First up was the gig at the Apollo Hammersmith, for which the pic above is the only photo available. While there were flunkies at the Admiralty House to prevent unauthorised photography, at the Bjork gig they were full on secret - or rather not so secret - police, patrolling the isles for anyone daring to pull out their phone. It was rather oppressive. At the door when they found I had actually brought a camera I was pretty much frog-marched to the cloakroom to deposit it.
I wasn't sure about the motivation for this: was it to create a "concert" rather than "gig" atmosphere where the music is the focus or was it to keep the Bjork mystique?
My seat was at the back so it felt a bit remote (in particular compared to the previous night at the Brunel Museum) and the first half was all taken from her Vulnicura album which is about her break-up so was a major downer. Her costume was lit up so in the dark glowed like a luminous jelly-fish, which was cool, though hard to see so far away.
The second half included greater variety of songs and so was more enjoyable (to be honest). All were orchestrated and played by the Aurora Orchestra, who'd I'd seen previously at Kings Place. I found this worked well and part of the growing classic / pop cross-over with lots of interesting layers.
It was good, but more in the interesting way than fun, though the audience seemed prepared to applaud enthusiastically as if at a cult meeting.
The concert was linked into an exhibition at Somerset House called Bjork Digital which I went to on a later weekend. This was "an immersive virtual reality exhibition" and at its heart were four VR pieces. In groups of 25 we were led into rooms in which there were 25 stools each with a VR headset and headphones where we'd simultaneously experience the following:
- Stonemilker: set on a beach in Iceland with between one and three Bjorks singing directly at you
- Mouthmantra: set actually inside Bjork's mouth as she sings this song
- Quicksand: sparks fly from an elf like Bjork creating a magical starscape
- Notget: a shrunken Bjork grows into a goddess
The last two were similar and blur together in my memory: the most memorable part was the growth of the virtual Bjork from having to crouch down at the start to later on having to step back to avoid being rammed in the face by her breasts.
The Mouthmantra was deeply disturbing and really not much fun.
My favourite was Stonemilker which you can experience for yourself if you have the right kit as its on YouTube here. It was really immersive: you felt on that beach and I'd often look round to try and work out where it was filmed only to turn back and find myself face to face with Bjork.
At times I wasn't sure what I was doing there, as it felt the artist was singing to, for and at her ex partner, the video artist Matthew Barney. Some of Bjork's videos did indeed remind me of his Cremaster Cycle, which I caught at the Guggenheim NY exhibition many years ago.
There was also a room where Bjork's videos were being played in a loop with full HD and surround sound.
I did wonder if seeing Bjork's VR in an exhibition was a bit like going to an exhibition of pop-videos in the 1970s, and that in the future it will just be pop-VR, which we will experience everywhere.
But if we are heading in that direction there'll be a period of experimentation, to discover what works and what doesn't, and it is artists like Bjork that are taking those first steps.
My take away thought was this was the first time I'd used VR and felt that, yes, this is cool, I'd like to get my own headset. It technically worked and the content was interesting, rewarding even.
In particular, in Stonemilker, technology and music worked together, a sign of things to come.