For years — for decades! — my heart and my hands longed to get ahold of sheet music for some of my favorite Björk songs.
I’d search online from time to time, fruitlessly — particularly for the songs “Unravel” and “Bachelorette” (from Björk’s glorious 1997 album, “Homogenic”) and “New World” (from that devastating Lars von Trier film, “Dancer in the Dark”).
So we’re in Holy Grail territory again when I tell you how thrilled I was — even thunderstruck — to learn that in 2017 Björk had finally published a songbook.
Honestly, I would have been glad to have any official arrangements, but this is Björk, who seems to always follow her own constellations, so of course she and her collaborators have created a sumptuous and unusual volume, a collection true to her questing and ferocious spirit. Her vision for the project, described in this statement, extended even to the fonts for the notes themselves, which she and M/M (Paris) designed. The arrangements are by Björk and pianist Jónas Sen.
Scan the song list on the back cover, and you will see that this is no straightforward “piano/vocal/guitar” songbook. (There are, in fact, no chord symbols at all.) Instead the pieces — the scores — have been arranged not only for piano but for a variety of keyboard instruments: “Pagan Poetry” for harpsichord, “Unravel” for the organ, “All Is Full of Love” for celeste.
Rest assured that even if you have no celeste handy, or your harpsichord is out of tune, you can still play each piece on a piano. The melodies are transcribed on separate lines, but it is usually within reach to weave them in for more of an instrumental piano solo experience.
Do you suppose that Björk has some forms of synesthesia? She must. Certainly the cathedral spaciousness and vivid swirling colors of her music have provided this synesthete with delicious long hours immersed, surrounded, stirred up, spun around, and thrilled by the astonishing visions these songs conjure up.
Of course, it’s nowhere near as vivid an experience to play these songs on one’s own piano, but here, sit down anyway. Open up this spiral-bound collection with its deceptively discreet cream-colored cover. Extend your hands to the cool keys, take a breath, and then: begin. Follow the breadcrumbs that Björk has left for us, feel the vibrations as they rise up out of a delicious wellspring known only to this woman, this singer musician composer artist, this pioneer who trusts implicitly in the North Star callings of her curiosity.
This songbook is not quite a map to Björk’s own secret spring — she is the only soul, anyway, who can pull the sword from that stone. But to follow along and breathe and move and rest with these compositions is a worthwhile endeavor. Where will they take you, what powers might you harness as you open up to Björk’s channel?
Where to find it: "Björk: 34 Scores for Piano, Organ, Harpsichord and Celeste" SONGBOOK: available for purchase at the official Björk shop, on Amazon, and at MusicRoom.com. Publisher: Wise Publications (2017) ISBN: 1785585517 (spiral-bound paperback) Status (2020): In Print
FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION: Here’s a Spotify playlist of the Björk compositions featured in the songbook, “34 Scores for Piano, Organ, Harpsichord and Celeste.” On pianist Jónas Sen’s official website, you can find selected images of the songbook as well as video clips of Björk and others performing the arrangements from the collection.