Björk live in New York
- By Alicia Lutes -
- Feb 22, 2012
Björk might be the Milky Way's first intergalactic folk singer. She's never been known to tackle the daily minutiae of life in the manner of her folky counterparts, but perhaps that's because her world goes far beyond a street corner, a house on a hill, or a person in her bed. For her, those representative objects are much larger, and during her series at the New York Hall of Sciences, they were put on display: Björk was unpacking universal connections.
She's like a musical Ms. Frizzle, and song is her Magic School Bus. It was a seemingly daunting task that our hostess, all blue plastic nautiluses and untamed red crone wig; a Jeremy Scott interpretation of Ms. Frizzle if ever there was one - was positively bursting to teach to the amassed crowd of hopeful students.
The show, the last of her residency at the Queens Museum titled after her latest effort Biophilia, was a lesson in innovation technically, sonically, and naturally. Comprised of ten parts, the performance was Björk's ruminations on nature and its connection to technology; how those that encounter this magnificent beast of a work can use it to see the parts of nature that cannot normally be seen. You know, buzzing atoms, dark matter, virus: all those casual topics you discuss over brunch with your girlfriends...gulp.
Björk was joined on stage with a veritable smörgåsbord of instruments new and old, both primal and futuristic. Constant was the balance between what was seen, felt, and heard: a xylosynth with control of the moon, a dual Tesla coil creating not only lightning but song, and the woodland gnome-like quality of David Attenborough's narrations tying it all together. Attenborough's voice was the cautionary vessel, guiding the participant through time and space; a sage wisdom carrying the weight of his words throughout the concrete-and-glass, deep space structure that is The Great Hall. An event in the round, it felt intimate yet frenetic as the energy coursed through the veins of every animate (or otherwise) object in the room. Transcendence.
One of the great highlights of the event was Icelandic choir Graduale Nobili. A pulsating, singular creature in its own right, the ladies created a lush landscape wherein Björk's own vocal animal could traverse throughout the evening. These space nymphs, dressed in metallic copper with splashes of glittery blue, danced and sang about the stage in any variation from large group to triptychs. At times their moves were spastic, erratic and wholly visceral; undeniably charming coming from a host of mostly-blonde, seemingly-traditional singers.
The show was broken down into parts, each tasked with dissecting the topic introduced. While browsing through the program, a quote from Björk herself seems most apt, explaining “the reason why Biophilia is on such a grand scale is that I can't even attempt to explain sound and the world of rhythm and scales without taking in the solar system and atoms. For me that's sort of the same world.” For Björk, the life-cycle of the planet, of the universe, is made up of sound, rhythm, and scales. There's a bigger thought in Björk's process outside of the typical fare that often plagues popular music. Her vision is entirely beyond the need to make music that is cognitively sensical in the traditional pop-sense. That's not to say that people didn't boogie down when ‘Declare Independence’, ‘Mutual Core’, and ‘Crystalline’ played out during the evening, there were rollicking moments, to be sure.
Björk,'s visual accompaniments to the musical environment, though ranging from fanciful to the grotesque, showcased a tiny fragment of the singer's own galaxy of thought, complex enough to cause a casual listener a dismissive eye roll (which would be unfortunate), but so seemingly beautiful in their simplicity. Nothing Björk does is easy, but the sum of all the parts makes it worth the sometimes challenging climb to the top. If you are looking for a simple verse-bridge-chorus-repeat, look elsewhere.
During the ‘Virus’ set, Björk's performance was like that of a tinker toy-meets-music box ballerina: jolts of movement over a lullaby; her voice undeniably poignant in its intensity. There's an acrobatic quality to it (in the least obvious, most unChristina Aguilera-esque way imaginable), as she moves through the notes and other sounds, dissonant and otherwise, with such power and ease. Again, the only word that seems to make sense here is primal, Björk builds her songs upon heartbeats and reaches up into a celestial sphere to discuss the universe, its creation, and all within its realm. Another highlight, ‘Solstice’, played by a harp made out of pendulums, forcing gravity to create the melody, showcased the themes literally and figuratively. Heavy stuff, indeed. Additional highlights included ‘Possibly Maybe’ and ‘Hidden Place’ where Graduale Nobili's vocals sounded upwards of divine.
Not to stray from the point, Björk's final moments before the encore involved her leaving the stage. The beauty of the moment as the gravity harp pulsed through the melody, is that you didn't even realized she'd gone, so transfixed by the music and enormity of it all - which is sort of the point, really.
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