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Björk's Interview with Arvo Pärt (or, on the Power of Music)


In a short video, two of the world’s most elevated contemporary musicians discuss music and its wonderful possibilities.

Describing the essence of music – perhaps the most sublime language of all – is an impossible task almost by definition. Perhaps music’s strength lies precisely in this: its message has only one language and this is not one that’s in any way translatable or transferable to some other language, even with the most careful and sophisticated of words. It’s a communication system that appeals directly to our deepest interiors, an inside where words can’t quite reach.

That’s why the following interview between Björk and Estonian musician, Arvo Pärt, is so dazzling. Two suggestive contemporary composers explain some of the characteristics of Pärt’s music using precise words, metaphors, gestures, and smiles, which at least partly approach the true power of this illustrious artist’s music.

Björk describes, by way of introduction, the trajectory of Pärt’s career. He began by writing 12-tone music, and then stopped talking, almost completely, for nearly a decade. When he resumed contact with the outside world, his musical style was reborn with a purity which, beyond privileging the structure and complexity of conventional music, gives space to each of the notes in its depth and exuberance. This is something which, according to Björk, could be understood as a kind of minimalism.

What Björk loves most in Pärt’s music is the ability it offers listeners to inhabit it, unlike most of the music composed in recent decades which requires only sitting and listening. According to Björk, the composer’s pieces create scenarios and landscapes that can be enjoyed without any sense of distance. He explains that this happens, probably, because inhabiting the music is his own basic need, including even his own music. For Pärt, sound is, finally, a phenomenon so powerful, so strongly influential, that it has even the power to end life. For that very reason, music is capable of the opposite, of giving life (and of all the possibilities within these two extremes).

Björk explains that within Pärt’s music, she finds both a question and an answer, two voices sustaining a consistent dialogue. Björk, with her characteristic joy and charming ingenuity, compares this dialogue with the relationship that exists between Pinocchio and his advisor Jiminy Cricket. The wooden marionet represents humanity, the equivocal, and the clumsy, that human part capable of hurting others, while the cricket is a voice which comforts him and shows him the better way. A deeply spiritual man, Pärt explains that, in his music, he finds two clear lines: one which symbolizes his sins and, another, their forgiveness. One voice is more complicated and subjective, while the other is simple, clear, and objective.

Between Björk and Pärt, in this brief, enlightening interview, they achieve something strange and wonderful. They glimpse music’s spiritual power, one of the most sacred expressions living within humanity.

Image: Rene Jakobson – flickr

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