Wall Street Journal

Bjork Commands Reykjavik Stage

For her album “Biophilia,” Björk and her team invented new instruments to challenge and stimulate listeners as they ponder the disk’s theme, the exploration of the natural world. In concert last night at the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland, the city where she was born in 1965, Björk demonstrated how well these instruments can serve her songs – and not only those from her new release.

Performing in the round before about 850 loyalists, Björk explored the new album in depth, opening with five of its songs, all of which struck with a harder edge in the intimate venue. “Thunderbolt” used a crackling Tesla coil to provide a repeating bass line. The sound of an electronic pipe organ, controlled by a programmed iPad, rumbled throughout the room in “Dark Matter.” During the latter part of the 90-minute set, four programmed pendulums created subtle tones as they swung.

Though the album was released just two weeks ago in the U.S., Björk is already toying with arrangements. Supported by synthesized bells and percussion on the disk, in concert “Sacrifice” was built on the ringing tones of a harpsichord. The plucked strings that dominate the recorded version of “Crystalline” gave away to the authority of a synth bass. In “Moon,” the music’s volume dropped to near silence, surrendering the accompanying role to Björk’s tapping shoes.

Graduale Nobili, a choir of two-dozen young women, added depth and counterpoint. In an extraordinary reading of “Cosmogony,” their voices rose dramatically from low to high until Björk entered and then set a solemn pillow beneath her vocal. Dressed in glittering blue and copper robes, they provide a visual counterpoint as well, huddling at center stage as Björk sang “Mutual Core,” then leaping into a wild dance when the song erupted.

Dipping into her rich catalog, Björk revealed the roots of “Biophilia.” In 2009, she issued “Voltaïc,” a box set in which she revisited and rearranged some of her standards. Here, “Pagan Poetry,” built now on gothic harpsichord tones and a booming synth bass, recalled the “Votaïc” rendition. “Mouth Cradle” from “Medúlla,” a 2004 album almost entirely on the sound of human voices, profited from the presence of the choir, which packed itself tightly around the singer at center stage.

As for Björk, she gave a commanding performance. Dressed in electric blue with a shock of red hair, she prowled the stage as she sang, punching the air for emphasis. Or she nestled in the warmth of a spotlight, singing amid the challenging arrangements ; in “Virus,” she sang with composed passion as the sounds of charming, child-like chimes and bells darted around her. She stood alone on the stage for “Solstice,” accompanied only by the sounds of a pipa rising from an iPad.

For her encore, Björk returned with percussionist Manu Delago ; as he played with his fingers and thumbs what appeared to be an inverted steel drum, she reinterpreted “One Day” from her ’93 release “Debut.” The choir returned for a triumphant “Declare Independence.” As the Tesla coil crackled and discharged overhead, Björk and the choir danced wildly, exhorting the crowd, standing now, chanting along, sharing the joy of a magical evening.

Jim Fusilli

publié dans Wall Street Journal - 28.10.2011

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