Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bjork, The Contemplative Nature of Music, and the Possible End of the World

One evening in an apartment above a college bar in Madison, I attempted to discuss the contemplative nature of jazz with some new acquaintances who were talking about what was and what wasn't good music. I should have known better. They were dead set on getting drunk and my attempt at conversation was a distraction. While I spoke, their eyes alternated between glassy with boredom and darting between the various bouncing body parts of women dancing in the apartment. They didn't care about the history of jazz in hip hop or anything else I had to say.

I stopped talking and got out of the way.

It wasn't a completely worthless moment though, as it contributed to a life lesson. I have learned in multiple situations that when speaking with young white people from agricultural communities who speak in ebonics, very little to no good can come of it.

Music often communicates with people in a more immediate, instinctual, and visceral way when compared with language and invites the mind into contemplation.

Bjork is an artist who creates modern music that is more than a mere gathering of sounds. Often maligned for her oddness, she is an artist who has spent her life crafting music that engulfs causes, mankind, and nature in an ethereal embrace of innovation and metaphor. Convention is a cobweb that Bjork swipes away while pursuing a greater communication. She seems to self-inflict a child-likeness that produces uninhibited exploration.

Her native country is Iceland, the isolated jewel in the Atlantic Ocean that was discovered and settled by vikings and priests. It seems an ideal location to gain unique perspective on the goings-on of the globe. Anyone who has lived in a wintry climate knows the hush of sound after a snow fall and the curious crunch of the snow under your boots. One wonders if it was in similar moments when Bjork first fell in love with the possibility of the sacred world of sound.

In interviews she credits an invested step-father with the awakening of music in her life. Contrary to a world that utilizes vision as their main method of sensory perception, her mind seems to have traded vision dominance for audition. Her spoken dialect even possesses a sing-song quality that has an other-worldly beauty. She inhabits the place where sound communicates beyond words and has learned its language. In bursts, words, gasps, electrons sliding microchips, and musical instruments, Bjork accesses tsunamis of emotion and reconnection with lapping memories all by the power of sound. She is a grand communicator of the massive.

Experts do not give much credit to the actual “content of words” used in the process of communication. More important are tone of voice and body language which includes posture, gesture, and eye contact. To appreciate Bjork's music, one must enter a contemplation of what she embodies upon the production of sound and the craft, science, and posture that she utilizes to unveil her art.

Shedding singular, fractured categories, Bjork utilizes a variety of means to communicate her art. From elaborate costumes to technologically advanced computers to incorporated video images, Bjork fearlessly produces explosions of passion, growl, and joy in brilliant frenzy. Often embedded in animal imagery, she is in one moment the polar bear emerging from hibernation into brilliant and painful light, and in other moments a mother bear licking her cubs in motherly recline, a roaring bear swatting salmon, and a dying bear gasping its final breaths in an elegant tundra.

Speaking boldly on political issues, she offended Communist Party officials in China by chanting “Tibet, Tibet” during a 2008 performance of her song “Declare Independence.” Also in 2008, Bjork released a song called “Nattura.” All profits were dedicated to increasing awareness about eco-friendly business and industry practices. The Nattura organization describes itself as a “desire for a renewal in discussion and debate on Icelandic resources; a desire for bridges between different spheres of knowledge, news, composition and productive ideas on self-sustainable evolution, on cluster of start-up companies and other ways than heavy industry.” More information can be found at

If you're just here to get drunk and chase tail, then all you will see is a weird lady in weird costumes at a weird concert.

But if you allow yourself to contemplate the grand wild reality, then you will find in the simplest of things electrifying bursts of glory. You will find a soul from a foreign land who holds out a tiny hand and asks that it be filled. Many words come in contact with her and slide away like petty, silly raindrops in a greater storm. When the storm recedes, her hand is cupped around the myrrh of music.

In her exploration, Bjork has uncovered one of the current and most immense challenges that mankind has ever faced. As the advancement of our science and technology wraps its hand around the entirety of the globe, we are forced to make a gambling assertion. As our planet undergoes frightening changes in its ecology, as wars are unleashed in all their fury, as industry drives forward in their practice, as economies bleed, and as men and women pursue the dignity of noble and profitable work, we are forced to ask: is current science a tiny surgical incision in the flesh of reality or is it an incision broad, sufficient, and trustworthy enough to make life-dependent assertions?

As we stand on the polar ice caps nuzzling the ice with our boots until it cracks and bloops into the drink, we evaluate our systems. Our minds run and rage through our collective experiences and aspirations. We are like penguins that push and shove until one falls into the water waiting to see if they are devoured as a test of the safety of the waters.

If we assert ourselves by a sacred humility, and we test our knowledge by implementing it into action, we may see unparalleled unity. We may not merely gain new discovery, but we may see schisms of the past fuse into wholeness. Creationism and evolution. Science and art. Ecology and industry. An assortment of cultures melting into pots of universality. But if we allow our technology to overwhelm and dominate our humanity and annihilate our ability to live in responsible dignity, then we will shift into fifth gear and grind our engines in blood. Nature and eternity will arch her neck toward us and ask us why?

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