Following up on last week’s announcement of a studio-recorded iteration of the unlikely collaboration between Dirty Projectors and Björk — initiated by DPs cover of “Hyperballad” for our tribute to Björk’s Post and brought to fruition by Brandon’s facilitating an unforgettable evening at Housing Works bookstore — this morning you can purchase the Dave Longstreth’s seven-song suite, recorded by his band and the Icelandic icon at Rare Book Room Studios in Greenpoint, at mountwittenbergorca.com. The minimum donation is $7, though you can go as high as $100; all proceeds benefit the National Geographic Society Oceans Project, a charitable initiative close to the marine themes at the piece’s heart, and an unfortunately prescient one at that.
The site just launched this morning, so we can listen and log thoughts together. (That’s always fun.) Brandon and I did sit with the band and listen through to the album at Rare Book Room last week — it’s well worth a dollar a song, if you’re wondering. Dave echoed his sentiment from a Q&A we had after the Housing Works performance that Mount Wittenberg Orca is, essentially, Bitte Orca’s “younger, hotter sister”: the “Orca” ties the two pieces, as do the emphasis on vocal harmony — in many ways, Mount Wittenberg expands and elevates the hocketed harmonic devices Bitte brought forth. Guitar and drums are marginalized, creating space for the voices, which is a smart thing to do if you have Björk in the studio. The arrangements and lyrics Longstreth initially created — written in a week, performed a week later at Housing Works — were tweaked minimally. (Only the opening movement was reworked in any detailed way.) The idea was to capture an “instinctive thrust,” and this mini-album’s recording process — ’50s mics and recorded live in first and second takes (inspired by the spacious warmth of Elvis Presley recordings) with overdubs only for lead vocals and solos — reflects that.
Our interview gives a lot more background on the piece and process, as does Dave’s letter describing the project (reprinted below), but if you want a taste before saving the oceans/your eardrums by purchasing this 21-minute beauty, there’s this performance on Fallon, and below there’s a stream of the suite’s denouement, titled “All We Are,” which has a closing phrase that not only brings Dave and Björk together, but puts them in harmony with Kurt Cobain. More on that after you listen.
I asked about the In Utero connection. Here was the response:
The moment of Amber seeing the whale and the whale seeing her is like the cover of Bitte Orca: two beings apprehending each other from different universes. One from water and one from land. I want “Mt Wittenberg Orca” to feel like a children’s play, or sorta like an interspecies Tristan und Isolde, except with a better, less doomed ending. 15 years out, it seems like Cobain’s life was all about equating fulfillment and death in the same way that Tristan and Isolde did … not a sustainable model, really. I like the idea that neither Amber nor the whale die or combust after their moment, that instead they are left with some sort of feeling of unity, even if it is shot through with desire, confusion, hope, joy, sadness. So that lyric was just shorthand, the first thing I thought of, but I like it.
In April 2009, Brandon Stosuy from Stereogum.com asked me if we wanted to play a benefit concert at a bookstore in New York. I said yes. He asked Björk the same thing, and she said yes. Then he asked us if we wanted to collaborate, and we said yes. Björk asked me what we should do, and I said, “I don’t know, I guess I’d really love to write a bunch of new songs for us to sing together?” And she said Yes.
That same month, Amber from Dirty Projectors was walking along a ridge on Mount Wittenberg, north of San Francisco. She was looking out at the ocean and saw a little family of whales, as you sometimes do in April on the Northern California coast. I wrote some songs about it and sent them to Björk, who agreed to sing the part of the mom whale. The songs became Mount Wittenberg Orca. Amber and Angel and Haley sang the part of the kid whales, and I sang the part of Amber. We sang all week long and learned the music just in time to perform it at the bookstore on May 8th.
Then our album Bitte Orca came out and we went on tour forever. We finally got a chance to record Wittenberg last month, almost exactly a year after we first sang it. We went into the Rare Book Room in Brooklyn and rehearsed it for three days, then we recorded it as quickly and as live as possible. We only overdubbed lead vocals and a guitar solo.
Now we’re making a website for it, which will be the only place you can buy it. It’s going be up June 30th (we are playing in Utrecht that day!) The music is going to be $7, because there are seven songs. You can order now if you click here.
We’ve decided to give away all the money that Wittenberg generates to the project of creating international marine protected areas. Only 1% of the oceans are protected in any way and this is a huge problem. We’re working with the National Geographic Society to create areas of sustainability, so the oceans don’t end up like a giant poisonous corpse hugging the continents. You can learn more about this project here and here and here and here.
We’re so psyched about how this recording came out and hope you are too. Don’t listen on those tinny computer speakers — put in on the stereo and blast dat shiiiiiiiiii!!