Radio: A smorgasbord of angry sanity

Sonic Symbolism is a new podcast series from singer Bjork

Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images
Sonic Symbolism is a new podcast series from singer Bjork Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images

WHAT’s your favourite accent? Geordie? Dundonian? Welsh? Jamaican? Right now I’m thinking mine might be the flinty musicality of Icelandic.

It’s all Bjork’s fault. I’ve been listening to her new podcast series, Sonic Symbolism. Just hearing Ms Gudmundsdottir say the words “smorgasbord” and “raw” makes you want to rewind to hear her say them again.

I don’t normally cover podcasts in this space, but that’s mostly because I don’t listen to them. But when Bjork, who may well be my favourite musician of the last 30 years, announced that she was going to release a series of podcasts I was ready to binge-listen.

Sonic Symbolism (pod.link/bjork), is an album-by-album rewind through her discography. The result has the odd Bjorky moment where you could suggest she ventures into the territory of “kooky”. But then that has always been the lazy shorthand for those not willing to take her seriously.

And seriousness is the thing here. What comes across in these conversations is her ambition and her commitment to the music she makes. Which is not to say she lacks humour. Talking about the restricted roles women were offered when she started in music, she even used a Smurf analogy. “You have all the Smurfs but you just have one female Smurfette. I want to be all the Smurfs,” she explained.

That said, clearly anger is an energy. Again and again she rages against the male machine. “It was really curious, the whole machine of musical criticism,” she begins when discussing her second album, Post. “Because it was very male and it was very rock …

“We have to remember this is the world where Kate Bush released an album around this time where she did one song about being heartbroken and washing the clothes of her ex-lover and looking inside the washing machine going circle and circle and circles.

“I should have kept that review by some rock guy talking so down on it, like it was third-class music, just because she was writing about the washing machine. It was so sexist.

“But it was OK to write huge reviews about bands that were singing about tits and beer or heroin abuse. That was OK. But the inner life of the woman and the everyday life of a woman was a lesser area somehow or a lesser art form.”

Reader, I cheered.

Coincidentally, Nicola Benedetti, another musician who takes what she does seriously, was John Wilson’s guest on This Cultural Life on Radio 4 last Saturday night. The interview proved once again that Benedetti is an articulate and impassioned spokeswoman for the culture of classical and contemporary classical music. Which bodes well for her upcoming role as creative director of the Edinburgh International Festival.

When asked by Wilson why she wanted the job she said: “It is a chance to impact the culture of Scotland and generally the culture of thought and everyone’s perspective of where the arts sit within that.”

Such ambition.

We have been allergic to seriousness as a country – maybe as a species – for too long now. Just look at the politicians we elect. Maybe we could take some lessons from Bjork and Benedetti. Get them both onto the cost of living crisis and we might have a chance.