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‘Inevitably you start creating a bond’: producer Marta Salogni on working with Bjork on new album Utopia

We spoke to Salogni about working with one of the world's most aurally ambitious artists...

Studio engineer and producer Marta Salogni mixed Bjork’s sonically ambitious new record Utopia, out tomorrow (November 24). While the album is a technical triumph, for Salogni the process is equally dependent on the psychological interplay between her and her subject.    

In July of this year, a phone call from out of the blue presented Salogni with a career opportunity of a lifetime, requesting her to mix two tracks from Bjork’s upcoming record. A lifelong fan, Salogni jumped at the chance to work with one the pioneering art pop experimentalist, with her mixes sufficiently impressive to solicit an invite to Iceland to mix the record in its entirety.

“Bjork for me is an inspiration, not just musically but as a person,” Salogni says as our conversation turns to her role in what has been one of 2017’s most hotly anticipated releases. “For a person my age she has been a constant presence. It was a big honour to even be considered. The two mixes were liked then suddenly everything came into place and very quickly I went to Reykjavik for about a month to mix the record with her, which was wonderful. We went there and set up a studio in Bjork’s engineering room. We started mixing every day and throughout the month we shaped the record.”

Notorious for her experimental approach to work in the studio, the compositions that make up Bjork’s latest offering blend classical live instrumentation and vocals with a heavy dose of electronic embellishment. For Salogni, the key to achieving the right mix was working closely with the artist to understand the record’s aural complexion and unravel its sonic complexity.

“The stems had a lot of information in them, some would have a lot of electronics, some would have vocals,” Salogni elaborates. “With some of the instrumentation like flutes or a choir, we have an idea in our heads of how they might sound, but some of the sounds were completely created out of someone’s imagination. She create these sounds and I would listen and have to think about how I would treat them. Trying to understand these sounds is almost a metaphysical process in itself; you’re sitting in front of the speakers thinking not just about what it sounds like but what it triggers in my head. You try to paint a picture when you mix. You want it to have depth, you want it to be defined, but you don’t want it to be too realistic because then it doesn’t have any magic behind it.

“Bjork and I were A/Bing on a lot of different systems. The worst thing is to make something sound beautiful just for the elite that have £1,000 speakers. It was a very conceptual approach to the sound, respectful to the arrangement; every song has a concept behind it, like a series of paintings. They needed to co-exist as an album but also be different. The vocal treatments were very different for each track. Some vocals were very close, on others the music would be very loud and the vocals quite suppressed, because the flutes, or the electronics would tell the story and the vocals would be like your conscience on your left ear just telling you what the song is about.”

According to Salogni, Bjork was extremely involved in the mixing process, with the pair working closely to coax each and every conceptual nuance and detail to the fore of each track.

“She would be there every day and was very involved,” Salogni notes. “But she is very trusting. I would make a start on a track and she would give me so much freedom to do as much or as little as I wanted to make it sound how I imagined it. When I had a draft of what my vision was I would let her know and she would drop by and listen and tell me what she thought. She’s very good at describing what she wants in a way that is so direct. She would paint a picture in my head and through that I could transform the mix. She’d be listening at home or in the studio, we’d compare different rooms. Then we would go and have dinner somewhere or go for a walk… it made you feel very familiar and at home.”

Salogni reflects warmly on what was clearly a transformative experience and one upon which she look back with a great deal of pride and affection, both for the work and the artist. For her, the magic of mixing comes not only in the technical wizardry required on such projects, but also in the intangible human connection that accompanies it.

“It was really special,” she concludes. “You’re working on art so there is a lot of traffic between minds. Inevitably you start having a bond. It’s beautiful, getting to know someone, getting to know their mind. You become an extension of some else’s mind, and that’s really important when making or mixing an album. The artist trusts you to execute their vision. The responsibility is huge.”

Read the full interview with Salogni in the December issue of PSNEurope, out next week.