Björk / The Biophilia Experience / Live in London
Read it on The GROUND Magazine
If the term “biophilia” literally means “love of life or living systems” and it is a scientific hypothesis suggesting that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems, in Björk’s immense creative world biophilia is a whole new universe that stands for a never seen before concept project.
The Icelandic artist released “Biophilia” two years ago making it the first app album, partly recorded on an iPad and promoted as a multi-media-dimensional project meant to make us experience each track within the app as a single universe of its own. Biophilia also became an educational program designed to inspire children to explore their own creativity, and to learn about music and science through new technologies. In the last couple of years Björk has been touring in a unorthodox way, at times headlining festivals and at others presenting Biophilia through residencies in selected cities and in venues like The New York Hall Of Science.
The world of Biophilia comes to life at London’s Alexandra Palace for the last time on an in-the-round stage featuring an octagon of video screens projecting the digital animation that each track has on the app. We are told to experience the show without taking any picture and as the lights went off, London was ready to travel to the secret core of the Earth, the microscopic world of a cell, and listen to the sound of the universe thanks to Björk’s voice and a range of specially-conceived instruments for the project. This is why Biophilia is not a concert or a show but an experience and a “meditation on the relationship between music, nature and technology”.
“…much of Nature is hidden from us… like the one phenomenon that can be said to move us more than any others in our daily life. Sound. Delivered with generosity and emotion, is what we call music” says naturalist Sir David Attenborough during the intro video before informing us that a revolution is about to start, to reunite humans with Nature through new technologies, “until we get there… prepare… explore Biophilia”
THUNDERBOLT / Lightning, arpeggios
The Graduale Nobili Icelandic choir, made of 24 female singers, look like a pagan group on stage and after their performance of “Óskasteinar”, Björk appears like a modern Mother Earth with an oversized and colorful Afro wig and lumpy dress by Iris Van Harpen. “All my body parts are one / As lightning hits my spine / Prime runs through me / Revive my wish / Inviolable” she sings as the Tesla coil makes electricity visible at the center of the stage and sounds like a far away haunting thunder that is about to strike the venue.
MOON / Lumar cycles, sequences
Based on four different sequences that repeat throughout the song, resembling the lunar cycles, this track explores the theme of rebirth. The line “Best way to start-a-new is to fail miserably / and kick in to the start hole”, expresses the opportunity we are given each month with the new moon and in this continuous hypnotic and soothing sound, her voice floats back and forth like tides.
CRYSTALLINE / Structure
As everything in Biophilia is a metaphor, here the crystallization of minerals serves to investigate Björk’s fascination with the growth of human relationships in our hearts. It is now time for the ‘Gameleste’, a modified celesta, to play before the song storms out in a drum and bass uproarious ending. “It’s the sparkle you become when you conquer anxiety” she sings as the beats, for a moment, really seem to create a piece of quartz. It is the sound of the invisible movements that our eyes can’t see.
HOLLOW / DNA, rhythm
During this performance everything becomes sinister yet fascinating and this feeling is enhanced by choir. We travel back to meet our ancestors as trunks of DNA are shown on the screens. Björk’s voice in poignant and almost desperate as she “yearn to belong”, and as the song suddenly ends, we exit this Biophilia’s constellation and realize, little by little, how the music, the app, and the videos are pieces of a single body.
DARK MATTER / Scales
The phenomena called dark matter are directly “unexplainable” and this is why the song features heavy gibberish. Björk embodies Nature but at the same time she does not shy away from what we cannot explain and just like a scientist she questions everything and the result is an atmospheric and ethereal performance.
VIRUS / Generative music
We are not surprised by now about the fact that Biophilia could easily be a natural history or biology book through music but the metaphorical connotation of the lyrics are a true work of art. In this song Björk surprises us singing about the fatal love between a virus and a cell. The virus loves the cell so much that it destroys it and this is a way to express a symbiotic relationship. It sounds captivating, darkly romantic, and truly passionate. On the screens we see the virus taking over the cell and decoding its DNA, “like a virus / patient hunter / I’m waiting for you / I’m starving for you”. No need to fight the virus, in fact, there is a game in the app related to this song where you need to stop the virus from attacking the cell but if you do so, the music stops…
MUTUAL CORE / Tectonic plates, chords
In pure Björk’s style this song starts off with an ambient feel to it before erupting like the volcanoes in the video. The vocal crescendo of the choir, standing in a circle in the middle of the stage as to summon through their feet the powers of the Earth’s core, is outstanding and shivering and as the breakcore part kicks in, we feel how it feels like when the Tectonic plates move. The force of Nature is unleashed; the Earth is constantly seeking balance through imperceptible movements just like human beings, through unconscious actions.
COSMOGONY / Music of the spheres, equilibrium
The sensibility of “Joga” is reinvented here. Trying to unveil the mystery behind the creation of the world means to apply a philosophical view. Is there a limit to what science can show, create, and explain? Maybe, and this is why the lyrics are so different in “Cosmogony”. They are not a metaphor for technical and natural phenomenon here. In its four verses Björks explores the theories behind the creation of the world, trying to look for a definitive explanation; the first verse is the American native creation myth, next verse is Sanskrit creation myth, the third verse is Aboriginal creation myth and the fourth verse is Big Bang theory. What matters is balance and harmony and you can feel it through the epic vibe and vocals of this song.
SOLSTICE / gravity, counterpoint
The Biophilia stage is something unique as it looks like a scientific research camp lead by the free-spirited Björk together with the Graduale Nobili choir. They learn and explore with us on a stage that does not only presents curious and unconventional instruments but also a group of pendulums. They create patterns with their moves, transmitting the movements of the Earth to the sound of a harp making of “Solstice” an almost paranormal experience and a tribute to Foucault’s pendulum.
SACRIFICE / Man and Nature, notation
This last song from Biophilia is performed twice, like another couple of tracks during the show. Björks wants to make sure that everything is perfect as the show is being filmed, but her attention to details somehow interrupts the flow of energy created during the night. Nevertheless, she seems really happy, chatty more than ever, and proud to perform “Sacrifice” on yet another unique instruments, the Sharpsichord, a harp/barrel organ hybrid. It was not possible to carry it around during the tour she explains, and for a song that is about surrendering and forging for the love of another, this instrument creates a beautiful and melancholic aura in the venue.
They may not be part of Biophilia’s constellation but the setlist included a few back catalogue tracks like the majestic “Isobel” and a sublime rendition of “Possibly Maybe” with the Tesla coil thundering in the middle of the stage. Thanks to the choir, gems like “Hidden Place” and “Sonnets/Unrealities XI” almost become part of a sacred ritual. Among the crowd’s favorites is “One Day” from her 1993 album “Debut” that after twenty years, and through a minimal and tribal rendition, perfectly matches the overall Biophilia theme; “one day it will happen, one day it will all make sense”. The finale is a pure punk-electro-rave and Björk finally tell us to dance along “Náttúra” and “Declare Independence”.
The whole choir releases the pressure dancing with an infecting syncopathic rhythm and in this hurricane we are lead to believe that after this Biophilia experience, Mother Nature really manifested Herself through Björk’s work and voice. Björk’s curiosity was aiming to explore the universe from the stars to a single molecule and this is definitely her most arduous and ambitious project to date. She stimulates our minds and leaves us with more questions or, like Sir. David Attenborough put it, “I put on your music when I really want to think about something.” Nature has its secret way of revealing itself but as long as people will be willing to listen carefully and look closely, we will see that all is full of love, for real, and that Björk’s talent and genius is a manifestation to experience with all the five senses.