Icelandic musician and visual artist Bjork was asked “What drives you ? what makes you creative ?” in an interview by Herman Vaske in 2002 on a TV series called “Why are you Creative?” (Vaske, H. 2002. YouTube) and her response was that she doesn’t see herself as any different from anyone else creatively. She uses the example of her family, whom make fireplaces and are electricians, they are obsessed with what they do like her, but they are not considered creative socially. In the interview Bjork says that she works hard at being creative and in turn being a creative practitioner, she does not take holidays and works on her art 24/7. Bjork’s process is natural for her, singing is something she has always done and for her it started as a child singing on her walk to school, interacting with the environment around her. Using the natural beauty of Iceland and the open space to fill it with her voice. This is her creative process, allowing whatever she see’s and feels around her to channel her creativity. She then expresses it in her own unique way using technology and striking, bold adaptations.
Figure 1 Bjork in the MoMA-commissioned video for Black Lake, directed by Andrew Thomas Huang.
In that same interview, Bjork also spoke more about creativity and said,
“For me, maybe I’m not so concerned about if it’s creative or not because it’s a funny word. Maybe because I’m brought up with a working-class situation, and with the people I admire the most, my grandmother, my family, if you were to look at their passport, no one of them says artist, but for me all of them have been very brave and completely stood by what they are made of. Sometimes to take care of a lamp shop is very creative, or to feed 8 children can be a very pro-life statement. And my grandfather would show me a fireplace he had just made, a polaroid of it, just as proud as I would play him a song.” (Vaske, H. 2002. YouTube)
The first of Tony Buzan’s six aspects of ‘How to have better creative thinking’ (Buzan. T. 2011. Video) speaks about how everyone is creative, Bjork embraces this philosophy and works with passion and consistently at what she does to create, as she is an artist and that is her job. Growing up in a working-class family has given her that hard working ethic and she carries that into her profession, making her a creative practitioner. She utilizes her own personal emotions and experiences and embodies that into her music and visuals, reliving them through the art form. She then takes those productions and displays them publically in unique and different ways, embracing technology to better serve herself and the way she chooses to deliver her art.
She also embraces the exploration of the creativity of the audience by allowing her music to become a vessel for education, as seen in her 2011 album ‘Biophilia’.
Her 2011 Biophilia app has since become a large-scale educational project, teaching kids to explore their own creativity while learning about music, nature, science, and technology. It has now done three years at schools across Scandinavia and is becoming a very serious part of the curriculum. “Out of all of my projects, this one is growing the most,” says Bjork. (Zadeh, J. 2016. Website Interview)
Figure 2 Biophilia Album Art
Bjork works divergently (Manning A. 2017. Website) in her head for long periods of time, developing the music and ideas in what she refers to as sections and little cupboard and drawers.
“Most of my work I do in my head, just when I’m doing other things, I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been doing it for so long, or because I spent so many years without recording my songs, I wasn’t till 27 I started recording them. It actually becomes quite organized in my head, and I’ve got all these little sections and little cupboards and drawers and I started that idea and drawer and I can come back to it a year later and it will still be there. So I work in a room and it looks like I’m starting a song, but I’ve actually been working on it for a year.” (Bjork on Writing Music, 2017, Youtube)
She then returns later to bring those ideas together with convergent thinking (Manning A. 2017. Website). The use of low-tech and easy to use technology like the simple laptop computer as opposed to a large-scale studio facility, allows her to take control of the creative process and not rely on others and waiting for the right time to record her music.
“I see myself as someone who builds bridges between the human things we do every day, and technology,” she says. ‘So when the laptop came, it meant I didn’t need a studio anymore. I hate them anyway – they don’t have windows and they are really expensive – but now I can write my music wherever. For a woman, I think it is really empowering because I don’t need the whole patriarchy of the studio and that whole universe to make my music. Instead of doing a small proportion of it myself, I could go all the way up to doing 90% of it myself.’” (Ellis-Petersen, H. 2016. Website)
Figure 3 A hairpiece and dress from the Medulla era
The ability to capture the moment in a way that suits her thinking and process is a very important part of delivering the emotions she embodies into her songs and recordings. She can work around her mood, sleep patterns and life with this portable technology to efficiently and more directly record the way she chooses. This allows the raw emotion of the original intent of the piece to carry through to the final product more clearly.
Divergent thinking and using the environment around her, combining nature and science into her process and then relating it back to the music is her most utilized process. Letting the ideas settle in her head and then developing them further to come out at the right time and be captured under her own control have proven to be very effective for her. She can embrace the technology and explore the options available to her music production this way, without being hindered by the logistics of high-end studio production.
She bases her art on her own emotional experiences and then channels this for the performances in the live and studio settings. The album Vulnicura is a good example of this process, even though it can be tough emotionally on her.
“There’s no easy exit through. I wish. I would have taken it if I could. [long pause] It’ll be emotional. I’m just going to have to cry and be a mess and do it.” (Zadeh, J. 2016. Website Interview)
This in turn causes problems in her practice, when the emotions she is channeling are negative and not easily relived. Effectively communicating her feelings and emotions safely, while being too close to the content is something a lot of emotionally based performance musicians face. Creating art that is, as Joe Zadeh explains as “Almost too powerful for the artist themselves” (Zadeh, J. 2016. Website Interview), gives the product more depth and connects with the audience on an emotional level as well as auditory and visually.
“It feels like Björk Digital was a means for her to promote one of her most successful albums in decades, without having to actually relive the pain and anguish that was the fuel of its conception. And that doesn’t detract from the validity of the exhibition, in fact it adds to it: here lies a piece of art almost too powerful for the artist themselves. It opens up a strange and interesting path for the relationship between art and technology, that machines could somehow liberate artists from the crippling weight of extremely personal projects, and perhaps enable them to write more truthfully than ever.” (Zadeh, J. 2016. Website Interview)
Figure 4 Performing a DJ set at Björk Digital in Tokyo in June 2016
The Wiki entry on CIM405, ‘Bjork: Tech & Human Connection’, discusses how she uses her art and the album ‘Vulnicura’ as therapy to process the pain of her divorce. This was a matter of urgency for Bjork to be able to release the pain. She has used VR technology on the album ‘Vulnicura’ to overcome these problems, by creating a VR version of herself, and then performing it once and sending that on tour.
“[Vulnicura] has been different to all of my other albums,” she tells me. “I wrote it faster than any other, and I wanted it over as quickly as possible. I did the least gigs I’ve ever done for a record, because I didn’t like the moaning. So I did like twelve gigs. Maybe fifteen.” Her tones changes: “I thought maybe there is a way? If I film myself singing those songs in VR, then I just have to do it once. I could put that on tour, instead of me. Meanwhile I could focus on more positive energies and write new songs. Instead of indulging yourself in negative shit, you should just make new stuff, it’s much better. So I started doing that, and I have been ever since. Most of my time goes into writing the new album, which I’m pretty far with now.” (Zadeh, J. 2016. Website Interview)
Figure 5 Visitors experience Björk Digital at Somerset House.2016
The Vulnicura album was performed live on tour in a showcase entitled ‘Bjork Digital’ As I have written about in my Wiki entry in the CIM405.1 Wiki entitled ‘Bjork: Tech & Human Connection’,
“She was driven by experimentation and improvisation with the album and the interactive VR displays she made with other directors is a way for her to distance herself from the feelings inside the art and inspired it in the first place. She is using the creative process as therapy for her own self. (Cooper, G. 2017. WIKI CIM405.1
She overcame the personal negative association of the emotion in the album’s content by collaborating with other creative industry practitioners, such as video directors, animators and graphic designers, using their perspective to work further on difficult personal projects. By using other art forms to further deliver her art. The use of different directors has allowed different points of view of each of the tracks on the ‘Vulnicura’ and helps Bjork distance herself from the difficult personal topics.
“The visual side of Vulnicura has been a very slow plan … I think emotionally it really works because heartbreak is the oldest human story of all, so it could take this experimentation,” she says. “Each song has a different format and a different director. I think that helps because the story is mainly just me moaning, and the instrumentation is always the same, just strings and beats. So to get different points of view with different directors and different technology … I think it suits the project really well.” (Ellis-Petersen, H. 2016. Website)
Figure 6 Speaking at the launch of Vulnicura, Björk appeared not in person but on screen in the form of an ethereal avatar.
Through the use of technology, Bjork is able to deliver her art within the restraints of the music industry, while still exploring experimental and avant-garde approaches that suit’s her personality. Creative divergent beginnings, formed in her head, that are then folded into practical processes, using new technology, equipment and methods. The collaboration with visual artists, matches and brings her music to the industry with new and exciting formats that engage the audience in an active way, such as the VR ‘Bjork Digital’ shows. This evolving and exploratory process helps challenge the music industry expectations and yet still conforms to what is considered a musical performance.
It is the visual, emotional and musical aspects of Bjork’s art that engages the audience. Not simply a .WAV file audio recording, but a technology and interactive based package that works for Bjork herself and the industry to accept and take in the art she pours so much passion into.
Björk – Vulnicura Live (Complete HD 1080p)
Cooper, G (2017, June). CIM405 WIKI Bjork: Tech & Human Connection. Retrieved June 20, 2017, from https://campusonline.gscm.sae.edu/mod/wiki/view.php?pageid=14#toc-7
Ellis-Petersen, H. (2016, August 31). Björk: ‘I build bridges between tech and the human things we do’ Retrieved June 20, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/aug/31/bjork-build-bridges-technology-somerset-house-london-virtual-reality-vulnicura
Björk on Writing Music. (2014, July 03). Retrieved June 16, 2017, from https://youtu.be/JNFktYapxWY
Joe Zadeh, (2016, Sept 22). How Bjork Created a Virtual Version of Herself to Deal With the Pain of ‘Vulnicura’. Retrieved June 18, 2017, from https://noisey.vice.com/en_us/article/how-bjork-created-a-virtual-version-of-herself-to-deal-with-the-pain-of-vulnicura
Fusilli, J. (2015, March 09). How Björk’s New Album Creates A Welcoming Universe Both Logical and Unexpected. Retrieved June 18, 2017, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/universes-both-logical-and-unexpected-1425938338
Vaske, H. Björk – Interview on ARTE – Why Are You Creative? (2002). (2012, May 04). Retrieved June 18, 2017, from https://youtu.be/oUKMIlsoevU
Manning, A. (2017, February 06). Divergent vs. Convergent Thinking: How to Strike a Balance | Harvard Professional Development | Harvard DCE. Retrieved June 20, 2017, from https://www.extension.harvard.edu/professional-development/blog/divergent-vs-convergent-thinking-how-strike-balance
Buzan, T. Video. (2011, April 12). Retrieved June 20, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zO2LdDpx-Tc