Even over the phone from Björk's cottage house in Reykjavik, visions of giant bears, swaying forests and gyrating landscapes are dancing in my head. I'm thinking of her first video, 1993's "Human Behaviour," directed, with trippy childlike esprit, by Michel Gondry. There's the epic "Joga" video, also by Gondry, in which the surrealism of Iceland's landscape melts into bits of clunky 1997 computer renderings. Or 2007's "Wanderlust," directed by New York's Encyclopedia Pictura, a stereoscopic trip down a rippling CG river. This is the world I imagine Björk lives in.
In her newest video, for the riotous "Mutual Core," commissioned by MOCA in Los Angeles, which will premiere this month on MOCAtv, the art museum's new YouTube channel -- the young L.A.-based artist Andrew Thomas Huang offers more clues to her tempestuous relationship with the environment. He placed the Icelandic singer in the center of a primordial sandbox, like an Earth mother at play. At the climax, lava-spewing sprites -- the result of four months of meticulous FX work with colorful hand-crafted puppets -- are crumbling and crashing around her. It is, of course, a classic Björk love song, imagined, appropriately, as an acid-induced episode of Fraggle Rock. "To counteract distance / I know you gave it all / Offered me harmony / If things were done your way," she sings with honesty, handling each syllable like a knife. "You didn't know I had it in me."
Björk has been a riot of surprises lately. Last year, she mounted a series of phenomenal performances for her album Biophilia, which featured a number of giant new instruments, including a singing Tesla coil and something called a "gravity harp." She also organized an educational program for local students at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, and corralled some of the world's best coders to turn each song on the album into a set of mesmerizing smartphone apps. A remix record, with contributions from the Syrian crooner Omar Souleyman and the Sacramento bit-hop band Death Grips, among others, is out this month.
How did this new video come about?
[MOCA's] Jeffrey Deitch contacted me a while ago, and he suggested that we collaborate on this, and it sounded like a good idea. Because I'm an old punk, I've never done commercials or sponsoring or anything like this -- I've been really strict with it -- but with this, [Jeffrey] seemed to be helping us to make a music video. That sort of makes sense to me. It doesn't feel like sponsoring.
How do you approach the relationship between the visuals and the music? Do you have a picture in your mind when imagining a song like "Mutual Core"?
Well, obviously music is where my heart is. But I feel through the years that visuals have helped me a lot to communicate music to people. It functions as a shortcut. Most people's eyes are more mature than their ears. Some songs perhaps need a dozen listens to sink in. With a visual, it will sometimes take only one or two takes -- as long as there is synchronicity between the two. If they are not connected, it will only confuse even more.
How do you clear your head amidst all the busyness of everything?
Well, yeah, it's tricky. I guess I try to sort of use the extremes. It's almost like schizophrenia. It's like I'm two different people. When I'm touring I sort of become this physical singing machine or something. And then I get kind of quiet, and when I'm at home I'm more off the grid.
I'm in Reykjavik right now. There are only 100,000 people, and I was born here, and for every street I have like five memories. All my family, all my friends live here, and since childhood it's been a pretty easy place to just sort of go for your daily swim in the swimming pool and bump into your friends in a food store or go to the bar and see bands.
You spend a good deal of time in Brooklyn, too. How do you like living in New York?
Of course, I enjoy it. But always in short spurts. When I was a teenager I was listening to Public Enemy nonstop, and stuff like that, and I would go to New York for four days and not sleep. And then I had a period during the '90s when I partied quite a lot with the drag queen scene. I ended up doing those kind of hedonistic things when I was in New York, for some reason.
But then when it's a question of living there full time, that's something else. I moved upstate, half an hour drive up the river, so I lived there for seven years, right next to a park. And then me and my boyfriend got a boat and thought, OK, now we're going to live on a boat, because that's the way we're going to work it out, how we're going to be connected with the natural elements in the middle of this urban space. It was kind of fun for like three years and then we sort of...
Were you just docked in New York?
We moored it off of Long Island City and then we actually sailed quite a lot, across the Atlantic once, sailed a few times to Guatemala. And now it's the third stage. We sold the boat and now [we live in] Brooklyn Heights, but I'm only there from January to June, so I'm usually fine. It used to be I could only do it for just two weeks, but now I can do like two months. And then I really freak out.
Why do you freak out?
Because, obviously there are a lot of concerts and a lot of cosmopolitan things; you cannot do [it all]. I have to say I do prefer Brooklyn to Manhattan. It's more like a European city. It reminds me of when I lived in London. It feels like a village, and you can walk around and you can actually see the sky. And I live on the roof, on the top floor, so that's really helpful. So I think I'm getting better and better, but then I get half the year in Iceland.
What do you like to do when you're in New York?
I go to Other Music and Opening Ceremony -- those are my guilty pleasures. I go more to bars than clubs. I'll go to friends' houses. It can also be complicated for me if I go out, because people recognize me, and I don't really enjoy that so much, so I prefer to go to places where people sort of don't know who I am.
Don't you have a good way of disguising yourself when you go out? Besides a swan outfit, of course.
[Laughs] No, I'd just rather not go to those places. Last February, I think, I went to SoHo, and I was kind of hung over. And then, in like five minutes, there were 50 paparazzi on bicycles following me around.
Do you look at YouTube for inspiration? Are you on the Internet every day?
It's a bit of both. I will have periods where I cannot even look at my computer for a few weeks. I think my friends are used to me, I'll just sort of disappear. And then I will find a reason to come fresh to it again. I mean, obviously it's an amazing tool. It's not like the Internet is evil or anything. And you find all these incredible things, and you do a bit of hunting and gathering. I Google pretty seriously, then I will have weeks where I'm off it. I'll do both extremes, as usual.
Stills from "Mutual Core," Björk's video for MOCAtv. The video premieres Tuesday, November 13, and you catch watch a teaser for it HERE.