The Björk system : origins

/ by Maxime Coton

I have to tell you right now: I'm a Björk fan. As I write these lines, she is singing in my ears (it is difficult for me to write without music). Saying that is like making a short sociological self-portrait. Yes, I'm educated, but not too pedantic. I like crossovers, pop culture, contemporary music and timeless art. I'm a young hipster, but no longer too young (Drake, you know?), and not only hip because I can also give you the title of three Deleuze books, and tell you what it's about, basically. From the outside, I look a little like that.

From the inside, the Icelandic singer, whom I have followed with passion for almost 20 years, acts like a barometer. If there's one thing her fans and critics can agree on, it's that she's always searching. Since fundamentally this is what we all do - the only interest of growing old - we seek, to know who we really are inside, let us say that to follow her path, it is to see the system that we form she and I structure ourselves through time. She, as a female artist, born in the wake of 68, daughter of sexual liberation, anarchism punk, and me as a millennial (I was born on the same day of the same year as her first child): the very core of her target audience. And beyond our two individualities, through her artistic evolution, one can see the shape of what I would call "the Bjork system", which goes beyond her person: a manifestation of any artistic approach of the 21st century necessarily enclosed between media and industry.

Individualism

As we know, the history of Björk begins before Björk, it is part of her mythology. First the little prodigy girl who recorded a cover album at the age of twelve. But let's pass without dwelling on this first discographic step. Let's also pass on the few ephemeral formations that will come later, more or less documented on records (notably Tappi Tíkarrass).

Now let's look at Kukl and the Sugarcubes, the real birth of the professional music world that Björk has become.

Kukl, openly punk, sees his first album "The Eye,” backed by the band Crass, and signed on Crass Records, the label of reference in the matter, which allows the band to make a European tour and to play at the famous Roskilde festival. Then came the world success with the Sugarcubes, built on the ruins of Kukl. With these two experiences, the wheel of show business was in motion.

This punk ground, and all the ideology that carries it - political and musical anarchism - must be seen, in my opinion, as the negative origin of the star. If, in her teenage years, Björk threw herself into these collectivist approaches, it is as if she could more brilliantly reject them because she had experienced them in the flesh, subsequently exacerbating individualism as a primary value.

The teenager I was when I discovered Homogenic was of this kind. To become, it was no longer a question - as for my parents' generation - of erecting one' s personality in a contesting community, but rather to assert internally one' s dissociation from the world as it presented itself to me and thus to reinvest the romantic mythology of the tortured and misunderstood soul by exchanging the solitude of the vast natural regions against those that could ensure the digital prostheses (how many times did I not listen to Pagan Poetry on my walkman ?)

It was the end of the twentieth century, Bjork seemed to have grasped something as great artists can do, becoming the sociological catalysts of an era in which they are anchored while anticipating it, deciding to embody and then claim this symbiosis between historical heritage and technological breakthroughs. But she could only do so at the cost of a double-edged strategic shift, claiming her individuality as the very place and condition of her experimentation. Her body became the location where the mutation was to become visible, even if it meant relegating her music in the background.

Technologies

More than a change of focus and posture, the change from group to solo singer status is accompanied by a change in musical textures. No more guitars, haunting drums, music that, however electric it may be, is nonetheless music that legitimizes the collective to some extent, each instrument producing a single palette of sounds as part of a composite ensemble. When Björk appeared under the radar in 1993, as we know her today, she was propelled by beats, i.e. at the head of an almost magical machine that alone produced all the elements of her universe.

And if the acoustic interventions are numerous (harp, violins, saxophones, flutes, etc.), they only increase the essentially electronic palette of this unusual conductor and are used as historical clues more than as playing partners (the waltz of his collaborators, always changing from one album to another, is the proof). Of course, in the 90s, electronic music and its pop versions have been present for decades in the history of music, but the break that Björk operates is due to the fact that technology is no longer just a tool, a futuristic belief from which one more or less scatters one’s work, it is a medium.

It is the setting in which Björk now thinks, creates and addresses the world: mutant diva, technoid feminist, artist forged and transformed by her own work.

I think I can argue that this paradigm shift in the conception of the technology that the singer foreshadowed as early as the 1990s, and which later became sociologically more readable with the advent of the Internet, created a fundamental generational break.

There will now be those who think of the new technologies as an extension of the modalities of existence and the others who will see there a terra incognita that redefines the modalities of existence where man and machine - now eminently interdependent - make system (one can find prefigurations of this societal change among cybernetic philosophers as early as the 1950s, but the technological advances of these last 30 years give them an ever more intimate echo that these philosophers could not apprehend).

For the uncle who introduced me to Björk and accompanied me to most of the concerts I was lucky enough to attend as a teenager, the new technologies increase reality, enhance music with aesthetic surprises; for me, the world can only think of itself by ceasing to send back and forth new and old, or to see digital only as the more or less happy interference of the analogue world.

Perhaps this divergence also explains why I have continued to be happily confused by Björk's later experiments, where he considers only with disgust the repeated manifestations of this form of expression that pushes ever further the frontier between the human and the inhuman.

From the outside, then, one could say that I am a technophile individualist and that Björk has a lot to do with it. This is all the more true because the way I consume Björk has also impacted the way I receive it, appreciate it and consume cultural goods in general. But that's another story.

....
Maxime Coton

was born in 1986. Devotes himself to literature in different forms and media, because books are needed but not enough.


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