Virtually and Live, A Sunday with Bjork

There were two things I was hoping to do this month after seeing Bjork’s MoMA exhibition. One was to experience her perform live – something I’d never done before – and the other was to experience the virtual reality world she’d created as part of the extension of her museum retrospective.
Sunday was the day both of these things came to pass.
Since releasing Vulnicura, Bjork has lined up shows at Carnegie Hall, Kings Theatre and City Center in Manhattan. I wanted to see Bjork sing at Kings Theatre because it’s a movie palace from a bygone era, built in 1929, that was only just restored and opened back up to the public again last month after lying dormant for 30 years. It really does feel like you’ve stepped inside another world, with its grand velvet red curtains, opulent golden walls and encrusted sculptures, especially when just a few metres away, shops like The Virgin Hair Store beckon.
To hear Bjork’s majestic voice take flight within the walls of such a place was perhaps the best way to see her perform live for the first time. I’ve become so used to listening to music on my laptop and iPhone that to hear her voice, accompanied by a 15 piece orchestra and Venezuelan producer genius Arca, fill the venue gave me chills. This is what music is supposed to sound like. How easy it is to forget, living in a city where the walls are too thin and the headphones still never quite big enough. You’re meant to be enveloped by it – the desire, the longing, the sadness, and ultimately, the healing.
Bjork wore a spiky headdress similar to the one in her Lionsong video, creatively directed by Dutch duo Inez & Vinoodh, for the first half of her set. During this half, she performed the first six tracks from Vulnicura, accompanied by visuals that ranged from a spider being reborn to copulating snails and beating pulses of colour and shapes bursting on screen. For the second part, she played a few older tracks – Come to Me from Debut and I See Who You Are from Volta – before going back to Vulnicura and ending with Mouth Mantra, and an encore of the best kind, All is Full of Love.

Sunday was also the day Bjork released the 360 degree 3D virtual reality music video for Stonemilker. So after the show, I went to Rough Trade in Brooklyn to see it. My friend and I were led into a little room and we put on the headset with eye-goggles and each sat on a chair. The video is a collaboration between Bjork and Andrew Huang, who also directed her Blake Lake video for MoMA, and was filmed on a beach in Iceland where the song was written. As Bjork describes it, the 360 panoramic view matched the movement of the song. “If the song has a shape, it is sort of like a circle that just goes on forever,” she said on her website. She recorded the strings with a clip on each instrument so that it feels like the musicians are sitting around you, playing the song.
It truly does feel that way. As Bjork sings, she draws you in, and you move in the chair as she moves along the beach. You are there with her, in Iceland, feeling like you are on the cold, black sand, as the words of the sad song make you feel even colder, and as she waves her arm, the green willowy silk of her dress flutters above your head. It’s so real that it feels almost harsh when you put your hand out to reach for her and you don’t see it come out in front of you, bringing you back to the sharp bite of reality – of course you can’t touch her! It made me feel a little silly. Obviously I knew I couldn’t touch her but she was so close!

One of the other people who had also tried it out was talking enthusiastically about the experience as being the way forward; about how pretty soon virtual reality will be the way we live. I think about shows and concerts and how that might impact on that. Imagine watching a show, in a 3D world created to look like you’re in the Kings Palace. You wouldn’t have to deal with the annoying guy next to you who insists on Instagramming half the show, or the girl in front who keeps moving her head and blocking your view. Question is, would it feel the same?
The Stonemilker virtual reality music video is on show at MoMA PS1 for the next month and at Rough Trade until the end of March. Details about the physical album release are here.

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