Bjӧrk’s eight-night multi-media concert series Cornucopia made its debut at New York City’s newest arts space, The Shed. Arrangements of songs from Bjӧrk’s 2017 album Utopia formed most of the show’s soundtrack, and on the visual side, media artist Tobias Gremmler, created the psychedelic imagery that accompanied the music. Using Earth-inspired imagery and otherworldly phosphorescent colours, Cornucopia imagines a utopian future – where nature and flute-playing humanoid-fairies have evolved to coexist intentionally – and Bjӧrk has written its soundtrack.
Before the show, birds chirping in surround-sound transformed the space into a zen bird garden. As the room darkened, two trumpet players amongst the seated audience heralded the start of the show. Heads turned when a 52-member Icelandic youth choir – the Hamrahlíð Choir – dressed in traditional garb, assembled at the front. They sang a handful of acapella pieces, both serene and chilling. For their final piece, the choir disperses, marching around the seated areas, with an exciting mixture of stomping, chanting and angelic singing.
Soon after the choir’s exit, loud resonating swells of synthetic sounds filled the room, and a giant visual of an otherworldly Bjӧrk was projected onto layers of strands, which doubled as a semi-transparent stage curtain. The strands parted to reveal Bjӧrk and the performers: an all-female flute septet Viibra, percussionist Mark Delgado, harpist Kate Buckley, and electronic musician Bergur Ϸόrisson – who were all dressed in white, iridescent, fairy-like uniforms, with exoskeletal-looking masks. The stage had multiple coral-reef-table platforms, and the stage equipment resembled coral branches. A visual vocabulary was painted from a palette consisting of futuristic, cosmic, phosphorescent tones, and with structures influenced by coral reefs and anemones. In addition, the choreographed flutists dance in bird-like flitters as they played, and their bodies rippling in sync with the music and projections.
The show also saw eclectic instrumentation, such as an aluphone, a dhol drum, whirly tubes, a water tank, and, descended from the ceiling, two huge subwoofer organ pipes, and a 4-person circular flute – yes, that’s right. Adding to the peculiarities, Bjӧrk would periodically retreat to a cocoon-like reverb chamber onstage to sing acoustically, offering an ethereal sound effect. A lot of effort went into establishing the show’s look and sound, and it paid off.
Cornucopia tells the tale of a utopian future, however, the show does well to remind us that we are not living in a fairy-tale. 16-year-old climate change activist, Greta Thunberg, spoke about the climate crisis, in a short video that played before the encore. Bjӧrk appeals to the audience to “define our utopia” and “to write music for our destination”. Her optimistic vision is inspiring, and the message is strong.