Björk's History With Synthesis
Björk, an icelandic songwriter, singer, actress, composer, producer and DJ, creates heavenly waves with her avant garde style. Her music falls under electropop and experimental mostly, with elements of classical and trip hop. Björk was involved in bands Spit and Snot (punk rock), Tappi Tíkarrass (post punk), Exodus (jazz fusion) and Kukl(gothic rock). She had various musical influences which all filtered down into what would be best known as Art Pop.
Björk's debut album, called Debut and released in 1993, has elements of rock - like the synthesisers mimicking the grunge of an electric guitar and the vocal style being rough, which we hear on the first track of the album called Human Behavior - as well as elements of 80's pop synth sounds. (We hear this mostly in the second song on the album called Crying.) She used a Yamaha QY20 sequencer which was ultimately the bees knees during the early 90's as it was more like a portable workstation, with over 100 different instrument presets and the ability to store up to 20 songs. See below for Björk's home studio in 1994.
Björk also used something called Reactable, a gesture orientated device which allowed the creator to have a touch screen experience of sound design before touch screen was even a thing. "An instrument that lets musicians manipulate sounds by moving glowing blocks on an interactive table, it’s a bit like a modular synthesizer without the wires, with each block (or “tangible”) representing elements such as VCOs, LFOs and sequencers; values are modified depending on their proximity to one another." (Wilson, 2017)
This was the perfect instrument for an artist like Björk as it was most unconventional. You were able to visually see what you were creating and she even used it in live shows to give the audience a more visceral experience. The Reactable now exists as an app on IOS and has been renamed Rator. After this Björk became well known for using touch screens to make music. She moved on to something called a Jazzmutant Lemur, which is ultimately a touchscreen MIDI controller.
Björk was using a Casio SA-10 synthesiser in Debut and the early 90's. This was a synthesiser also used to create Wham - Wake Me Up Before You Go. It was actually a Modish studio synth programmer called Marcus de Vries who co-produced the synth on Debut. "At least half the time I was with Björk, she was hunched over a keyboard or a computer, building her synthesis one microscopic piece at a time."(Ross, 2004).
We also know that Björk used a Critter and Guitari Pocket Piano, a digital synthesiser released in 2011 that is basically pocket sized - hence the name - and so versatile. It has seven synth modes :
• Vibrato Synth • Harmonic Sweeper • Two-Octave Arpeggiator • Octave Cascade • Mono FM Synth • FM Arpeggiator • Mono Glider
Björk doesn't necessarily use synth as a foundation but she manages to integrate it into whatever she is making. She uses it in that way in Human Behaviour where the verse is mostly electronic beats, without a particular melody. She then brings in the Synth, heavy on LFO to emphasis the build up and lyrics. It also becomes a kind of baseline for the song and comes in first at about 1:09. It does not follow a strict song structure because the theme is about human behaviour and its lack of logic. The synth comes in and out at different times, mostly to draw attention to the lyrics "human behaviour".
Find the for video for Human Behaviour below