Drawing Restraint 9, a film by Matthew Barney with a soundtrack composed by Björk, represents the first creative collaboration of two of the most protean, dynamic forces in music and fine art.

It is an apt pairing. Refusing to choose between pop pleasure and restless experimentation, Björk's musical vision weds technology and emotion, countering gut-level expression with an insistence upon formal modernity and innovation.

Similarly poised, and celebrated, within the world of contemporary art as Björk is within her own field, Matthew Barney is a visual artist whose ambitious, rigorous multimedia work encodes esoteric meanings while providing lushly immediate aesthetic rewards. Best known for The Cremaster Cycle, the sprawling sequence of five films made over ten years which was the subject of a recent Guggenheim retrospective, Matthew Barney's work is multimedia in execution but singularly focused in conception: tightly unified fusions of sculpture, performance, architecture, set design, music, computer generated effects and prosthetics, Barney's films deploy the full range of cinematic resources in the service of a hermetic vision rich with densely layered networks of meaning drawn from mythology, history, sports, music, and biology.

The basis of Barney's approach is an operative tension between sculpture and film: the lingering attention to sensuous detail and richly organized aesthetics lends each character, costume, artifact, set, and architectural location within his work the frozen timelessness of sculpture-- yet these components are subjected to vigorous processes of radical rupture and change as the films unfold.

His latest work, the two hour and fifteen minute magnum opus Drawing Restraint 9, was shot in Nagasaki Bay on board the Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru.

Its core idea is the relationship between self-imposed resistance and creativity, a theme it symbolically tracks through the construction and transformation of a vast sculpture of liquid vaseline, called "The Field", which is molded, poured, bisected and reformed on the deck of the ship over the course of the film.

Barriers hold form in place, and when they are removed, the film tracks the descent of form into states of sensual surrender and formal atrophy; this shift in the physical state of the sculpture is symbolically mirrored through the narrative of The Guests, two occidental visitors to the ship played in the film by Matthew Barney and Björk, who we first see taken on board, groomed, bathed and dressed in mammal fur costumes based upon traditional Shinto marriage costumes.

They take part in a tea ceremony in which, in the film's only moment of spoken dialogue, they are informed about the history of the vessel, and then, as an increasingly powerful lightning storm breaks out overhead, the tatami mat room they occupy floods with liquid vaseline, a fluid which we sense has emanated from The Field sculpture itself.

In a harrowing liebestod which is the climax and centerpiece of the film, the Guests, locked in an embrace and breathing through blowhole-like orifices on the back of their necks, take out flensing knives and cut away each other's feet and thighs. The remains of their lower body are revealed to contain traces of whale tails at an early stage of development, suggesting rebirth, physical transformation, and the possibility of new forms.

Having reached a state of maximum disintegration, the sculpture of The Field
is then reorganized and the ship emerges from the storm, sailing through a field
of icebergs towards the open southern ocean. In the last shot, two whales can be
seen swimming behind the ship, headed for Antarctica.


{01} gratitude
{02} pearl
{03} ambergris march
{04} bath
{05} hunter vessel
{06} shimenawa
{07} vessel shimenawa
{08} storm
{09} holographic entrypoint
{10} cetacea
{11} antarctic return
04:59
03:43
03:57
05:07
06:36
02:48
01:54
05:32
09:57
03:12
04:18
Though her melodic gifts and ambitious arrangements have often led her to create songs with a cinematic quality to them (consider the John Barry-esque drama of Bachelorette), the most obvious initial reference point when considering Björk as a composer for the screen would be Selmasongs, her soundtrack for Lars von Trier's film Dancer In the Dark, in which she also starred. But where that album was anchored in its titular character and in musical theatre as a founding genre, here Björk's compositions must respond to the polyvalent world of Barney's artwork, in which an abstracted narrative is only implied.

Fittingly, Björk's soundtrack primarily orients itself around the traditional musical forms of Japan. Effortlessly sidestepping any attempt at cheap pastiche or ethno-fusion clichés, Björk has instead written a suite of haunting new music for one of the culture's oldest instruments, the sho.

The sho's rich, dense harmonics are a reflection of its unique structure: with seventeen reeds and fifteen distinct pipes, it calls for a nimble fingering which blocks and silences particular notes in order to produce the ten tone-clusters, or "aitake", which were regarded as pleasing to the Imperial court of eighth century Japan. Transitions between these fingerings call for subtle, minute shifts between these rigorously defined chords. Thus the performance practice of the instrument itself reflects the organizing thematic of Drawing Restraint 9: the relationship between creativity and resistance.

The music Björk has written for sho is performed by Mayumi Miyata, one of the world's foremost sho players who has premiered compositions for the instrument by, among others, John Cage and Toru Takemitsu; she appears in the film playing her instrument.

In order to come up with a primal, direct musical equivalent to the operatic climax of the film's flensing ritual, Björk has worked with scholars of the Noh theatre to produce new musical settings of a Matthew Barney poem which is sung in the intonation patterns and low, growling vocal techniques of traditional Japanese court entertainment. Punctuated by woodblock percussion and high-keening tones, the result is a powerfully felt music with an elemental, invocatory power.
Providing a counterpoint to the ancient instruments and traditional compositional methods, Björk's ongoing collaborations with a closeknit circle of representatives of the cutting edge of electronic production continues unabated.

The presence of longtime Björk collaborators Mark Bell, Valgeir Sigursson, and Leila is felt here as a kind of sonic equivalent to the prosthetic and computer generated aspects of Barney's work, as their contributions expand the palette and extend the formal complexity of Björk's musical ideas:

on Petrolatum Bell fashions a rubbery bassline out of a pattern provided by Björk and based on a traditional Japanese folkdance to celebrate the arrival of the liquid vaseline tanker into the harbor;

Bath sets Björk's lonely voice against the shivering processed textures of Akira Rabelais' computer music to produce a tactile equivalent to the film's bathing sequence;

while on Storm Leila encrypts a virtual chorus of Björks in a dense and terrifying sheet of distorted processing which musically models the ship's malfunctioning electronics as they are short-circuited by the creeping flow of vaseline.

Vocal: Will Oldham.
Celeste: Jónas Sen.
Harp: Zeena Parkins.
Programming: Valgeir Sigurðsson, Björk.
Keyboard: Nico Muhly.
Arranging & editing: Björk.
Written by Björk and Matthew Barney.
Produced by Björk.

Western artwork about Japan typically fetishizes its glittering urban postmodernity, or stalls out in cheap gags about its unintelligible otherness; Björk's soundtrack for Drawing Restraing 9 shows a refreshingly open-hearted capacity to take Japanese history and culture both seriously and creatively, forging a poetics of translation which is as thoughtful as it is insistently new.

Like the figure of the Guest which she plays in the film, this album captures her testing her own resources, undergoing a strange but compelling metamorphosis, and pushing out into new territory. Combining deeply felt emotion with a bracing, risky independence from formulas and conventions, Björk's questing nature and stubborn inventiveness remain very much in evidence. A uniquely sensitive response to the artwork it supports, the soundtrack to Drawing Restraint 9 also stands alone as a bold step forward from an uncompromising musical visionary. Like the film it scores, it is ravishing, but wields a sharp knife.

Press release written by Drew Daniel


Sho: Mayumi Miyata.
Throat singing: Tagaq.
Arranging, editing & programming: Björk.
Written & produced by Björk.


Harpsichord: Guðrún Óskarsdóttir.
Crotales, glockenspiel: Samuel Solomon.
Beat programming: Mark Bell, Valgeir Sigurðsson, Björk.
Arranging & editing: Björk.
Written by Björk.
Produced by Björk, Mark Bell & Valgeir Sigurðsson.


Vocal: Björk.
Piano treatments: Akira Rabelais.
Arranged & edited by Björk.
Written by Björk & Akira Rabelais.
Produced by Björk.


Programming, keyboards: Valgeir Sigurðsson
Brass arrangement: Björk
Written & produced by Björk


Percussion: Samuel Solomon.
Programming, keyboards: Valgeir Sigurðsson.
Brass & woodwind arrangement: Björk.
Written & produced by Björk.


Sho: Mayumi Miyata.
Harp: Zeena Parkins, Björk.
Arranging, programming & editing: Björk.
Written & produced by Björk.

Noh score and voice performance: Shiro Nomura.
Percussion, chanting: Shonosuke Okura.
Written by Matthew Barney.
Produced by Björk.


Celeste: Jónas Sen. Harp: Zeena Parkins.
Crotales: Samuel Solomon.
Percussion, chanting: Shonosuke Okura.
Programming: Björk, Valgeir Sigurðsson.
Arranging & editing: Björk.
Music by Björk.
Words written by Björk& Matthew Barney


Vocal: Björk.
Programming: Leila.
Arranging & editing: Björk.
Written by Björk & Leila.
Produced by Björk.


Sho: Mayumi Miyata.
Written & produced by Björk.


Recorded and Engineered by Valgeir Sigurðsson
Mixed by Paul “P-Dub” Walton
Kuniyoshi Ueda Noh Translation and Arrangements
Marcus Grandon assistant to Mr. Ueda
Yuji Arai Session Co-ordination for Mayumi Miyata
Nico Muhly Score Preparation and Conducting
Clarice Jensen Project Co-ordination and assistance
Assistance with the Noh Sessions:
Tom Hare, Princeton University
Robert Garfias, University of California, Irvine
Paul Fisher & Yuki Kishi, Farside Music
Ichiho Nishiki

Recorded at:
Woods Road Studio, New York
Looking Glass, New York
Greenhouse Studios, Reykjavik
Bi-Coastal Music, New York
Olympic Studios, London
Victor Aoyama Studio, Tokyo

Thank you to:
Christian Rutlege, Jim Flynn, Alex Ross, Drew Daniel, Digi Design

 

 

 

This liquid quality of Drawing Restraint 9 (as material, as allegory, and as setting) allows Björk a unique opportunity to draw upon the full range of her manifold talents, and the result is a stunning new collection of music: delicate single instrument studies for harp, harpsichord, and celeste, large orchestral masses scored for trumpet, trombone, and oboe, sinewy electronic basslines, children's choir, boiling cauldrons of noise, and, throughout, her singular, elemental voice.

In a manner recalling the acapella experimentation on the all-vocal Medulla album, Björk's voice is here treated as both an instrument and as a strikingly flexible source of texture, heard in close-mic-ed whispers, lo-fi recordings to Dictaphone, and in wildly distorted howls. But Björk's voice is just one instrument within the overall vision that drives the soundtrack; as befits an artwork about the creative possibilities of restraint, she largely eschews the first person songwriting mode familiar from her previous post-Sugarcubes solo albums.

The one exception to this is Gratitude, the song which begins the soundtrack. In the film's moving opening sequence, we hear Will Oldham sing in English the text of a letter from a Japanese citizen to General MacArthur thanking him for lifting the U.S. moratorium on whaling off the nation's coasts; this text was adapted by Matthew Barney and set to music by Björk for harp, here played by Zeena Parkins. Its delicate delivery acknowledges the folk-culture roots of whaling, while it also subtly flags the barbed history and politics surrounding its source text.
July 13, 1946

Dear General MacArthur,

With your permission
I offer wishes of good health,
During this heat
That burns anything.

The words I slowly put together
Do not flow easily, they only fill my heart

Recently, fulfilling
Your heart’s desire
You removed the whaling
Moratorium.
Your gesture brings
A much needed food
To our community
And families,

The words I slowly put together
Do not flow easily, they only fill my heart

A million year old fossil
I send to you.
This comes from my family
And the ancient sea.
A prehistoric impression
Of the modern krill,
She feeds the noble whale,
And offers you longevity

The words I slowly put together
Do not flow easily, they only fill my heart

Finally, please take good care in the heat.

Sincerely yours,
Shizuka

Vessel, host, occidental guests,
Figure and field, both, carrier, carried.
Holographic paradigm,
The whole in every part.
Warm, viscous body, cooling
In marine air embrace.
Curing, skinning over
A still molten core.
Vessel, host, occidental guests,
Skin seascape in suspension.
Holographic entrypoint,
Each part reflects the whole.
Skin slit, consensual knife,
She cuts his figure, he flenses her field.
External resistance freeing,
Internal relation emerging.
Vessel, host, occidental guests,
To pattern, comes blood, giving form.
Holographic condition,
The whole in every part
Warm blood, terrestrial guests,
Take to the southern sea, breathing.
Antarctic host and vessel, proud,
Cetacean guests returning.

into pattern, flowing blood, giving form

in every part, the whole you see

into pattern, flowing blood, giving form

from the moment of commitment
nature conspires to help you

nature conspires to help you

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