Music director Mak Chi Hoe first encountered Bjork through her 1990 album, Gling-Glo. It’s been almost 30 years since then but Mak still remembers how the rawness of the Icelandic singer’s voice truly struck a chord with him.
“I was so captivated. You know in those days how they tried to make you sound perfect, with autotune and all? But she didn’t believe in vocal editing. Whatever is raw, just came out, whether a shriek or cry,” recalls Mak, 40.
“I’m a classical singer, so I’ve been taught to make every note sound beautiful. But with Bjork, there was beauty in just being yourself. In a world where we are always taught to look beautiful on the surface, with makeup and all, Bjork believes in no preservatives. She’s completely herself, whether you like it or not.”
This year, Mak is music director and co-director of a tribute to Bjork performed by local singing group the Young KL Singers (YKLS). YKLS Aurora: A Tribute To Bjork, which takes at KLPac from Aug 9-12, is the first time a choir in Malaysia has ever performed the singer’s work.
Presented by the Actor’s Studio Seni Teater Rakyat and the Young Choral Academy, this show marks the 16th show done by YKLS. It is also the first time the group has put up a show devoted to a single artist.
“Every year, we put in an effort to do something that the local choral scene has never done before. Our approach has always been new, avant-garde and fun. I hope the audience will be able to walk away with the realisation that choral singing can be as edgy as any commercial forms of entertainment out there,” says co-director Ian Chow, 39.
For those not in the know, Bjork is a an Icelandic singer, songwriter, actress, record producer, and deejay, whose career has spanned four decades. She is known for her eclectic musical style, which incorporates electronic, pop, classical, and avant-garde influences, among others.
In Aurora, the choir (which comprises 20 members) will present 13 numbers, with songs from each of Bjork’s mainstream albums included. Expect to hear tunes such as Crystalline, Triumph Of A Heart, Pagan Poetry, Declare Independence, Aurora, and more.
The show will feature sound artist Ian Francis Khoo, 21, who will create Aurora’s backing tracks, and also perform all it’s live music elements. Video artists from Saito University will also be creating visual imagery to accompany all the songs.
“Our challenge was: How do we make this more than just a choral performance? If you watch Bjork’s performances, they’re very eclectic. Bjork is so creative, with each album representing a different part of her life. So we had to figure out how to put her creative vision into the songs,” says producer and YKLS choir member Alvin Tan, 37.
“We needed to embrace the ethos of Bjork. She’s a very oral, visual, physical, expressive, sexual, unique kind of ‘animal’. We wanted to try and cultivate that ‘animal’ [into the ensemble], and create a very unique experience for a Malaysian audience,” Mak adds.
Adding to the show’s unconventional feel, audience members at Aurora will be given a lot of free rein to do what they want.
“It is not your typical choral production. Do not expect to go in, sit down and watch a show. Rather than a concert, I would term it more an experience. Audiences can and are encouraged to walk around the four-sided stage and sit anywhere on the floor. What they see or hear will be different depending on where they are.
“Of course, chairs will be provided for those with health issues,” Chow adds.
While Bjork may not yet have reached mainstream status among Malaysian audiences, the cast and crew of Aurora encourage anyone to come for the show, saying it offers a great alternative to many kinds of music out there.
“If you’re tired of all the usual lovey-dovey pop songs out there, you should really come to come to see this show, and try out Bjork’s music,” says YKLS member Horace Cheng, 25.
“You might think it’s weird at first. But then once you get used to it, I guarantee you’ll love it!”
Young KL Singers’ Aurora: A Tribute To Bjork is on at Pentas 2, KLPac, Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan, off Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah in KL from Aug 9-12. Showtimes are 8.30pm. Shows on Aug 11 and 12 start at 3pm. Tickets are RM50 (RM40, concession). For more info, call 03-4047 9000 or visit KLPac or The Actors Studio.