THERE WAS GREAT WONDER TO BE FOUND IN BIOPHILIA, BJÖRK’S 2011 STUDIO ALBUM; OFTEN MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS, CERTAINLY MORE AWE THAN EXPLANATION. PRETTY MUCH THE NORM AS FAR AS HER TWENTY YEARS’ WORTH OF UNIQUE SOLO WORK IS CONCERNED, REALLY.
Some of the material on BIOPHILIA was, as might reasonably be expected from this most unusual of thinkers, both thoughtful and unusual – perhaps the most idiosyncratic of her career – and certainly orbiting her highest concept yet. Rather than exposing the frailties, explosive forces and alchemies inherent in the human condition, BIOPHILIA was more intellectual (that’s not to say unemotional) work-out than it was visceral purge; examining the frailties, explosive forces and alchemies of life itself – an exploration of the relationship between music, technology and nature; atomic, cellular, cosmic. For all of the great wonder of the universe, the concept occasionally felt like a dry academic exercise. Hardly surprising as BIOPHILIA was, in part, literally an academic exercise; released not only on CD and download but as a suite of iPad Apps heralding “a semi-educational project using sound, texts and visuals”. These sorts of thing can be more admirable than enjoyable, but BIOPHILIA’s introductory App got the project off to the best possible start; it was graced with the mellifluous tones of David Attenborough. His voice – so steady, so unerring, so familiar and trusted from sixty years of peerless television documentary making – offered immediate connection and comfort, and no small amount of gravitas. And so it is here, on new ‘audio-visual package’ BIOPHILIA LIVE (CD / DVD, released next week), a recording of the final night of the world tour which followed release of the album.
Attenborough’s authority draws the viewer in to what turns out to be a surprisingly straight-ahead, occasionally quite disappointing, performance film. Not that BIOPHILIA LIVE was likely to enjoy a budget to match that of, say, Christopher Nolan’s similarly brain-bending INTERSTELLAR, but some of the post-show visualisation, the editing, seems surprisingly clumsy when held up against the scale of Björk’s ambition. Nature documentary footage – beautiful though it is – is laid over concert footage in not particularly imaginative ways; as if this is knocked-out WHISTLE TEST footage from 1988. When it does work (a sky filled with stars above the stage) it’s truly spectacular. Björk’s impressive galaxy wig and her muscle-and-fibre dress do their best to connect the dots between macro and micro, between artist and concept, as does the music. The brass and orchestra swell of COSMOGONY is grand, far-reaching and deeply moving, while the simple Hang, vocal and (sweetly, fluffed) whistle solo version of DEBUT track ONE DAY is small but equally affecting. The live show is good though perhaps not best represented on film, where there is a sense of remove at odds with the idea of universal connection.
Pre-order BIOPHILIA LIVE here