Here’s an intriguing episode of a 1997 BBC documentary called “Modern Minimalists“, combining two of my favourite musical things: Björk and minimalism.
I fell in love with minimalist music when I first heard Steve Reich’s “Different Trains” (video here) at college, along with the stunning “Electric Counterpoint“. This fed happily into my later appreciation of The Orb’s “Little Fluffy Clouds” (which samples Reich heavily) and on into techno and the “ambient revival”, savouring delights like Philip Glass’ awesome “Koyaanisqatsi” soundtrack and the work of Michael Nymann along the way.
I discovered Björk a little later, when I heard her solo album “Debut” in 1993 – which is one of my favourite years for music, as it happens.
Björk is facinating to me from a production viewpoint, largely because of her choice of collaborators. For every album she picks someone different to provide beats, textures and inspiration – something which, bizarrely, she has been criticised for, as if it somehow devalues her musical contribution.
This makes no sense to me ! The whole point of a producer is to make a record more and better than it would otherwise be – and actually, pure “uncut” Björk can be quite difficult to listen to. So her inspired collaborations with Nellee Hooper, Mark Bell, Guy Sigsworth etc. are just part of the magic.
My favourite sequence in the video above is where she interviews Arvo Pärt – at least partly because of the hilarious clash of Estonian and Icelandic accents that results ! Pärt is another of my favourite minimalist composers – his music is genuinely minimal but also deeply emotional and moving, in exactly the way that Björk suggests it can and should be.
As for her main idea, though – that back in 1997 a movement was emerging – away from complex, intellectual “mind music” towards something much simpler and more direct, where texture and sound are crucial elements – that, I’m not so sure about.
It’s true that minimalist music like Glass’ and Nymann has been incredibly influential, especially in film and TV. And, the music Björk was making at the time (“Homogenic“) was basically string quartet and beats and therefore arguably “minimal”. But since then music as a whole has become far more fragmented and diverse than ever before, and even her own music has become nuch more complex and less direct, to my ears at least.
And really, is a building full of resonating electronic wires really the best way to make a case for non-intellectual music ?!?
It doesn’t matter.
Like everything Björk does, this is charming and thought-provoking and fascinating and honest – and her music at least is often still deeply moving, which is something that is all-too-lacking in other artists and genres today, sadly.
Who cares if it’s simple or complex, as long as it’s good ?