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Jórunn Viðar, Jakobína Sigurðardóttir, Björk – Vökuró

I encourage all of you to explore Björk’s work. Most of us think of her as that crazy Icelandic woman who showed up to the Oscars in a swan dress—how outré! She’s actually a prolific producer, composer, and performer of her own music. Her singing really threw me at first. Later it grew on me, as strange, imperfect voices are wont to do on all of us.

It’s hard to know where to begin; her body of work is extensive. She’s been a professional musician since she was a teenager, is fifty-one now, and shows no signs of letting up. Her albums travel through the decades from punk to Europop to electronic lullabies to protest anthems to a multimedia science project about the natural history of Earth. Vespertine (source of the infamous swan dress) was my gateway drug, but I have yet to hear an album of hers I dislike.

Her experiment on this album, Medúlla, is to produce music created entirely by human voices. She distorts and instrumentalizes her samples, but ultimately every sound has roots in somebody’s larynx. Nowhere is this more evident than on the track I picked out for today. Its structure is functionally that of a choir and soloist; I think choirs have actually performed it in concert. It’s also one of the rare occasions on which Björk performs an entire song in Icelandic, her first language. Most unusual: she composed neither the music nor its lyrics. The composer is Jórunn Viðar, Icelandic pianist and composer, and the text is a setting of a poem by Jakobína Sigurðardóttir—so perhaps Vökuró is the most art-song-like of Björk’s output.

Vökuró

Bærinn minn
bærinn minn og þinn
sefur sæll í kyrrð
fellur mjöll
hljótt í húmi á jörð
grasið mitt
grasið mitt og þitt
geymir mold til vors

Hjúfrar lind
leynt við brekkurót
vakir eins og við
lífi trútt
kyrrlátt kalda vermsl
augum djúps
útí himinfyrrð
starir stillt um nótt

Langt í burt
vakir veröld stór
grimmum töfrum tryllt
eirðarlaus
óttast nótt og dag
augu þín
óttalaus og hrein
brosa við mér björt

Vonin mín
blessað brosið þitt
vekur ljóð úr værð
hvílist jörð
hljóð í örmum snæs
liljuhvít
lokar augum blám
litla stúlkan mín

Vigil

My farm
my farm and yours
sleeps happily at peace
falls snow
silent at dusk on earth
my grass
my grass and yours
keeps the earth til spring

Nesting spring
hid at the hill’s root
awake as are we
faith in life
quiet cold spring
eye of the depths
into the firmament
staring still in the night

Far away
wakes the great world
mad with grim enchantment
disquieted
fearful of night and day
your eyes
fearless and serene
smile bright at me

My hope
your blest smile
rouses verse from sleep
the earths rests
silent in arms of snow
lily white
closes her blue eyes
my little girl

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