Björk: Biophilia Remixes by Current Value

Biophilia Remixes
Part I: “Crystalline” and “Solstice,” remixed by Current Value
One Little Indian

Björk’s 2011 recording, Biophilia, has, from its conception and release, been more than just another full length CD. The songwriter commissioned an app suite that allowed listeners to interact with the musical materials on the album and learn more about the scientific and ecological inspiration for much of the content of the lyrics. This has been followed by several educational initiatives in which Björk has been involved as a teacher and curator. Thus, the Biophilia project’s organic growth can be seen to extend alongside its creator’s omnivorous interests; and to reach far beyond the usual quarters of the record industry.

On the musical front, Björk has invited several prominent electronica artists to remix songs from Biophilia. The projected eight part series of remixes affords another layer of collaboration and interaction with this rich source material. The first part features Berlin-based artist Tim Eliot, who records under the moniker Current Value. He refashions two songs. The first, “Crystalline,” has one of the coolest and most readily apprehended apps in the series.

Crystalline App Tutorial on YouTube

Current Value has been a purveyor of techstep and the more dissonant wing of drum and bass for two decades. On “Crystalline,” his preferred techniques are deployed at full strength. After a delicate and ethereal beginning, he lays the hammer down, distressing the song’s textures and providing its center with a “voltage” and glitch tinged foreground and thrumming sepulchral bass tones. CV allows for this wall of song to prevail for much of the remix, making it eminently dance floor ready. We are allowed a brief respite again near the song’s conclusion; ambient synths blanket Björk’s voice before it is once again thrust into the propulsive maelstrom of the mix.

“Solstice” is a far more delicate source track. The Current Value remix processes the vocals, providing a sense of distance that accentuates the original’s delicacy. Beats skitter and, once again, “voltage” punctuation coruscates the proceedings until, at last, the boom is once again lowered: a mid tempo groove is established that is underpinned with multiple bass register lines in counterpoint. Perfect for a down tempo or lounge setting but still rife with syncopation, the “Solstice” rendition lives up to its remixer’s reputation for challenging dance hall aesthetics with dissonant and complex rhythms. Correspondingly, its adventurous spirit transforms the source material in fascinating ways.

Bedroom Community shares Yule 2011

Bedroom Community is one of our favorite indie classical imprints. The Icelandic label has released CDs by Sam Amidon, Nico Muhly, Daniel Bjarnason, Ben Frost,

Valgeir Sigurðsson, and other artists. As they did last year, BC has released a Yule mix, filled with previously unreleased material. It’s free with any purchase from their online store.

To whet your appetite, we’ve included a piece by Valgeir, with stirring accompanying images, below.

Björk: Biophilia; “Thunderbolt” live (CD Review; video)



One Little Indian/Nonesuch CD (digi; vinyl; digital app versions also available)

Björk’s latest release is more than just a studio album. For her Biophilia project, the artist has embraced both 21st century technology and espoused an aesthetic that reconnects music-making with the natural world. In the latter quest she’s in good – and venerable – company: Hildegard von Bingen promulgated a similar agenda through her own writings and musical works back in the 12th Century! Of course, Björk’s vantage point is decidedly more secularly ecumenical than Hildegard’s. But the notion of embracing the life force, being aware of (wo)man’s interaction with the environment and the cosmos, and the joy in eliciting the listener’s participation in the creation of music, are all affinities that resonate between them. Indeed, it’s in this participatory spirit that Björk has also released the album as a set of apps, encouraging listeners to dig in to some of the concepts behind the record’s creation and to explore some of the music in a more hands-on fashion. Those who prefer a less tech-fancy product can get a deluxe boxed set, limited edition vinyl, or one of several CD/digital formats.

All of these organizing principals and methods of distribution create high hopes: are the expectations and aesthetic pronouncements that surround Biophilia outsized when compared to its actual songs? No, the music remains central to the album’s design. It is ambitious in spirit and carefully crafted. Björk incorporates some of the classical music signatures she has incorporated on previous efforts – brass ensemble, vocal choirs, strings, etc. Beats and electronics are liberally added as well. Throughout, there’s a particular emphasis on plucked and percussive timbres – harps and dulcimers create a delicately clangorous soundscape that serves as a frequent through line on Biophilia.

This is still nominally a pop album, and as such the song designation is retained. But Björk is really creating compositions which stretch the boundaries of the song form, filled with digressions, changes in texture, demeanor, and even style. While the tendency towards the atmospheric has been abundantly present in her work (at least) since  2001′s Vespertine, Biophilia embraces a wide swath of sonic profiles. Some are quirky and endearing, like the organ-driven “Hollow.” Others are more beat-driven, like the astonishingly variated “Crystalline.” Electronica presents itself here n a glitchy fashion rather than embracing a standard dancehall-ready beat template. And then there is “Dark Matter,” a thoughtful, deliciously dissonant piece of chamber music: a piece that will likely prove polarizing: enervating to Björk’s detractors and riveting to kindred spirits.

The one constant amidst all of this musical diversity is Björk’s voice, which remains a singular, expressive, and powerful instrument, capable of great dynamic range and innumerable timbral adjustments. And while Biophilia demands much from its listeners, even by the standards set by the increasingly adventurous approach found in each successive Björk release, it’s likely that her voice alone is sufficient enough a beacon to light the pathway for listeners. Those who persist will find many sonic revelations and cherished musical moments therein.

Here is a video of a recent live performance of album cut “Thunderbolt.”

Here’s a video taster course for the Biophilia app suite

Björk’s new “Crystalline” Video + Biophilia 12″ vinyl series

A video for Björk’s new song “Crystalline” was released on Tuesday. It’s part of Biophilia, her ambitious new recording/multimedia app project for Nonesuch.

Also announced was a 12″ vinyl series featuring variations on the music from Biophilia.

Antony and the Johnsons: Swanlights (Review)

Antony and the Johnsons
Secretly Canadian

Swanlights, Antony Hegarty’s fourth Secretly Canadian LP, is his most musically adventurous recording to date. That said, he doesn’t lose sight of any of the focal points of his previous releases. Antony and the Johnsons still craft music that has one foot in the pop singer-songwriter domain (“The Spirit Was Gone”) and the other in a wondrous kingdom devoted to the post-folk aesthetic (“Everything is New”).

But there are forays into still more adventurous terrain here. His duet with Björk on “Fletta” could seem, at first blush, like an overt attempt to add some star power to proceedings. But it’s hardly a marketing ploy. Placed on the back half of the album, it serves as a meeting place for two famously stylized vocalists: a high wire prospect to say the least. But Antony and Björk, while remaining distinct entities on the track (how could they not?), come together as a felicitous pairing, singing dovetailed phrases and stacked harmonies that are both effusive and elegant. Correspondingly, the piano-only arrangement channels a bit of the character of Vespertine’s post-classical ambience.

Elsewhere, Hegarty and company explore other classical reference points too. “Ghost” is rife with minimal piano ostinatos and awash with string section underpinnings, all buoying a sumptuously soaring vocal. The chamber orchestra returns for “Salt Silver Oxygen,” creating a pastoral ambience that accompanies Antony’s elfin double-tracked vocals.

But Swanlights isn’t all longhair charts for strings. On the single-worthy “Thank you for Your Love,” Antony is backed up by a horn section, supply singing a modern day version of blue-eyed soul. If the song presents itself as a comfortable echo of Antony’s previous work, it’s a most welcome reminder of his uncanny ability to thoroughly inhabit a warmly embracing hook with affecting earnestness. That quality is most welcome in the often jaded terrain of today’s indie pop.

Antony and the Johnsons appear live on 10/30 in New York City at Alice Tully Hall

Random Bests of ’08, Part 2: Best Euro-pop Chanteuse

Emiliana Torrini

Me and Armini

 Emiliana Torrini
 Emiliana Torrini’s voice bears more than a passing resemblance to fellow Icelandic singer Björk’s instrument; particularly in full throttle in its upper register. It’s not surprising that Torrini substituted for Björk in the soundtrack for The Two Towers. And while comparisons between the two artists needn’t end at vocal signatures – they both have explored electronica in their arrangements for instance – Torrini has carved out a distinct musical identity for herself.

Her latest CD, Me and Armini, reintroduces a vigorous mixture of electronic elements and robust rhythms; materials she downplayed in her previous album, the stripped-down Fisherman’s Woman. But her voice more often serves as a calming force buffeted by these walls of sound – witness her captivating, understatedly cool delivery amidst the rocking accompaniment of “Gun.” The title track employs zesty reggae rhythms alongside a sultry vocal. Torrini returns to a primarily acoustic palette for “Big Jumps,” a catchy alt-pop single with a vocalize hook that dares you to not sing along.