Album: Björk

The Music from Matthew Barney's 'Drawing Restraint 9', ONE LITTLE INDIAN
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Barney is renowned for his Cremaster Cycle of five films in which vast, baffling accumulations of arcane, often visceral imagery are arranged in series of multimedia tableaux vivants. His Drawing Restraint 9, in which he and Björk appear, is built on the theme of whaling and its importance in Japanese culture. In the opening track, "Gratitude", over florid harp and celeste, Will Oldham's parched, mythographic voice reads a putative letter accompanying a krill fossil sent by a Japanese fisherman to General MacArthur in gratitude for America's lifting of the whaling moratorium.

The album relies heavily on Japanese musical forms, particularly the sho organ, for which Bjork writes a suite including the delicate "Shimenewa", the homeward-drifting last track "Antarctic Return", and "Pearl", in which the sho chord-progressions are accompanied by throat-singing growls and rhythmic breathing - so fantastically different from the blandness of the current Coldplay mainstream that I almost wept with gratitude.

The dark, lowering brass and woodwind of "Hunter Vessel" and "Vessel Shimenewa" are like being stalked by an angry, billowing cloud; "Ambergris March" features an itchy but inviting rhythm matrix decked out in sheets of harpsichord and glockenspiel; and water sluices around "Storm", with Björk's keening voice offering the only stability among the sonic pitching. It's all closer to avant-garde vocal pieces by Cathy Berberian or Joan La Barbara than anything in pop, affirming Björk's position as a diva of a different order.

The climax of the film involves the pair in an elaborate flensing ceremony, cutting each other's limbs off in imitation of the way blubber is stripped. The ritual aspect is emphasised by the soundtrack accompaniment, in which a Japanese classical actor delivers Barney's poem "Holographic Entrypoint" in Noh style - a tortuous process lasting 10 minutes. Presumably, the relief of the following "Cetacea", in which Björk murmurs about how "nature conspires to help you" over ringing crotales (chimes), is magnified if one actually watches the slow, bloody process.

Drawing Restraint 9 - in its thoroughgoing awkwardness, in Björk's insistence on digging for a deeper, less obvious aesthetic - is an astringent alternative to the humdrum production-line of TV-advertised supermarket pop. It affords access to a less infantile, more rarefied pitch of emotional resonance.