Bjork: The Ice Queen

On the heels of her new winter-inspired album, Iceland's most famous expat revisits her homeland, its music and, of course, its elves

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This recording is Bjork's return to Iceland--or Scandinavia, at least--after a career of mixing cultures: posing as a Chinese woman in Asian dress on the cover of her last album, Homogenic, and collaborating in past projects with American rapper RZA and British musicians Goldie, Tricky and Thom Yorke. The album was written mostly while she was in Denmark (which controlled Iceland until the mid-20th century), shooting the 2000 film Dancer in the Dark and feeling homesick. "My album is sort of chamber music for this century," she says, scratching a mosquito bite on her arm. "After traveling so much, I realize how gorgeous the Internet is, bringing the home together again. So I'm looking back on a living room in the '50s where the whole family is, but it's modern and technological."

For the album's effects, she chose low-key noises that sound good when downloaded--acoustic instruments, a music box, a whispered voice. This also reflects tech-heavy Iceland, which has more cell phones and Internet connections per capita than any other country. If you lived on an island that is mostly flat, barren, rocky, frozen landscape, you would make sure you had an Internet connection too.

Bjork--when there are 280,000 people in your country and you use the patrilineal Viking system for last names (in her case, Gudmunsdottir), first names are enough--has come back from her new home in New York City to drop off her son Sindri, 15, who chose to go to high school in Reykjavik and live with his father Thor Jonsson, who used to play with Bjork in their '80s punk band, the Sugarcubes. She is sad that Sindri is leaving her for the first time, but she tries to act tough. "At that age, you need to be with your mates," she says. She likes the idea that her son will grow up Icelandic, but she is leaving a part of herself behind here.

Though she says she loves New York, cities still make her uncomfortable. "The first time I went to London, I'd walk for three or four hours and couldn't find a way out of the city. Only now have I begun to enjoy the strain of a city. Cities are bad for you, and I kind of like that. It compresses you and can be very stimulating." Not exactly what Rudy Giuliani would use for a motto, but an endorsement nonetheless.

Besides her apartment in the West Village neighborhood, she has a work space in Chelsea, a two-bedroom apartment where her assistant and an electronica dance duo named Matmos live. (Matmos' latest album, A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure, contains sounds sampled during plastic surgery.) Down the street from the Chelsea apartment, the Matthew Marks gallery is showing Bjork's upcoming video, five minutes of multicolored, multitextured gloopy stuff running from her eyes into her nostrils and back out her eyes. Bjork maintains, paradoxically, that she has to create videos that odd to make her music more accessible. "If I do a song, people have to listen to it 10 times to grasp it; but if they have an image to go along with it, they only have to listen to it a couple of times," she says. Her commitment to art extends to putting together a new $35 coffee-table book, Bjork, consisting mostly of pictures of her. It took the publisher, Bloomsbury USA, a very long time to convince her that it couldn't make the book out of glass.

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