When Björk met Attenborough

Björk and David Attenborough

Meeting of great minds … Björk and Sir David Attenborough.

If you haven’t seen Björk‘s encounter with Sir David Attenborough, you really must.

It’s all centred on Biophilia, the most recent musical project from the Icelandic musician. It’s all about the marrying of music and nature, as well as a set of apps and other interactive tools to help all of us, children in particular, understand it better and, ultimately, produce more of it. It’s all about increasing the accessibility of music, which is a truly worthy concept.

I was turned away from music in a way because of the academic obsession that characterises the teaching of it in schools around the world. I started violin at a young age, persevered with it until I was about 18, but ultimately gave it away because it was all too hard and stressful. Music is supposed to be joyous and, I believe, spontaneous to our existence as human beings, just as it is for birds and many other animals. It’s not at many schools. It’s a chore most of the time, and Björk is making that point with Biophilia. I can’t commend her highly enough for this noble crusade, and I’m delighted to learn that her revolutionary musical apps are now a part of the curriculum for music in Icelandic schools.

Sir David is, perhaps surprisingly to some, a big fan of Björk. He’s fascinated by her extraordinary vocal range, and by the way her music challenges the mind, and why wouldn’t he be. Over the years, the 47 year old has certainly demonstrated to us that she is capable of the most brilliant sounds and compositions. I’m with David. She’s a once in a lifetime grand master of her craft.

In a sense, Biophilia transcends everything Björk has ever done before. She says it is her once-in-a-lifetime effort, her magnum opus, as it were. Of course she’s not the first musician to attempt to marry nature and music. Claude Debussy‘s La Mer, Gustav Holst‘s The Planets Suite, Benjamin Britten‘s Sea Interludes, mentioned in this programme, all tip the hat to the world we live in and, in the case of Holst, some we don’t. Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is another good example of a composer attempting to translate a love of nature into musical notes.

Having been to Iceland it seems to me only natural that Björk would become obsessed by both nature and music. It’s impossible not to love both when you’re in that country. It’s certainly the most inspiring environment I’ve every experienced, and the music that has come from there, for the most part, is equally unusual and beautiful in equal measure. You could close your eyes and listen to some of the works on Biophilia and almost transport yourself to a similar location, albeit only in your mind. It’s full of extraordinary sounds, extraordinary instruments and extraordinary compositions and performances.

Music is a part of the human make-up. Björk’s quest to explore that is mind-bending at times, but I’m glad she’s gone there because only she could produce something of this magnitude. A lot of people think she’s crazy, but I’m certainly not one of them. I think she’s wonderful, and the amount of thought and effort that goes into her music blows me away. It always has. She’s so far beyond the skills set of any other musician in my opinion. Her intelligence and mastery of sound is arguably unrivalled, certainly in her own generation.

In closing, there is a lovely segment in this clip with Dr Oliver Sachs, who I wrote about recently when I celebrated Music Therapy Week. But that’s just one small part of what is an excellent clip. If you’ve got some time, sit back and watch it. If you love music, and are fascinated by its effect on the human mind, you’ll absolutely love it.

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