Bjork ‘Biophilia Live’ in London Movie Review ACMI by Catherine Meeson


2 mid Copyright 2011 Inez and Vinoodh Image courtesy of Wellhart One Little Indian-1

Biophilia begins with spectacular footage and the voice of Sir David Attenborough, who speaks about “nature, music and technology coming together so we may listen learn and create”. We meet Bjork and her Icelandic choir with the dark rift hanging in space The wooden organ plays an automated piece. The Tesla coli instrument lights up with a glistening  metallic timbre. Bjork is crowned in a big wig and wears a fibrous jelly like dress undulating and singing a deeply resonate lyric with minimal effects. She has electric blue eyeliner /make up and a ring around her jaw line, reminiscent of the feathered colour display of an Amazonian bird, her eyes are heavily accentuated. Her wig is very much like a messy birds nest, with rainbow tinged colour. A percussionist plays via a touchpad. We see the Moon hang in the girdle of a human pelvis and are taken on a journey through the cycles of the moon and reproduction, in a song of the same title. The women’ choir sings, a cascading flowing xylophone type work is played with soft mallet’s, as the lunar imagery morphs and changes. “To risk all is the end of and the beginning” sings Bjork.

The exploration of timbre and unique instrumentation continues with metallic sounding percussion, exploring Crystalline growth and structure. Glitch type beats feature and pure voice, with cyclic layering. “Intentional nebulae”, features colourful geometries with a cosmic space overlaid and electro drums. The choir are more animated in this one, bopping around. The live glitch drum crescendo is amazing, unlike anything I have ever seen. Incredible midi mapping into the electro drum pads, played live, which change with each piece.

Our exploration of nature continues with coloured binary type red, yellow, green, and blue intracellular corpuscles, dna looking sequences, the micro world of the cell with a pipe organ providing the sonic aspects. It is a journey approaching chaos and intricate order full of discord. Possible D.N.A strands hang like multi cores as some sort of mapped process appears as semi organised yet composed, chaos.

The staging becomes apparent, in the centre of the large arena, with galaxies projected onto space;- a cool blue cosmos. Chant voices draw one out into the recesses of space, dissonant intervals sound, Bjork’s gigantic face is projected into space.

I find myself confused by the imagery, is it a sky or a cellular membrane, or the arctic? Created instruments play, accompanied by layers of choir harmonies and Bjorks trademark vocals. We are immersed in the ocean floor, a micro world with worms, starfish and organisms. The choir is dressed in a silvery/gold and blue cosmic metallic attire. They had to be using Ableton or Logic?. The staging design is beautifully done, the combined designs of costume, image and projection, is just superb, there must of been hundreds of workers to bring this to fruition? The ACMI theatre is the perfect space with a superb sound system and cinema screen. It would not be the same on dvd or television. Biophilia is made for immersion, it is experiential by nature.

0saga18 Copyright © 2013 Saga Sig Image courtesy of Wellhart and One Little Indian

We are introduced to the metallic Hung a U.F.O shaped melodic percussive instrument. Virus- the micro world “like a virus -patient hunter- I am waiting for you starving for you” sings Bjork.

Jellyfish grace the screen and a processed Hung is played like a drum, The Tesla coil comes back in with low saw/ square tooth sounding waves, harsh jagged and searing. The Tesla coil is triggered by keyboard this time. Maggot type creatures devour a dead cuttlefish.

Some of the instrumentation and arrangement is hard to describe, arpeggio sounding percussion triggered by a wooden sounding instrument at the start, then layers of voice sounding reversed. Bjorks trademark use of dissonance and I will say discord is a definite feature throughout, in the instrumentation and vocal choir parts. At times the lyrical meaning seems to juxtapose the imagery in the strangest of ways.

A starry blue sky reflects water as a dancing jungle rhythm plays on the drums. The women’s faces are always serenely smiling. This is nearly 90′ trip hop. Large fungi grow on the screen and then time lapse recede. I can see three music tec operators on stage.
Eruptions of volcanic action pour into the oceans and we are led out into space where we see Gondwanaland split up. Tectonic movements morph as the organ plays. The ring of fire is shown and sub sounds are triggered by the electronic drums. The samples are representative of slow moving earth force and frequency. A crescendo of voice, magma and instrumentation builds. The large pendulums swing, but I know not what they trigger, strings of a kind? The eruption of nature “you didn’t know I had it in me” sings Bjork. It ends with a solar flare coronal mass ejection.

The sun spins, a heart beats- the choir sirens. A graphic score features to represent the solar system or universe. “Heavens body” appears as lines, dots and forms. A linger of sadness fills me as I listen to this piece. A military march enters on drums with very abstract images, a celebration of creation.

We see an orbiting orb- and hear an oriental sounding instrument. Bjork is the consummate story teller singing about “Earths elliptical path” into darkness. The pendulum has multiple strings that vary in pitch and rotate . The lyrics “You are a light barer- radiate” leave us as we are panned around the audience.

Hung sounds again as both melody provider and percussive force. We are introduced to the band. Bjork invites the audience “if you feel like dancing, not to stop yourself”. We hear percussive chaos- again with magma, more reminiscent of slow tempo death metal- all the ladies dance like magma, it is an explosion of primal force. After a brief moment, Bjork speaks and tells us this is the last show of two years and dedicates the last song to Greenland, she did not perform it anywhere else. Declare Independence erupts with ear shattering noise “make your own flag” The Tesla coils come back in to crescendo and the drums pound. The timbres are all very much industrial music, a cacophony, chaos as liberating force. Before we leave Bjork introduces us to an instrument that could not go on tour, I cannot describe this metallic big horned version of a wind up instrument, Bjork honours it’s maker.

It is hard to believe that Bjork actually struggled to get funds initially for this- to make the instruments, the end results speaks of hundreds of hours and persons working together as a microclimate. Brilliantly conceived and realised this techno spectacle bridges the world of nature, aiming to aid connection to, understanding and relation via science, technology and creativity. There is a definite shock and awe element to it, as it could fit within the definition of a noise art, right out of a Futurist Manifesto. It speaks to me about the larger realm of chaos and order in the universe we dwell within. Bjork had been influenced by environmental concerns for a few years and came up with this idea. I am glad she was able to realise it with collaborations, funding bodies and a brilliant team. I highly recommend it as a revolutionary staged work, in a calibre of its own. I have never seen anything that compares. It is unique. Biophilia’ larger vision also cumulated in applications being developed and taken into the realm of education, where persons can explore music, nature and technology. Biophilia has been released as an interactive album app on both android and ios devices, and is touring schools as an inspirational education program. Biophilia is Bjorks eight studio album.

Biophilia is screening at ACMI between the 27th of October and the 2nd of November 2014.

More details here.


About Author

Catherine Meeson is a solo ambient electro / progressive folk rock songwriter/ composer from Melbourne, fascinated by the wealth of brilliance in the musical world.