ATN's Music News of the World: Tibetan Politics
Addicted To Noise Senior Writer Gil Kaufman reports: For producer Howie B, listening to the third solo album from Icelandic enigma Bjork, Homogenic (Sept. 23) is almost too much. There is one track, he said, he just can't get through. "I can't even bear to hear it," B told Addicted To Noise.The intensely-personal CD is so rife with raw emotion and sparse atmospherics, that the long-time Bjork collaborator feels the pain too closely. The 10-track album, the first in which the singer had a hand in producing nearly every track, is both the most subdued and experimental album in an already eclectic career.And it is, by far, the most personal."She has an amazing ability to express herself with her voice, while also using a distinctive melody," said B. "When someone can express themselves with that dexterity, which sounds funny because it's how you talk about hands ... but her music moves me and Bono does the same thing with his voice. Robbie (Robertson, with whom B has collaborated with for Robertson's new album and a track on his own album) can do that to me. Few singers can do it, though."Having recorded the singer's vocals on a few tracks and produced the final cut on the album, "All is Full of Love," a shimmering "Over the Rainbow"-type ballad with subtle electronic backing, B said he was happy to act as a sounding board during the recording. "I've worked on all her records," B said, "but this time she wanted to take more control and I was an ear for her when she needed it." B said he listened to in-the-works tracks "all the time," while working on his own upcoming solo album, as well as touring with U2.B said he was so affected and moved by his work with Bjork on Homogenic, that there is actually one track (he wouldn't say which) that he can't listen to. "Because of what she's saying on that song, I can't even bear to hear it because you can so clearly hear the pain there. The anger and the angst ... it's a very emotional record, it's very brave. Once you hear it, you'll get it."Bjork credits an intense and personally-trying 1996, in which she was involved in a physical confrontation with a camera crew in Bangkok, had her love life splashed across British tabloid pages and fell victim to a bomb scare, as inspiring the album's string-laden, introspective sound.Recorded in El Madronal in Southern Spain, where Bjork escaped to following a nerve-rattling scenario in which a suicidal American fan sent her a letter bomb before killing himself on videotape, the album is a groundbreaking collision of classical and club culture. The odd journey begins with one of four tracks debuted at this summer's Tibetan Freedom Concert, "Hunter," one of several songs that make use of frantic, heartbeat-mimicking rhythms and spacy vocal effects.Nearly all of the tracks feature haunting strings courtesy of the Icelandic String Octet, whose swelling sounds weave in and out of the first single, "Joga," as well as the agitated trip-hop of "5 Years," where the strings battle with a fuzzed-out, torn-speaker rhythm track and such confessional lines as: "I'm so bored of cowards," "I dare you to take me on" and the chill-inducing refrain "you can't handle love." Bjork's musical maturity also rears its head in her vocals, infused with seething emotions and a scaling range broader than her trademark girlish-whisper-to-a-throaty-growl.Although packed with a number of ballads, including the faint heartbeat and harp electronic/string-laden tune "Unravel," the spooky, delicate "All Neon Like" and "Immature"'s tick-tocky beat and minimal mantra-like lyrics, Homogenic does have a few trademark Bjork remix-ready futuristic dance tracks."5 Years" is propelled by ripped air, jungly beats, while "Alarm Call" is packed with the album's most aggressive beats, rattling programmed hip-hop rhythms that offset its bouncy New Order-style bass line and computer squiggle sound effects. "Pluto" jumps out as the most techno-influenced track, with wildly-distorted robot vocals and chaotic blasts of mechanized samples and laser gun sound.The album also contains the song "Bachelorette," yet another track that features watery, frantic drum & bass breaks overlaid with dramatic strings and a bassy piano riff over an intense bossa nova beat. One of the more menacing tracks on the album, it also contains some of the most disturbing and abstract, lyrical images in Bjork's songbook, including the opening line, "I'm a fountain of blood/ in the shape of a girl," "I'm a path of cinders/ burning under your feet" and the eerie "I'm a tree that grows hearts/ One for each that you take."In this month's Raygun magazine, Bjork said of her sound, " ... electricity and electronics should be electronic, they shouldn't try to be like Japanese flute or violin. They should be proud of what they are ... I think technology is very warm and sentimental, as well. It can be very mushy and emotional. I wanted Homogenic to reflect where I'm from, what I'm about. I wanted the beats to be almost distorted; imagine if there was Icelandic techno."The singer goes on to talk about the emotional "crash" that led to her Spanish sojourn. "Emotionally," she says, "this album is about hitting rock bottom and earning your way up. So it's the darkest album I've done emotionally, but it's got a lot of hope."LFO's Mark Bell is credited with developing the beats and "sonic signature" of the album and Eumir Deodato, who arranged the strings on "HyperBallad" and "You've Been Flirting Again," both from Bjork's last album, Post, helped score the multiple string arrangements.***Addicted To Noise Staff Writer Chris Nelson reports: The call for freedom in Tibet has now become the rallying cry for both the old guard and the young turks of rock 'n' roll alike.Three months after Beastie Boy Adam Yauch staged the second annual Tibetan Freedom Concert in the United States, British rockers have lent their names to a petition calling for the release of imprisoned Tibetan music scholar Ngawang Choephel. Among those calling for Choephel's emancipation are such rock royalty as Paul McCartney, David Bowie and Sting, as well as Radiohead, Supergrass, Annie Lennox and Peter Gabriel.The letter, sent to Chinese President Jiang Zemin, calls for the immediate release of Choephel, who was sentence to 18 years in prison for spying while filming ethnic music and dance performances. "We believe that he has committed no crimes, that he was merely exercising his freedom of expression as a musician, as someone who is interested in musical culture," said Alison Reynolds, director of the Free Tibet Campaign in London. "To sentence him to 18 years in jail is an outrage."Choephel was carrying out a cultural project in Tibet during the summer of 1995 when he was arrested. "He was making video recordings of Tibetan people singing and dancing, with the idea that he would make a permanent record of their threatened culture," said Reynolds. The scholar intended to give his documentary to the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, as a present.Reynolds said Choephel was first seen in Chinese custody two years ago this week. After being arrested, he was detained for 15 months without explanation before the government acknowledged his arrest. "In December 1996, he was convicted of espionage," Reynolds said. "They claim that he was spying on behalf of the Dalai Lama and that his video recording was just a front for gathering information."One copy of the petition was sent to President Jiang Zemin in China. Reynolds said that she and others attempted to deliver another copy to the Chinese embassy in London on Tuesday (Sept. 16), but were rebuffed by representatives there. "Although we were initially admitted into the building, the staff there refused to allow us to present the petition." Reynolds said members of the Free Tibet Campaign watched as embassy officials threw the letter in a trash can. "I think it was an unfortunate response," she said.Earlier this year, a similar letter on Choephel's behalf -- signed by U.S. musicians such as Cypress Hill, Michael Stipe, Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt and others -- was delivered to U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who pledged to urge Chinese leaders to discuss the plight of Tibet with the Dalai Lama.Reynolds said that while there are no plans yet for a British equivalent of the Tibetan Freedom Concert, such an event is a possibility. "The music industry have always been very supportive of Tibet. We will continue to work very closely with them, particularly on cases like Ngawang Choephel's."