In “Crystalline,” one of the new songs Bjork performed on Friday evening at the New York Hall of Science, she sang : “Octagon polygon/pipes of an organ/sonic branches/murmuring drone.” Video screens above the in-the-round stage, arranged octagonally, showed crystal shapes advancing along the inside of something branchlike. There was a droning pipe organ on stage, activated from afar during the set via MIDI controller—a kind of sonic branch — by the programmer and keyboardist Max Weisel.
“Moon” comes from “Biophilia,” which is a worlds-within-worlds piece of work. When we talk about “Biophilia” we are generally and inevitably talking first about process and ideas, which obscures the fact that this is not the best music she’s made ; despite strong singing, typically intense and full-throated with strange phrasing and emphasis, the songs can get dry and austere. (Some of the older songs she performed on Friday night, including “Hidden Place,” “Mouth’s Cradle,” and “Pagan Poetry,” had far greater emotional and musical power.) But the ideas are beautiful. The songs are about bodies, geology, and space—self, ground, and sky, interconnecting and explaining one another. She hired Sir David Attenborough, the naturalist, to narrate the apps created for each of the album’s songs ; we heard his voice over the speakers in the concert, too. “Remember,” said his voice, “that you are a gateway between the universal and the microscopic.”
Bjork humanizes her scientific themes, or vice versa. “Virus” is a kind of love story between virus and host. In “Solstice,” a song about planetary motion, she sang an observation that could be understood two ways : “You are a light-bearer/receiving radiance from others.” Wherever she could make it happen, she connected between form and content. Most obviously, on Friday, that occurred in “Solstice,” whose minimal theme was created by a four-armed pendulum, created for this project, with strings attached to the arms, struck by stationary plectra. Gravity played the melody.
The 90-minute show on Friday was the first night of six at the New York Hall of Science, in Queens, and the first time she has played the new music in the United States ; this is a residency including workshops for children. She’ll be playing regular concerts in New York, too — four shows at Roseland, later this month — then festival gigs in the summer, followed by more performance-and-education workshops at other cities around the world.
There’s an impressive baseline professionalism about this operation : Everything works, even the Reactable—a cylinder-shaped digital instrument Mr. Weisel played by moving wooden blocks on the top of it ; even the Tesla coil, descending from the ceiling and sparking during the song “Nátturá.” The theater at the Hall of Science wasn’t particularly built for concerts — a round room with undulating walls and an extremely high ceiling — but the overhead speaker system made the music sound beautiful, and everyone had clear sightlines.
Seemingly at ease in her costume, which included a rust-colored wig and blue plastic dress with nautilus-shaped attachments at the hips and breasts, Bjork had no need to communicate with her musicians other than by looking at them ; they all knew their spots. (The other members of the band were Zeena Parkins on harp and Manu Delagu, who played drum kit, electronic percussion and the melodic percussion instrument called the Hang, a sort of flying-saucer-shaped steel-pan played with the hands and fingers.)
But a concert like this needs to represent organic movement, and for that Bjork has her 20-member Icelandic choir, Graduale Nobili, an important, almost heroic part of this show. They sang at each other in small groups, or arranged themselves toward different directions with each song, or moved and danced joyfully and naturally, all over the stage, without strict patterns. That was moving to see, and also sensible. For a concert like this, you don’t want singers standing in rows and facing one way. The natural world occurs in 360 degrees.