Bjork brought her "Biophilia" residency to New York’s Hall of Science last week, and even jaded New Yorkers seemed to be dazzled by the mix of science, philosophy and music that the alt-rock icon offered.
The show, which combines live performance (including the singer backed by a 24-person Icelandic choir), science demonstrations and the latest in computer technology (attendees can download iPad apps to interact with the presentation), kicked off Feb. 3 in the museum’s Great Hall, and will run through Feb. 18 before moving to New York’s Roseland Ballroom for four additional dates.
The New York engagement follows an earlier run of shows in Iceland last October, and aside from a few minor changes, remains mostly the same experience that wowed American critics that made the journey overseas to view it, with Bjork continuing to front an intergalactic orchestra that includes a few traditional instruments and several apparently from outer space (including something called a "gravity harp"). David Attenborough, who narrates the iPad apps that can be purchased as integral companion pieces for Bjork’s "Biophilia" set, also appears as pre-recorded narrator during the show. But despite the elaborate packaging and lush trimmings, most reviewers just wanted to talk about the artist.
Bjork "hasn’t made an instantly hummable song since ’120 Minutes’ went off the air," said Christopher Weingarten of Spin. "So now her life is, justifiably, the indieverse’s ’important artist,’ the 800-pound swan in the room, a dreamer and doer of grand gestures..." Noting that attending the performance felt "less like watching a concert and more like going to Bowie’s EPCOT," he pointed out that the less tech-heavy parts of the show seemed to drag in comparison.
"There’s an impressive baseline professionalism about this operation," wrote Ben Ratliff in the New York Times. "Everything works, even the Reactable — a cylinder-shaped digital instrument Mr. Weisel played by moving the wooden blocks on top ; even the Tesla coil, descending from the ceiling and sparking during the song ’Nattura.’"
Rolling Stone’s David Fricke found the setting itself "engaging and moving, noting that the "museum’s Great Hall is an eerie windowless space with a cathedral-high ceiling and irregularly curved walls that suggest convulsive ripples in time and space."
Fricke, however, ultimately found that the most compelling aspect of the show was Bjork’s voice itself. "Her voice is still the most powerful instrument and teaching gift in her reach," he concluded in his piece. "Unearthly in its range and force, yet absolutely natural and frank in its ardor and hope, it is the vital human tissue connecting everything else."
The Hall of Science is located in one of the few remaining structures from the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The museum is hosting classes with middle-school students exploring the world of Bjork’s "Biophilia" through the array of unique iPad apps she released along with the album, one for each song.