Friday, June 15, 2012

Bjork - Biophilia @ The Fes Festival of World Sacred Music

The audience is packed in, Princess Lalla Salma has arrived and now it is time for Bjork at Bab Makina in Fes...

The lights fade up slowly and thirteen hooded, barefooted faeries come on stage, garbed in robes of shiny blue and bronze fabric. The first impression is of a slightly odd girl's choir.They begin a low chorus, building up to the moment we have all be waiting for – Bjork’s entrance.

Bjork comes on stage, the projection screen lights up and a solid bass rumble sends palpable vibrations through the audience.

Known for her quirky fashion and statement costumes, Bjork's appearance did not disappoint. An electric blue latex dress clung to her petite figure and was covered in three-dimensional fossil-like coils.

Bjork opened her mouth and the first taste of her extraordinary other-worldly voice caused goosebumps. The first song was Cosmogony, entirely appropriate for starting us on the Biophilia journey.

Heaven. Heaven's bodies
Whirl around me. Make me wonder
And they say back then our universe was a coal black egg
Until the God inside burst out and from it's shattered shell
He made what became the world we know…

However Bjork was intent on re-inventing the world we know. A masterful combination of video, lighting and voice created mesmerising soundscapes that pushed the limits of previous musical experience.

The second song Hunter, from her Homogenic album was a crowd pleaser – the audience roared when it recognized the opening bars and realised there was going to be a mix of both old and new material.

Despite having just recovered from a throat infection, Bjork does not hold back and what ensues is Bjork magic. There is no time wasted on chatting with the audience.A fade to black and then on with the next song.

At times her words are indistinguishable swamped by the massive electronic rumble. In other moment's Bjork's voice rings clear. "Have I too often craved miracles?" She trills the "r" in "miracle" for the longest time.

It is amazing what you can do with a few Ipads...

The projected images are intricate; time-lapse photography of mushrooms growing. A cell falling victim to a virus, hundreds of starfish and were they seas worms? At other times - the molten core of the earth, surging up, causing tectonic plates to buckle and shift. It is powerful stuff.

One of two large Tesla Coils discharging

There were no actual pyrotechnics, but the next best thing; inside two huge Faraday cages are Nikolai Tesla's famous Tesla Coils; discharging high voltage lightning bolts. The coils came to life in song number three – Thunderbolt – and the atmosphere was truly electric. Combined with a slow motion video of a lunar eclipse the effect was striking.

All my body parts are one
As lightning hits my spine,
Prime runs through me,
Revive my wish
May I, can I, or have I too often?
Craving miracles…

And always this tsunami of sound produced by the two young men behind the electronic machinery. Bjork hops, skips, shakes her wrists and flexes her fingers as the music moves through her. It is an fascinating alchemy; the melding of faerie and machine.

After this Bjork made her first tentative contact with the audience, simply saying “merci bien” in her child-like voice, and then going straight into Hidden Place. The arresting video with this track was a fast motion film of starfish and writhing eels marching and slithering over coral, which built up to the creatures feeding from the carcass of a seal on the sea floor.

The next song Unravel was another crowd favourite and her singing “like a ball of yarn” was amusing when taken in context with the fantastic wig on her head – a bulbous confection of coloured threads and wool that framed her elfin face. Her dress caught and reflected the light, her tights glittered and she jumped and stomped on her platform boots, shaking her hands in a vibrant dance.

Another time-lapse video of mushrooms sprouting accompanied Isobel from her Post album – bringing shouts of “we love you Bjork!” from the crowd.

Mouth's Cradle and then Joga was next and CGI images of the earth moving and tectonic plates shifting and cracking perfectly matched the crashing electric howls, beats and groaning bass.

The end of the video swirled around an image of Bjork on top of a mountain, who then opened her insides and invited the viewer in to find a lonely island floating inside of her.

This image led perfectly into Hollow, which was accompanied by images of cells, veins and DNA.

Hollow, my ancestors have access
Hollow, I'm falling down the abyss
Hollow, looking for some answers…

In the song Hollow, Björk took inspiration from her "ancestors and DNA, that the grounds open below you and you can feel your mother and her mother, and her mother, and her mother, and her mother 30,000 years back. So suddenly you're this kinda tunnel, or trunk of DNA… All these ghosts come up so it ended up being a Halloween song and quite gothic in a way… It's like being part of this everlasting necklace when you're just a bead on a chain and you sort of want to belong and be a part of it and it's just like a miracle."

Virus followed and the hit Pagan Poetry, after which Bjork finally connected with the crowd, saying “Hello, how are you? You seem so far away. You should come closer. I only have a few songs left. You should think about it.”

Then Náttúra -  “this song is dedicated to a volcano in Iceland," Bjork announces. The volcano is Eyjafjallajökull. And in the manner of its namesake, all hell is let loose. This is the moment the concert erupts to another level. The thirteen backing faeries have tossed back their hoods and now appear less like faeries and more like bad pixie escapees from some Nordic summer camp.

The lyrics are as intriguing as Bjork herself and at times as mysterious. Dark Matter features heavy gibberish since the dark matter phenomena are directly "unexplainable". Virus is about "fatal relationships" such as the relationship between a virus and a cell.
The biophilia hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. Edward O. Wilson introduced and popularised the hypothesis in his book, Biophilia (1984). He defines biophilia as "the urge to affiliate with other forms of life".

"One day it will all make sense" - Bjork

The last song, Mutual Core, has the hooded dancers huddled in a circle and a film of the earth from space showing the fault lines splitting to reveal the earth’s core. The dancers slowly rise up with a harmonious howl and descend to the floor again before the stage went to black.

An extended ovation brought Bjork back out for a solo rendition of One Day:One day it will happen, one day it will all make sense,” she sang and then encouraged the audience to whistle with her.

A rousing rendition of Declare Independence was the final number and Bjork’s powerful yells of “declare independence, don’t let them do that to you, raise the flag, higher, higher” finally provided the rebellious energy the audience needed to dance with great gusto in the aisles.

Overall the concert had the quality of a musical science lesson and an experimental journey of immersion into the cosmos and sound. The great poet Kabira wrote:

The well is one
Water bearers many
Each one's vessel is different
But the water is the same.

Bjork is bearer and her vessel is very different - but the water is the same.


Hidden Place
Mouth's Cradle
Pagan Poetry
Mutual Core
One Day
Declare Independence 

Vanessa Bonnin was out and about taking the pulse of the audience.

Marcus Virta from Helsinki 

Expectation was high in the pre-concert crowd for Bjork tonight and there was an army of her fans who had come from far and wide. Marcus Virta from Helsinki was at the first Biophilia concert in Manchester and was wearing the t-shirt to prove it.

“I was coerced into going by my friend because I wasn’t a fan but after that concert I was converted,” he enthused.

Camelia El Hakem from Fes

Camelia El Hakem from Fes was working backstage and said that she’d seen Bjork who seemed “really simple and normal."

"I am a big fan, it was like a dream for me, I didn’t think I’d ever meet her!” she said.

There was a lot of interest in the stage set which had been shipped in and assembled overnight. Head of sound Eric Loots explained the odd-looking baskets hanging at either side of the stage.

“It’s a Tesla-coil inside a Faraday basket – its electrical and discharges a massive current which makes a brilliant sound and arcs of light. It’s linked to the keyboard player so he can vary the amount of current and change the sound. He also controls the three organs on the back of the stage,” he explained.

“I’m really looking forward to it, it’s going to be something completely different for the Festival, and also louder than we’re used to! Plus lots of low frequency bass, which will create vibrations, you should be able to feel it in the audience. I wonder if the suits in the front row will like it?!”

Rebel dancer, and Fes resident from England Gail Leonard said “I was just mesmerised and so excited! The most unachievable sounds were achieved, I was gobsmacked.”

Moroccan Marouane Belayachi said the concert was perfect.
“I thought it was great, we had a lot of fun and it was really spiritual.”

Fes resident from Australia Josephine Kwan said the combination of sounds from the instruments and Bjork’s voice was incredible.

“She has such individuality, I totally loved the whole experience. And the fact that she had saved her voice for Fes – we’re so glad you did! Thank you Bjork!”

As well as the usual sponsors in suits in the front section, Princess Salma was also in attendance.

The pre-concert announcement of a camera ban caused consternation in the crowd, who would have liked to be able to record their experience. It was explained that Bjork had requested no cameras, phones, video or “electronic beepy things” as she wanted the audience to enter completely into the experience and join her in her magical world.

The one negative in the night came after Bjork invited the audience to come forward. Unfortunately the overbearing security at Bab Al Makina did not get the message. Enthusiastic audience members, who had paid a premium ticket price, were roughly repelled by brutish guards who caused an unnecessary commotion and their behaviour was entirely contradictory to the spirit of the Festival.

With even the star performer complaining that the audience were too far away – and the overbearing security who were far more distracting and invasive than the presence of cameras would have ever been; there are issues to be addressed.

Some serious reconsideration needs to be given to the amount of premium space given to sponsors who are only there for show and don’t appreciate the music, to the detriment of serious fans who are denied the right to dance and enjoy the show. This, as we saw tonight, also affects the performer’s experience and Bjork’s disappointment with the restriction of the audience’s ability to interact with her was evident.

Biophilia was Bjork's eighth album and was released released 10th of October 2011.

The album is "partly recorded" on an iPad and, as well as a standard CD release. Biophilia is the world's "first app album" in collaboration with Apple. Björk has described the project as a multimedia collection "encompassing music, apps, Internet, installations, and live shows". Material from the album debuted during a concert series which was held in the summer of 2011 at the Manchester International Festival.

Reporting: Sandy McCutcheon and Vanessa Bonnin

The View from Fez is an official Media Partner of the Fès Festival of World Sacred Music


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great write-up! I'm glad you had a great time enjoying Björk's concert. By the way, did she play any other songs that you didn't mention in your report? Like Crystalline or Pluto? Because the setlist seems a bit short...