by Maxwell S. Zinkievich
When I received my first car at sixteen and I got into the driver’s seat for the first time, my parents had already placed CDs of Björk’s studio albums Vespertine and Post in the center console. From a young age I had been attracted to her unique and powerfully realized personal drive to create and to innovate. Each album that she releases, each project that she works on, is distinctly of her own; unreproducable. I listened to her music in almost a religious sense, and before the 15th of February this year, I had yet to see her in concert.
I will say very little to criticize Björk and the production of this show within this “review” of sorts; I hope that it be taken more as a discriptive account of what this queer kid experienced rather than something that one would see in Rolling Stone. While this show has received critical acclaim from a myriad of critics (Rolling Stone included) with decades more experience and credibility than myself,, I will do my best not to parrot what has already been said before; even if my opinions mirror theirs closely. In short, the production that I saw on the 15th of February 2022 held at the newly constructed Chase Center in San Francisco is a triumph not only for the production staff, show director, and accompanying musicians, but also for Björk herself.
View of the set pieces and projector curtains.
source: Santiago Felipe via https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2022-01-25/bjork-cornucopia-tour-pandemic
I would like to begin by examining the air that was created as the crowd entered the stadium. A floral graphic was projected on the curtain of the stage, throwing off great amounts of teal and pink light into the surrounding stands. As people gathered and found their seats, the atmosphere was unlike anything I had experienced before. People dressed up to attend this event, but not in the manner that one would expect. Sure, there was a fraction that dressed in festival wear or another light-show techno ready attire, there was even a swan dress or two. The majority of the people in attendance, however, were in formalwear. Not many suits and gowns, but that distinctly SF/Tech world of spiffy clean haircuts and slick gray shirts and pants, maybe a slightly unconventional blazer thrown in for color. Nothing insane, but a step up from the usual uniform of All-Birds and Patagonia. These people were dressing up for something, something more than a concert or live performance. They were there to witness something between the lines of performance art and a symphony—and if anything, they were underdressed.
The show opens with an acapella performance from the Icelandic Hamrahlid Choir that set the mood and moment for what would take place after. Their vocals would be used onstage to back up Björk throughout the show, and play a critical part in building the soundscape. After this performance, the stage goes dark and the curtain reveals itself through movement to be a number of sheer and semi-transparent sheets placed at varying depths into the stage. These sheets would be used to catch projections that blended the digital space created by the show's technal art team. The curtains would be pulled in and out of their nooks on the sides of the stage for each track, finding a place where they perfectly work within the stage visuals and the music to build a cohesive and natural extension of the world that Björk was building onstage. Because of this digital canopy, the stage itself was fairly devoid of non-functional set pieces. A tiered system of fungi-looking platforms allowed for staging of the static musicians as well as a dance platform for the accompanying flute ensemble.
source: Santiago Felipe/Getty Images for ABA via
Here I believe that it is important to make note of the album that Björk is primarily drawing from for the setlist of this production, Utopia. As always, Björk trends to more abstracted and unearthly lyrics and methods of composition. She almost never utilizes a chorus in her work, and breaks away from musical tropes that would make her music repetitive. Her compositions always trend more along the lines of a story or abstract emotional ballad. Utopia is, for many, a pinnacle of this style of work. I would make the argument that none of the songs that Björk plays throughout this show could be termed “danceable”. Not that she is unable to create songs that are, but that the goals that she has as an artist do not fall within the realm of making the next big hit. Therefore, if the reader were to find any recordings of this performance online, I would urge them to watch under the guise of an opera-goer.
The production of the show is designed to create an immersive world that the viewer is allowed a glimpse into. One that does not exist outside of the temporal and physical space of the stage. Elaborate costumes grace the bodies of Björk and her accompanying floutists. Fashion houses Balmain and Iris Van Herpen designed the costumes of Björk herself, with elaborate face-embellishments designed by James Merry and make-up by Johannes J. Jaruraak (@isshehungry).
source: Santiago Felipe/Getty Images for ABA via https://consequence.net/2022/01/bjork-cornucopia-recap-los-angeles-shrine-auditorium/
I mentioned previously that Björk is an artist who is constantly on the cutting edge of what can be done technologically for her music. She was one of the first artists to include electronic instruments alongside an orchestral arrangement on stage in the mid 1990s and has continued to push the envelope in as many ways as she can. I also mentioned that she has very few non-functional set pieces with her on stage. What she does include that for me falls into the category of functional is a reverberation chamber that was specially constructed for her voice. This physical chamber is situated in the back of stage right and adds a unique flavor to the singer’s voice for certain tracks. She also includes an instrument that she calls “water drums” which take the form of large wooden bowls and a tub of water. The player places the bowls face down in the water and beats on the convex side of the bowl. This creates a uniquely full and reverberating drum sound that is picked up with an array of microphones around the water basin. Some of her tracks require the sound of falling or dripping water which are also captured live from this apparatus. Perhaps the most unique piece of instrumentation that was constructed for this show is what I term an “orbital flute” which is a series of four or five individual silver flutes that have been connected and bent into a circular shape. This instrument stays suspended high above the stage and is lowered around Björk. Thus, when the accompanying flutists play the instrument, her vocals are emanating from a literal encirclement of vibrating, musical air.
It is difficult to draw any conclusions about the experience that can be drawn out into the realm or reality. The metaphors of the album Utopia circle around creating a world that is free from a past of hate, anger and pollution. Before the encore, a recorded speech by climate activist Greta Thunburg is played to give the audience the state of emergency that the world is currently facing due to the climate crisis. Perhaps it was Björk’s goal to create a window into a world that is unbounded by these issues and to show the audience the unfathomable beauty and emotional expanses that can be seen if we band together in love to fight climate change.
In closing, the show itself was transcendent of the physical world that we inhabit and is a triumph of creative thought and execution. Uniquely visionary, confusing, fascinating, creative, captivating, alien. Uniquely Björk.
Björk in Balmain and surrounded by “orbital flute”.
source: New York City Photography/Santiago Felipe via