Birdsong is darting round the O2 Arena in startling sonic high-definition.
At regular intervals, a kindly-worded request (from Björk herself) plays out asking attendees to refrain from taking photos, promising that images will be available the following day at “w w w dot Björk dot com.” After a short wait, the lights go down and the Icelandic Hamrahlid Choir, dressed in traditional folk clothing, perform 20-minute Icelandic songs and choral arrangements of Björk’s Sonnets/Unrealities XI and Cosmogony.
Described as a “sci-fi pop concert” by the New York Times and billed as Björk’s “most elaborate staged concert to date”, the sheer scale of the Cornucopia live show hits you immediately. Directed by filmmaker Lucrecia Martel, and incorporating breathtaking digital visuals from Tobias Gremmler, the performance feels like a coalescing of Björk’s last decade of work. There’s the purposeful innovation, the rapture she’s found in earthly sounds and the new intimacy that’s permeated her music through collaboration and fearless experimentalism.
To the right of the stage sits an oversized cave-like structure which Björk enters on occasion to sing without a microphone; the cave’s texture and structure provides enough reverb to fill the arena. Elsewhere in the show, Austrian percussionist Manu Delago creates hypnotising shapes and rhythms from hitting round bowls into water tanks, scooping water up and pouring it back in at specific intervals. If that’s hard to imagine it’s because it’s hard to describe.
And these elemental sounds are seamlessly joined with astounding uses of technology. The quality of sound on her specially-designed setup fully realises the vision of Utopia – where voices, flutes and synthesisers merge into one blissful frequency. Gremmler’s digital art is perfectly in tune with the costume design of Iris van Herpen and Olivier Rousteing of Balmain, a harmony which makes it appear as though levitating bodies on the backdrop could be taking off from the IRL stage.
The setlist is built almost entirely from Utopia and songs which aren’t from that record are given its treatment; Venus as a Boy is delightfully direct when backed only by flutes. Before the encore, Greta Thunberg delivers a video message to the audience centred around the Friday climate strikes (which, incidentally, Björk’s daughter has been participating in over in Iceland).
These direct words and calls to action anchor the show conceptually. Despite closing with the devastating Notget, Cornucopia’s message is one of optimism and tunefulness. On one written message that was projected on to the giant laced curtain, Björk states, “Let’s write music for our destination.” For 100 minutes, we were there.