The Music From “Drawing Restraint 9” (One Little Indian)
by Tim Den
The press release that came with this had me both worried and in stitches: Can you say “fear of pretentiousness”?
“Its core idea is the relationship between self-imposed resistance and creativity, a theme it symbolically tracks through the construction and transformation of a vast sculpture of liquid Vaseline, called “The Field,” which is molded, poured, bisected, and reformed on the deck of the ship over the course of the film.
Barriers hold form in place, and when they are removed, the film tracks the descent of form into states of sensual surrender and formal atrophy; this shift in the physical state of the sculpture is symbolically mirrored through the narrative of The Guests, two occidental visitors to the ship played in the film by Matthew Barney and Björk, who we first see taken on board, groomed, bathed, and dressed in mammal fur costumes based upon traditional Shinto marriage costumes.
In a harrowing liebestod which is the climax and centerpiece of the film, The Guests, locked in an embrace and breathing through blowhole-like orifices on the back of their necks, take out flensing knives and cut away each other’s feet and thighs. The remains of their lower body are revealed to contain traces of whale tails at an early stage of development, suggesting rebirth, physical transformation, and the possibility of new forms.
Having reached a state of maximum disintegration, the sculpture of The Field is then reorganized and the ship emerges from the storm, sailing through a field of icebergs towards the open southern ocean. In the last shot, two whales can be seen swimming behind the ship, headed for Antarctica.”
Yyyyyyeah sounds like either a hallucinatory wonder or your worst art school nightmare, right? Thankfully, Björk’s soundtrack to Matthew Barney’s film doesn’t attempt to render the plot literally. Rather, she explores minimalism more than ever, allowing single-instrument exercises and ominous half-step progressions to gently insinuate each scene. Having not seen the film, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what effects the music has on each story development, but taken as a purely aural experience, The Music From “Drawing Drestraint 9” holds a quiet power.
“Gratitude” opens with Will Oldham’s tender crooning over a Japanese children’s choir and harp accompaniment, quietly transitioning into the Medúlla-ish vocal orgy of “Pearl.” But, as with the rest of the record, there’s never any crowding or lack of single-mindedness: Every track’s simple anatomy conveys a conviction on Björk’s part. She knows what each movement should sound like, how long it should run, and how it plays into the grand scheme of the film’s trippy intentions. Whether it’s the swelling horns of “Hunter Vessel” and “Vessel Shimenawa” or the shining sonic trails of “Shimenawa,” there’s no hesitation or absence of vision. The arrangements are meticulous, even if they are sometimes made to seem random.
As for accessibility, “Storm” and “Cetacea” are probably the most “song like” of the bunch. Both consist of Björk’s melodic vocals and a one-instrument background: Baritone notes for the former, celeste for the latter. They’re not “catchy” by any means, but at least you’ll have no trouble following along. On the other end, “Holographic Entrypoint” is about as dense as they come. Two voices – one hollering ghostlike, the other creepily intonating in Japanese – and an occasional wood block. For 10 minutes. If it doesn’t make you feel violated, your imagination is asleep.
“Antarctic Return” closes the soundtrack fittingly, as ear-piercing frequencies make you feel the frozen ocean that The Guests are swimming in. It’s perhaps the most illustrative entry on The Music From “Drawing Restraint 9,” giving listeners a peek of the film without the need for visuals.
Overall, there’s much to take in on this abstract, often confusing journey. But for anyone who truly appreciates Björk’s sense of adventure and willingness to progress, The Music From “Drawing Restraint 9” will be a treasure trove.