Saturday 27 September 2014

Björk: Biophilia Live (2014) - Peter Strickland & Nick Fenton

Björk's Biophilia project was never intended to be just an album.  Released in 2010, it came alongside an app used to compose the music, an educational programme and an extensive two year, 70 date world tour.  This film of the tour's final night at London's Alexandra Palace is the culmination of a unique multimedia venture.

Of course, this being Björk, Biophilia Live is no mere concert film.  The mantra of the project was to combine nature, music and technology.  That continues here.  Through music and visuals, she explores the awe-inspiring power of nature and its relation to human emotions through a grand sense of scale ranging from the microscopic to the cosmological.

Following an introduction from the godfather of nature, David Attenborough, the film combines the live concert - shot with artful cinematography from Brett Turnbull - overlaid and interspersed with macro, aerial and time lapse photography, as well as kaleidoscopic imagery from the app.  Visuals and sound become symbiotic: Virus for instance is accompanied by images of cells and blood that appear oddly delicate and romantic; Cosmogony is paired with suitably celestial planets; lava flows erupt from the screen during Mutual Core (though it doesn't quite match the inventiveness of the official video).  The overall effect is one of hypnotic, earthly synesthesia.

As a film, more could perhaps be done to explain the meaning behind the project, the construction of the newly created instruments, or to give an insight into the people onstage.  For that, though, there's always the When Bjork Met Attenborough programme.  This is, after all, Björk's artistic vision not a documentary from the two directors.  Their input is merely to contain her otherworldly aesthetic on-screen.

The concert itself, meanwhile, is an extraordinary spectacle.  Musical tesla coils spark with electricity; the 'gravity pendulum harp' swings perpetually, ominously; imagery is displayed on screens; and Björk is accompanied onstage by a ghostly, all-female Icelandic choir and their ritualistic dancing.  The set includes a handful of songs from her extensive back catalogue (notably Hidden Place, Isobel, Possibly Maybe and One Day - performed on hang drum), all of which fit neatly into the Biophilia aesthetic.  It's perhaps disappointing that some other favourites weren't included, but this isn't meant to be a greatest hits.  Yet whilst it's never quite the same as being there in person, the film certainly captures the thrill of the live experience.

Most of all, the film highlights the sheer force of nature that is Björk herself, above any distracting accompaniments.  In an abstract, shell-like dress and flaming afro, she marches around the stage singing with a voice that's truly elemental: fiery, whispering, lyrical and guttural.  She remains humble throughout, however, meekly thanking the audience after each song.  If the whole Biophilia project has succeeded in one thing, it's delivering to the world this powerfully innovative, sexually-charged and idiosyncratic Icelandic talent.


Watch: Björk: Biophilia Live screens at the London Film Festival, is released in cinemas on 17th October and on DVD from 3rd November.