­cov­ered, but peo­ple don’t know what it is—is to just use this search as an el­e­ment. How do you hang a song on the wall ?
Each video al­most has been done with dif­fer­ent tech­nol­ogy, dif­fer­ent themes, dif­fer­ent di­rec­tors, dif­fer­ent prob­lem-solv­ing, every­thing. Every­thing has been, sim­i­lar to Biophilia, has been done like an ex­change across peo­ple. It’s been re­ally fun.

Does the “Mouth Mantra” video go back to your early interest in dentistry ?
No, it does not. [laughs] I should say yes. I should be re­ally clever and say yes there, but I have to credit Jesse. That’s his idea
VR is still being developed. A year ago, you’d have to wear some kind of huge helmet, and it keeps getting refined. Like you say, it’s this thing that hasn’t quite been figured out entirely. It hasn’t entirely congealed.
Yeah, it’s ex­cit­ing. I love this feel­ing of en­ter­ing the un­known, and you have to al­low your­self a lot of mis­takes. Then when you get it right, it’s so re­ward­ing and sat­is­fy­ing. I love the spirit. I love hang­ing out with those tech nerds and hav­ing ridicu­lous con­ver­sa­tions. I’ve ac­tu­ally been talk­ing to this com­pany now who are do­ing these crazy sonic things—be­cause, of course, it’s sonic, too. You can walk around and hear dif­fer­ent sec­tions of the song, so maybe you have dif­fer­ent things in dif­fer­ent songs. Like, how you ex­pe­ri­ence sound in 360 ?

I was talk­ing to a friend about it the other day. It’s al­most like every time there is a new some­thing, like for ex­am­ple, when film came out, or the­ater—that was a very long time ago—or a CD, or the LP, it’s re­ally fun to try to de­fine it. For me, VR’s quite Wag­ner­ian or some­thing. It’s al­most like I’m sit­ting there, and think­ing, “Oh my god, how are they go­ing to solve this for three hours, just look­ing at one stage ?” Peo­ple are in­ter­ested. It’s such a dif­fer­ent strug­gle than 2D or a con­cert. It’s lit­er­ally the same kind of prob­lem with VR, where you have the cam­era in the mid­dle, and you can look all around you, and all the events, and kind of how you place every­thing. I think it’s just re­ally ex­cit­ing. Rid­dles to solve. It’s a priv­i­lege to be a part of fig­ur­ing it out.

Do you see VR as something that removes you from the natural world or do you see it as something that folds into reality ?
I think it’s both. I think it’s bi­nary, and I think that’s al­most the point. If you try to es­cape one thing and just do one or the other, you’re al­ways go­ing to end up at the same point. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it sort of eats its own tail. It’s al­ways go­ing to be that ques­tion, for sure, but I’m sure that was the same ques­tion peo­ple had with every­body on trains read­ing books or com­mut­ing or what­ever. It’s al­ways go­ing to be, are they here with us in the train, or are they some­where else in their book ? I don’t think this is any dif­fer­ent. There are ob­vi­ously dif­fer­ent chal­lenges with this, though.
I heard some­body say that he watched some crazy game, for like eight hours a day, that had the wrong physics in it—like all the dis­tances to the moun­tains or what­ever did­n’t add up. So, what hap­pened af­ter a few days, is first he would get sea­sick when he was in the ma­chine, and then he would ac­tu­ally get used to it. Then when he would take the ma­chine off him, he would get sea­sick. He had to put it back on to not throw up. That’s ob­vi­ously very scary. Then with any­thing, you have to work out things like the soul and hu­man­ity, and what’s good for you, and not be lazy. These good old ethics can come back. To not get ad­dicted.

Do you feel like with the Björk Digital that opens in the fall is something that you have more control of than your MoMA show ? Do you feel like it’s complementary ?
I prob­a­bly would never have done a MoMA show if it was my choice. I was very flat­tered to be of­fered it, ac­tu­ally. Klaus [Beisen­bach] of­fered it to me many times. I turned it down un­til I said yes. It was a re­ally ed­u­cat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me, and I know it was done from his be­half with all the good in­ten­tions. I learned more about my uni­verse. There are cer­tain things that work for me and cer­tain things that don’t work. What I re­ally liked was, for ex­am­ple, pre­mier­ing “Stone­milker” at PS1. That’s more the con­ti­nu­ity of the mu­sic video, and a nat­ural uni­verse for me that I’ve been in since I was a teenager. It made me dis­cover, also, that I like this one-on-one that you have when you lis­ten to mu­sic with head­phones, or an al­bum, in your house and read the lyrics. That one-on-one jour­ney you go through, that nar­ra­tive of mu­sic. It’s dif­fer­ent than 20th cen­tury vi­sual arts.

I’m not crit­i­ciz­ing it for a sec­ond. I just think it’s there’s a rea­son why peo­ple go to con­cert halls and sit there for an hour and a half, and it’s a good idea. It works. In a way, VR’s a bet­ter suited stage for this kind of uni­verse than the white cube, or this sort of 20th cen­tury mu­seum. “Black Lake” works in a mu­seum ; it’s as white cube-y as I’d go. That was the piece that I prob­a­bly put most of my work into. I think the VR ex­hi­bi­tion is what I would’ve done if I had­n’t done MoMA. Find­ing a roof for the VR videos—while peo­ple still don’t have head­sets at home—in a punk ware­house-y set­ting. And it is true, in this way, tech­nol­ogy re­ally has en­abled women to work out­side the al­ready formed hi­er­ar­chi­cal sys­tems.

Maybe the fash­ion el­e­ment, too. I care about it, but I don’t care half about it as much as I care about the mu­sic and the vi­su­als. I mean, that’s where my heart is. Also, life is short, and I need to just do new things, just do the stuff I’m do­ing now, and not a ret­ro­spec­tive. If other peo­ple are in­ter­ested in that, I’m re­ally flat­tered, but I have to stay fo­cused on the stuff I’m do­ing now. What I also dis­cov­ered, ac­tu­ally, was how much Biophilia has grown since then. It hap­pened first for three years in Reyk­javik schools, and now it’s just done two years in Scan­di­na­vian schools and Green­land and the Faroe Is­lands.

When we do the ex­hi­bi­tions, we call it ‘Björk Dig­i­tal’ be­cause peo­ple can come with head­phones and the iPad, and they have the in­stru­ments there, and they can try them, and they can play them all day. We are set­ting up a sit­u­a­tion fo­cused on in­ter­ac­tion. It’s not com­ing into a room and look­ing at paint­ings on the wall or ac­quir­ing vi­sual art. It’s dif­fer­ent. It’s more about peo­ple com­ing and try­ing Biophilia ; it’s in­ter­ac­tive. Then they go and try all the VR videos.

We try to make it as im­mer­sive as pos­si­ble. In Aus­tralia, there were 60 VRs, and peo­ple were there hold­ing hands and cry­ing. I mean, they would hang out in the Biophilia room for­ever. It’s kind of more about the last two pieces I did, and I tried to make them most im­mer­sive. Peo­ple can come and ex­pe­ri­ence that. Mak­ing ba­si­cally a stage or a place where peo­ple can do that, and the in­ter­ac­tive part—with good head­phones, of course. [laughs]

We ad­just every time, and it’s al­ways about who wants to work with us. For ex­am­ple, the Tokyo show was re­ally dif­fer­ent to the Aus­tralia show. The Aus­tralia show was part of a fes­ti­val, so it was a mil­lion and a half peo­ple that walked through it. Tokyo was in the Mu­seum of Tech­nol­ogy, where they have all the ro­bots and that, and where we ac­tu­ally had Biophilia three years ago. The same teach­ers were there three years ago, so they had his­tory with the teach­ing part of it, the ed­u­ca­tional part. Yeah. They were re­ally dif­fer­ent kinds of shows. The “Black Lake” room was not in Tokyo.

It’s just one day at a time, and we don’t re­ally have a big plan. It’s about in­ter­est. The only other idea I’d like to say is that we try to add one new video in every place. The place com­mis­sions one piece. We would pre­miere “Fam­ily” in Mon­treal. Then we’ll just see how long it lasts. It’s al­most like hav­ing your own trav­el­ing cir­cus, and you can DJ. In­vite your friends over. I’m play­ing with the idea that when my next al­bum is ready, that that could be my venue or some­thing, that it is a bit of a fam­ily cir­cus.

You’ve been doing marathon DJ sets after these events.
I’ve been DJing with friends, yes. There’s a crazy amount of ef­fort we put into prepar­ing the sets and every­thing is so fun. It’s a lot of pas­sion there. Why not share it ? For me, if I was re­ally go­ing to go throw away the map and be sin­cere about where my per­sonal pulse is tick­ing at this par­tic­u­lar mo­ment, that sort of made sense, be­cause that’s what I’m do­ing.

I think be­cause it’s so im­mer­sive, the Biophilia ed­u­ca­tional thing and all the VR, it did­n’t make sense that I would then do a gig. Then it’s like more me. But if I’m shar­ing my love for mu­sic, and every­body else’s mu­sic, it made much more sense. It’s more about the pas­sion for mu­sic than look­ing at me. And there lit­er­ally is some strange en­ergy that hap­pens when you play all your fa­vorite songs back to back, and put it on top vol­ume. It ac­tu­ally is en­ergy be­ing re­leased. I love other peo­ple’s mu­sic. I like to just jump up and down with ex­cite­ment for some songs, and it’s got noth­ing to do with me… it’s like a break from my­self. It re­minds you why you’re do­ing it all.

Say­ing that, there’s an ex­cep­tion to the rule, as al­ways. I did a gig in Lon­don, so that con­tra­dicts every­thing I said. We had­n’t played Lon­don yet, and Lon­don for me is just such a mushy place. It’s like the city that helped me be­come the mu­si­cian I am, and fully formed. It’s my other home, es­pe­cially my mu­si­cal home. It was only voice and strings—an at­tempt to put a spot­light on my arrange­ments. I al­ready re­leased a string al­bum, with­out the beats. I’ve put quite a lot of work into this string al­bum where there are sort of slightly dif­fer­ent ver­sions of things, and we got in­stru­men­tal­ists, vi­ola or­gan­ista from Poland. I had­n’t ever done a gig with only strings, so I thought, “Okay, maybe this makes sense to do it there. I can in­vite all my Lon­don mates over.” It sort of added up like that.

I just im­pro­vise, like we do. It ac­tu­ally does­n’t take that much en­ergy to do those ex­hi­bi­tions. Most of my time, I’m spend­ing just writ­ing mu­sic. That’s also one thing great about these kind of ex­hi­bi­tions. When I stopped tour­ing a year ago, I just turned straight to writ­ing new happy songs. That’s sort of the land I’m liv­ing in most of the time. It works re­ally well to­gether. They don’t fight. It’s two dif­fer­ent parts of your per­son, or some­thing.

Björk Recommends :
Mirrors by Mala (elec­tronic mu­sic in­flu­enced by the An­des moun­tains)
NAO (East Lon­don RnB)
Jürg Frey (slo-mo string stuff )
A Field in England, di­rected by Ben Wheat­ley (three-year old film SUB­LIME)
Embrace of the Serpent, di­rected by Ciro Guerra (BEST FILM I’VE SEEN FOR AGES)
Berry pick­ing in Au­tumn is turning me on
serpentwithfeet (Harlem singer-song­writer)
Long Au­gust sun­sets on my beach in Ice­land with bon­fire din­ners !
Bi­cy­cling fast on the beach with all your playlists on shuf­fle re­ally loud early in the morn­ings, and then re­ally read­ing into it for the rest of the day which songs come on—like DJ tarot or some­thing.
Claire Hentschker (Amer­i­can vi­sual artist)
Elysia Crampton
Ragnar Kjartansson exhibition at the Barbican
RuPaul’s Drag Race
Crispin Best (Lon­don poet)
Harry Evans (Lon­don knitwear)
Sadaf (Brook­lyn pro­ducer/​singer)
Robin Hu­nicke/​Jen­ova Chen (Cal­i­for­nia, mak­ers of the “Journey” com­puter game)
Margrét Vilhjálmsdóttir (Ice­landic ac­tress)
Jordan Wolfson (vi­sual artist)
Katie Gately (LA mu­si­cian)

par Brandon Stosuy publié dans the creative independent