photo & text by nacrowe
in career full of pioneering avant-garde soundscapes, MEDULLA (ELEKTRA, 2004) is arguably the most experimental BJÖRK album. it relies on the sonic possibilities of mostly one instrument: the human voice. almost everything presented is a edited, skewed, pitched, layered or others manipulated from BJÖRK herself or one of her numerous collaborators in RAHZEL (beatboxing), MIKE PATTON (MR. BUNGLE/FAITH NO MORE), SHLOMO (beatboxing), TAGAQ (INDUIT throat singer), ROBERT WYATT (SOFT MACHINE), DOKAKA (beatboxing), GREGORY PURNHAGEN (human trombone) and both the LONDON and ICELANDIC CHOIRS respectively. just as key are the programming efforts by the likes of MATMOS, MARK BELL, VALGIER SIGURDSSON, OLIVIER ALARY and LITTLE MISS SPECTRA.
intuitively when you imagine a record orchestrated and performed exclusively with vocals the first thing that comes to mind (at least for me) was the act singing. while there is plenty of singing, both as a solo and ensemble instrument, what makes this record instrument is how it explores all the other non-traditional (at least in a WESTERN context) manipulations of the mouth, palette and throat. there is a little whizzing, clicking, shrieking, bass dropping, whispering, laughing and not holding going on.
and the effort is almost as much about the production as it is about the origins of the sounds themselves. when this came out if felt hyper-modern in its ability to layer multiple organic reverberations into percussive, driving and at times hypnotizing repeated mantras of sound to the point that you were caught in the moment. on songs like "WHERE IS THE LINE WITH YOU," "OCEANIA" and "TRIUMPH OF A HEART" i am quickly less interested in the novelty of its construction and captivated by the quality of the melody and song itself. its quite the achievement. less organic but hauntingly beautiful is the track "DESIRED CONSTELLATION" in its minimal electronic sound-bed that puts on display BJÖRK's voice raw and bare. it very captures an artist performing at the peak of her emotive powers and i find the song deeply affecting still to this day.
as with all entries in her catalogue, BJÖRK's MEDULLA is well worth seeking out and revisiting. it may not be the most easily consumable at first listen but it pays dividends for a listener active in their appreciation for a songs construction and performance. in that sense this record is a singular achievement in its artistry and ever more evidence of the genius and vital creative work gifted to the world by BJÖRK.