“Welcome to Biophilia, the love for nature in all her manifestations, from the tiniest organism to the greatest red giant floating in the farthest realm of the universe. . . . In Biophilia, you will experience how the three come together: nature, music, technology. Listen, learn, and create. . . . We are on the brink of a revolution that will reunite humans with nature through new technological innovations. Until we get there, prepare, explore Biophilia.” So announces British naturalist Sir David Attenborough at the beginning of Björk: Biophilia Live, Nick Fenton and Peter Strickland’s lovely film of Icelandic musician Björk’s final show of her Biophilia tour, a more-than-two-year journey in which she presented a dazzling multimedia concert experience based on her 2011 album and genre-redefining interactive app. Filmed at the Alexandra Palace in London, the cutting-edge in-the-round show features Björk performing such complex songs as “Thunderbolt,” “Moon,” “Crystalline,” and “Virus” from the hit record, accompanied by the twenty-woman Icelandic chorus Graduale Nobili and a group of visually dramatic instruments built and/or adapted specifically for her, including a pendulum-swinging gravity harp, the percussive hang, a gameleste, and a Tesla coil. In addition, most songs have related animation that ranges from the far reaches of space to deep inside the human body. Fenton, a longtime documentary editor, and Strickland, the writer-director of such fiction films as Berberian Sound Studio and Katalin Varga, often splash the animation on the front of the screen, immersing the viewer in a vast array of shapes, colors, and scientific imagery, like a turned-around Joshua Light Show. But even amid all the gadgetry and computers, Björk is the real star, ever charming in a wild wig and futuristic costume as she sings in her engaging accent and unique voice, enchanting the audience for more than ninety minutes as she brings together nature, music, and technology in a whole new way. We saw the show when it came to Roseland in March 2012 and can heartily affirm that Fenton and Strickland have done a wonderful job of capturing the feeling of being there, something that is rare in concert films.
Björk: Biophilia Live opens September 26 at the IFC Center; the 9:20 screening each night will also include the Channel 4 documentary When Björk Met Attenborough, in which director Louise Hooper goes behind the scenes of the three-year creation of the tour as it prepares for its debut performance in Manchester in June 2011. In the four-part, fifty-two-minute film, Björk visits the British Natural History Museum with big fan Attenborough as they talk about the sound of sound in nature, transcendence, prelanguage, and the evolution of singing, beginning with lyrebirds, and meets with Henry Dag, the inventor of the solar-powered sharpsichord, Andy Cavatorta, who created the gravity harp for her, and Evan Grant, who discusses cymatics, visualization, and the vibration of sound. In addition, another Björk fan, Dr. Oliver Sacks, delves into the connections between music and the brain, and Damian Taylor and Scott Snibbe go inside the development of the app. Tilda Swinton’s narration feels too much like an industrial video hyping the project, but otherwise When Björk Met Attenborough, also known as Björk and Attenborough: The Nature of Music, offers fascinating insight into Biophilia in all its incarnations.