As Björk appears on stage at Campfield Market Hall to perform her multimedia musical project, Biophilia, the crowd circling her in this atmospheric Victorian building crackles with appreciation.
Resplendent in a blue-sequined dress and a wig resembling a jagged red cloud, Björk Guðmundsdóttir might be channelling her inner Diana Ross, but then the comforting voice of David Attenborough rings through the speakers, setting the true tone for Björk’s creative thesis, “a unique synthesis of music, nature and science” that has been more than three years in the making.
Attenborough, prefacing each of the project’s songs, reminds us of the symbiosis between these three elements. The simple-sounding titles, such as Moon and Hollow, mask the original, heavyweight content within. Her opening song, Thunderbolt, is majestic. Framed by the sound of fizzing Tesla coils, she sings about cautiously “craving miracles”, which could describe the entire project. For Solstice, she stands between gravitational pendulum harps that produce an off-kilter chiming that elevates her voice to the instrument that it surely is. This idea is key to the entire project : everything is viewed as an instrument and as such is shaped in Biophilia’s image, whether it’s the “sharpsichord”, a pin barrel harp attached to two huge steel horns created by Henry Dagg ; or the “gameleste”, a gamelan/celeste hybrid ; the iPad that she plays on Dark Matter ; or the other-worldly sounds of the Icelandic female choir Graduale Nobili that accompanies most songs.
Crystalline is probably the most accessible song, in terms of its tinkly melody and drum-and-bass breakdown, which musical director Matt Robertson ably executes from his table of technology. It unites the audience with some of the previous work she reappraises, such as Hidden Place, Its Not Up to You and Isobel. Declare Independence threatens to descend into a rave, with the choir leading the fray, and All Is Full of Love is blissful. But it is One Day that causes a genuine hush ; it is almost 20 years old but remains moving and potent, and when Björk sings of “the eruption that never lets you down” she could be singing about herself. Breathtaking.