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Creative Icons #1: BJÖRK

by | Apr 8, 2015

What does it mean to be creative? It’s a question we discuss regularly on our training courses and is a source of endless speculation. What can business learn from performance artists and creatives? You need more than a dash of self-belief, contrariness and audacity about you to make a great performer, I always think, and I mean that as a compliment. I mean a mindset that is different from the norm, a way of thinking that enables you to do things outside of convention and, as a result, helps create some truly memorable and innovative pieces of work.

Icelandic singer Björk, I think fits squarely into that category.

She’s 50 this year, which turns out to be a fitting moment for a Björk retrospective at MoMa. The singer was apparently reluctant to say yes to this rather prestigious accolade, and only agreed after the world famous art museum agreed to commission an original song and video for the retrospective. As a result, it’s not your typical Hard Rock Café-style walkthrough of wall-hung memorabilia: it’s more an interactive journey through her career. Whilst the exhibition is getting a bit of a slating in the media, I’d love to go and visit. This bit on the MoMa website explains: “In the Museum lobby, instruments used on Biophilia (2011) – a gameleste, gravity harp and Tesla Coil – play songs from the album at different points throughout the day.”

I’m guessing there’s no Tesla Coil on Bieber’s last CD – and probably not a “gameleste” either. I looked it up – it’s a kind of tinkly clavichord and is an entirely new instrument, commissioned by Björk herself.

Biophilia was released alongside a series of interactive apps and was hailed as something of a groundbreaker. Forget digital downloads, this was an album designed to explore the links between music, nature and technology and it won a Grammy. Even more impressively, it went on to form the basis of an educational tool taught in a number of schools across Europe.

I could write all day about Björk’s commitment to doing things differently to every one else – her styles have embraced everything from jazz to classical to Indian music to House – but what I’m really interested in is the singer’s approach to creativity. What keeps her innovating? What keeps her striving to move forwards?

One thing I read is that she’s always pretty much in creative mode, a mode that just never really turns itself off. She’s always singing and creating new melodies in her mind, and for inspiration, she often heads outdoors.

“There’s something about the rhythm of walking,” she says, “how, after about an hour and a half, the mind and body can’t help getting in sync.”

I know plenty of people who would agree – getting yourself outdoors and away from the office is arguably my number one tip for reinvigorating the mind and is something I try to do regularly. I love the idea of Björk throwing on a (swan-headed) hoodie and disappearing into the woods in search of inspiration.

Another thing I discovered is that she likes to create songs in different places. Björk was early to identify the portable studio capabilities of a laptop, and invested in one for her music way back in 1999. With it, she can make music anywhere. Venezuelan producer Arca, who worked with the singer on her just-released new album Vulnicura, talks of how they even worked on some songs in a lighthouse, where you have to leave by a certain time each day if you don’t want the tide to trap you in.

Videos online run the full gauntlet of Björk’s artistic achievements – such as that unforgettable swan dress she wore to the 2001 Oscars (she left an egg on the carpet); the Icelandic all-lady horn section she used on her song The Dull Flame Of Desire and more. Of no artistic relevance but something I love about her all the same: one of Björk’s greatest heroes is Sir David Attenborough. “He makes it all seem very simple,” she says.

I don’t know if you caught Miranda Sawyer’s recent interview with her for Radio 6 (it was still on the BBC iPlayer at the time of writing) and it’s a good listen. But what can we mere mortals take out of the way Bjork creates?

  1. Be fearless. “The future has to be a little scary or it doesn’t work,” she says. “When we’re too confident about something, it’s not right. There has to be that 50/50 feeling where you’ve no idea what you’re doing but it just feels right in your gut.”
  2. Be surprising. Bjork’s music is full of the unexpected – wildlife, bells, beeps, shrieks.
  3. Collaborate. Alexander McQueen, Spike Jonze and her longtime collaborator Icelandic poet Sjón amongst many others as visionary as she is.
  4. Go to the edges. Bjork loves to experiment and is “attracted to extremes.”
  5. Make it visual. Bjork’s videos and installations are as much part of her work as the music.




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