She’s been voted one of the 100 greatest singers by Rolling Stone magazine, is considered by some music critics as one of the last true boundary-breakers after the passing of Prince and Bowie, and has long been celebrated as the ruling queen of artpop.
At Carriageworks in Sydney yesterday, however, Icelandic singer-songwriter Bjork was waxing lyrical about her new virtual reality creations rather than her stellar music career as workers scurried around the space in the lead-up to the Australian premiere of Bjork Digital, a centrepiece of Vivid Sydney.
The singer’s musical talents will be limited to two sell-out shows DJing at Carriageworks as part of a tribute show also featuring a celebration of her music videos and digital art, including an immersive 12-minute video, Black Lake, shown in a specially constructed room with 54 speakers, and her multi-media Biophilia education program.
With the clock ticking loudly, a creative collaborator flew in from Los Angeles yesterday morning carrying the final versions of two virtual reality works, Mouth Mantra and Stonemilker.
The world premiere work, Notget, was also being installed despite being incomplete after having run into “technical riddles”, the singer said. “We thought, hmmm, let’s just be brave and show it halfway through.”
Dressed in an extraordinary head-piece of gold wire and pearls strategically positioned just off her irises, Bjork addressed the way cities can work as living canvases, how the desolate Icelandic landscape worked perfectly as a character in her “heartbreak” 2015 album Vulnicura, her nascent DJ career (“maybe it taps into when I was kid, I always wanted to have my own radio show”) and how nature intersects with technology in her art.
But virtual reality was the topic of the day as she discussed the making of a series of VR works based on songs from Vulnicura, which she wrote last year after the breakdown of her marriage to performance artist Matthew Barney.
In what she sees as a “natural continuity” of the music video, audiences can access a far richer listening experience by donning a pair of VR headsets rather than simply staring at a screen or plugging in headphones. She said she most enjoyed the highly experimental, risky aspects of the medium as well as its pedagogical uses, intimacy, scale, theatricality and three-dimensional possibilities.
Don’t retreat to a cave and insist on just doing acoustic songs, she advised musicians wary of new technology. “As a musician, [VR] is a very exciting toy to have…it’s like you’re entering into the unknown, and you can’t fall into old habits and old traps — it shakes you up.”
‘You have to kind of go blindfolded into the unknown and discover not what you were 10 years ago but what you are now.”