23 septembre 2001

The Coliseum - English National Opera

Londres, Royaume Uni


Coliseum, London - Rating : ****

“Björk,” John Tavener once remarked, “is more intelligent than most classical singers.” Some would doubtless question his judgment, though he is, in this instance, right. Like any great singer, the Icelandic diva (the term, reserved for opera’s charismatic women, is apt) is bent on redefining the parameters of music itself.

Pop is a word she now disdains. Instead, she has gravitated towards domains hitherto regarded as the preserves of classicism. A few weeks ago, she appeared at London’s St John’s Smith Square, the Baroque sanctum of early music and Lieder. Now she has arrived at the home of English National Opera. “Crossover” is a word that conspicuously fails to describe what she is attempting. This isn’t opera, though what Björk has absorbed into her work is opera’s spaciousness, its theatrical and musical extravagance and its ritual potential.

What she presents us with is effectively the modern equivalent of classical music’s post-Romantic enormity. An orchestra erupts at her feet, shrouding her in hieratic Wagnerian pomp. An Inuit choir serves as her acolytes. Vast video screens carry a stream of images : a frozen Nordic landscape in the first half, symbols of germinating life in the second.

Fluttering across the stage like some strange force of nature, Björk herself seems part human, part spirit. Her songs blend the earthly, the erotic and the mystic. Embrace envisions sexual submission to an unnamed male deity. Elsewhere the lyrics become more blatant. “When I wake up in his arms, he’s still inside me,” she sings at one shudder-inducing moment. Her voice uniquely captures the experiences she describes. I can think of no other singer who can swerve with such vertiginous conviction from guttural earthiness to seraphic innocence.

“I never thought I would compromise,” she sings at one point. I doubt whether she ever has, though she has often been prepared to collaborate. In addition to classical forces, she works here with Matmos, a group of lethal, disturbing brilliance. They underpin Human Behaviour with pile-driving throbs while Björk delivers it with a vengeful fury, far removed from the laconicism of the single.

Matmos’s opening solo set combined performance and body art. Sound is produced by electronic implements gliding over and into flesh, the images projected onto a screen behind them. Plectrums slide over hair. What looks like a screwdriver probes orifices, at one point jabbing into a cavity in a tooth. Surgery and sadomasochism are dauntingly mixed. I confess to being no expert in this music—but I was completely hooked by every stupendous second.

Tim Ashley - The Guardian

Björk + Matmos (Live)

Everybody’s favourite Icelandic pixie was in town for the second time in a month, this time easily selling out London’s largest theatre which is normally home to the English National Opera. Bonkers American electronics partners Matmos were on hand as the support, enlisting instruments as diverse as hamster cages and balloons to tip their blend of synth music just over the edge into avant-garde, accompanied by a micro-camera’s depictions of mucous membranes, ear holes and such like which were displayed on a projector screen backdrop for all to see and admire.

When the lady we’d all come to see appeared it was to inevitably rapturous applause. She bubbled and skipped above a full orchestra in the pit and in front of an all-female Inuit choir, a multi-instrumentalist whose talents included harp, Matmos and a Canadian lady who vocalised reverse recording better than anyone I’ve heard save JC-001. Björk herself was dressed in a black feathery affair around the waist, sequins of many colours decorating her top and with tights, topped with vertical black lines, which accentuated her endearingly childlike shape. The effect was a startling parody of the evil swan from Swan Lake.

The first of two performance segments offered up much of new album Vespertine, starting with music box instrumental track Frosti before launching into Overture from Selmasongs, the soundtrack to the Lars von Trier film Dancer In The Dark. Björk won awards for her acting in the film, starring opposite Catherine Deneuve. We were treated to I’ve Seen It All from the soundtrack as well, but whilst on the recording she duetted with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, here she sang the entire song herself.

The wonderful Cocoon from Vespertine featured one member of Matmos literally stroking the other while Björk softly sang about the physical intimacy of love, of having her man “inside of me”. Heirloom (co- written with Matmos) followed, then came It’s Not Up To You, Undo, Aurora and Pagan Poetry, the latter transfixing the audience with the sheer power of Björk’s justly legendary vocal talents. She began to tell the assembled of London how emotional she felt in this “town”, but that would mean that she would “go all super-mooshy” and she was better at singing than speaking anyway. A throwaway couple of lines she’d uttered and the audience wanted to hug her. The first ‘act’ ended with the superb Unison, the final and best track from Vespertine, which built from an almost silly electronic melody to feature the choir and the orchestra to beautiful effect.

On returning from the bar we were greeted to recent single Hidden Place. Ms Guðmundsdóttir had changed her cossie, this time resplendent in a red number, reputedly from Alexander McQueen, which made her look like a Christmas decoration. Every time she moved we heard bells—yet it took a while for us to realise that the bells were part of the dress. Someone seemed to have stolen the bassline from Hidden Place and it was not as electrifying as on the album, but mild disappointment with that was tempered immediately by what amounted to a performance of crowd-pleasing oldies, including dramatic single Bachelorette, from Homogenic, a new version of Possibly Maybe from Post, featuring the choir, the wonderful Hyper- ballad from the same album which had everyone chairdancing to the modified backing from Matmos, You’ve Been Flirting Again and Isobel (both also from Post) and Jóga from Homogenic.

Skipping across the stage and curtseying her way off, the audience were charmed enough to demand two encores. These included the only offering from Debut, Human Behaviour, and the fiercely rhythmic Army Of Me from Post. She finished up with a new song, It’s In Our Hands, which featured the majority of humanity in The Coliseum clapping along with the Innuit choir in the correct places despite having never heard the song before.

One or two oddities aside (these being Björk’s forgetting of the first verse lyrics in Bachelorette, the microphone that wouldn’t decide whether it wanted to be on or off for Frosti and the largely criminal lighting), this was an accomplished performance by a supremely gifted and endearing lady. She manages to remain entirely at the cutting edge of her art while collaborating with anyone she chooses to produce music that the mainstream embrace. It’s a shame she’s not back on stage tomorrow, for I’d surely go see her again then. Come back to London soon Björk, we love you.

Michael Hubbard - MusicOMH

Coliseum, London

It’s perhaps a throwback to her formal training that, after 15 years in the music business, Björk has felt the gravitational pull of classicism. She has worked already with the composer John Tavener, the percussionist Evelyn Glennie and the Brodsky Quartet. Now she has decided to promote her new album Vespertine by performing in a series of classical venues. Word has it that the Royal Opera House wouldn’t have her. Their loss is the Coliseum’s gain, since it couldn’t be more appropriate ; the grandiose surroundings may diminish her already tiny frame, but they give her extraordinary voice the space and freedom it has long demanded.

Björk is 35 but looks half that. She is a child-woman, padding around the stage in bare feet and wildly clapping her hands. For someone who so vehemently shuns the limelight, she is fabulously unrestrained as a performer, with every word borne out in her body language. She hops on one leg, bends over double, shakes her head and cups her hand conspiratorially over the microphone. As she sings, she opens her mouth as wide as possible as if allowing all the squeaks and susurrations to come out at once. Conversation isn’t Björk’s strong point, though. “I’m better singing than I am talking,” she concedes.

As befits the surroundings, the show is endlessly theatrical, opening with Björk sitting under a spotlight, cranking up an old gramophone and being showered in confetti. A backdrop bears a frozen landscape, and later, biological sketches of seedlings. In the second half, she glides on stage in a scarlet feathered dress, like a blood- drenched dying swan.

She is accompanied by an Inuit choir and Tagaq, a North Canadian throat singer whose guttural wheezing, though undoubtedly impressive, brings to mind the sound of a cow in labour. This must be a first, too, that a harpist is seen playing with an accordion slung around her neck, and moving seamlessly between the two instruments. The San Francisco electronica boffins, Matmos, provide the shuffling bleeps, clicks and whirrings for a selection of new songs, including “Hidden Place” and the pseudo-orgasmic “Cocoon”, as well as the more familiar propulsive groove of “Possibly Maybe” and “Human Behaviour”.

The new tracks betray a curiously submissive tone, though this is not to be mistaken for vulnerability. During “I am Strong in his Hands”, a medieval-sounding folk song accompanied only by harp, the singer grinds the vowel sounds into the ground, eliciting hysterical declarations of love from the audience.

Is it pop ? Is it classical ? Who cares ? Björk is beyond such earthly associations, existing in her own unclassifiable sphere. Musicians who claim to push the boundaries of music are now two-a-penny. Björk is the only one that manages it.

Fiona Sturges - The Independent


01. Musicbox Intro
02. Overture
03. All Is Full Of Love
04. Unravel (with choir)
05. It’s Not Up To You
06. An Echo, A Stain (with Tagaq)
07. Generous Palmstroke
08. I’ve Seen It All
09. Cocoon
10. Unison
11. Throatsinging solo by Tagaq
12. Hidden Place (with Tagaq)
13. Pagan Poetry
14. Possibly Maybe
15. You’ve Been Flirting Again
16. Isobel (with Tagaq)
17. Hyperballad
18. Bachelorette
1er rappel
19. Army Of Me
20. Human Behaviour
2eme rappel
21. It’s In Our Hands

sur scène

  • Matmos
  • Tanya Tagaq
  • The Greenland choir
  • Zeena Parkins


habillée par

  • Alexander McQueen