In 2011, Icelandic musician Bjork took on the ambitious and epic undertaking Biophilia. The multimedia project, which at one time was supposed to include an IMAX film directed by Michel Gondry, was a hybrid between a high-concept album and field trip to the science museum. Its goal was to edify listeners on the relationship between technology, music, and nature. The final form it took was a 10-track album with titles like "Moon" and "Dark Matter," each meant to represent lunar cycles and scales, respectively. The album was accompanied by a series of apps that allowed users to not only listen to the music but also interact and create their own versions of the songs.
The film Bjork: Biophilia Live is the cinematic document of the lengthy tour the singer embarked on to accompany the album. It begins with British broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough narrating a monologue written by Bjork on the connectivity of nature. It's accompanied by a series of visuals of the universe, flora and fauna, and wildlife filling your corneas. The fear you may have accidentally turned on a boring episode of NOVA is erased when Bjork, wearing a wild red wig and a bulbous silicone dress that resembles a mash of muscle, walks to onstage and sings to the Tesla coil whose lightning is providing the beats accompanying the song "Thunderbolt."
Bjork is meant to represent Mother Earth leading the revolution of the organic and technological in her performance that took place at the Alexandra Palace in London in 2013. A mash-up of celestial pictures and time-lapse nature photography straight from a National Geographic video are shown with computer generated visuals from the apps commissioned for the project. Much like the Talking Heads film Stop Making Sense, directors Nick Fenton and Peter Strickland focus on the activities on stage because there is so much to behold. Every movement and motion on stage becomes part of the song. The all-female chorus jumping around as they sing become the rhythmic backbone of "Crystalline." Each note on the xylophone moves the computer-generated lunar cycle during "Moon."
There are moments when the concert feels too twee for its own good. Bjork's lyrical style has never been eloquent, and you have to giggle when she waxes poetic about a "trunk of DNA." There's no slick way to sing about a science project, and Bjork's vocals, with her unusual accentuation of various syllables, can occasionally make the songs feel heavy-handed. Sometimes it feels like your listening to the soundtrack of your college biology class, but this is more of a optical affair. It doesn't come off as pretentious to listen to Bjork sing a song about mushrooms on a tree trunk when the visions on screen accompanying it are so immersive.
The entire Biophilia album makes up the playlist, along with some selections from Bjork's later work, including a rousing rendition of the tribal "Declare Independence" from 2007's Volta. It serves as the finale of the story Bjork is trying to tell. Nature is going to rise up. Be prepared to embrace that instinctive bond we share with it.
The making of the tour is documented in the British television special When Bjork Met Attenborough, which is available on the film's website. Attenborough is a little starstruck when the two discuss how music and nature are intertwined. Narrated by Tilda Swinton, the meeting referred to in the title is what begins the music and visuals that make up the Biophilia tour as well as the unusual instrumentation and technology behind it, including the Sharpsicord, a two-and-a-half ton metal instrument that looks like a cross between a keyboard, music box, and gramophone. It was so difficult to transport it didn't make the majority of the tour, but the instrument and the man behind it, Henry Dagg, appear during the end credits of Bjork: Biophilia Live. Be sure to stick around and marvel at his creation.
Bjork: Biophilia Live is scheduled to begin playing Friday, October 10, at FilmBar.
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