Björk Digital – A Symbiosis Between Virtual Reality and Sound Technologies
For a project which she initially perceived as being “too boring and predictable,” the journey of Björk’s Vulnicura has evolved and continues to metamorphose in both an unprecedented and extraordinary fashion. From the record’s initial inception into the live context, early concerts for Vulnicura painted an extremely intimate portrait of the Icelandic singer’s chronological account of heartbreak, all the more poignant due to the record’s lyrical candour. Interestingly, the development behind Björk’s latest record is quite unlike her usual process – her inner musicological meticulousness set aside towards a favouring of immediacy. This in part was attributed to what she attests as imperative for the release of Vulnicura, as the urgency was both tied to the “album leaking,” and quite appropriately, its vulnerable essence.
Entering within its current phase, the Vulnicura dialogue sees Björk reimagining the conceptualisation of sound and video in a state-of-the-art, highly sophisticated exhibition in collaboration with Carriageworks and Vivid Sydney, entitled Björk Digital. In quite simple terms, Bjork Digital is a virtual reality album, the first of its kind and with it, devises an experience like no other through an immersive, panoramic involvement into the landscape of heartbreak.
I had the extreme fortune of previewing Björk Digital prior to its doors opening to the public and being involved in an intimate Q&A session with Björk herself, where she shared insight into the aetiology behind the exhibition and why she favoured Carriageworks to host such a “risky” and explorative endeavour into the realm of VR and sound. For Björk, the progression of Vulnicura to virtual reality was a seemingly organic one, as the Icelandic songstress declared this project was especially driven to focus on “immediate intimacy,” in what she calls an overt, “penetrative way.”
Employing the new Samsung VR headset technology, which converges sound and virtual reality, Björk has created a “Wagnerian” digitised world which uncovers, layer by layer, the full extent of Vulnicura’s vulnerable narrative. The exhibition’s structure is devised into five unique, chamber-like rooms - all of which are shrouded by black curtains, enclosing the space and intensifying its immersive nature.
I couldn’t help but notice that the experience for its entirety felt completely sombre - fellow patrons shared a mutual silence as they uncovered the narrative to each room. The 'Black Lake' room in particular held this atmospheric solemnity, as Björk’s ten minute opus sought sonic escape through what J.T. Merry called a “visceral sound that has the ability to penetrate the core.” The tech within this room is without a doubt phenomenal, as two screens on either side of the space play a cross-projection of the 'Black Lake' music video, directed by regular collaborator Andrew Thomas Huang. It is worth noting that each projection at first appears to be a mirror of one another, however the sequence of the video projection is not identical, compelling the viewer to move and experience the space in full, immersive 360 degrees.
The next three rooms of the exhibition continue this narrative of immersion, but on a completely different level. Viewers can experience 'Stonemilker', 'Mouth Mantra' and 'Not Get' (exclusive to Björk Digital) with the use of VR headsets and headphones. The experience is almost too difficult to describe, as it really is an experience first and foremost. In a sense, it enacts as a portal into a digital Björkian universe, all the more effective as it perfectively surmises what she loves and does so extremely well in relation to technology and the natural order.
In actuality, this exhibition is a thorough exploration of technology as a tool or conduit to another reality – one which I found takes ultimate form during 'Not Get'. This portion of the VR narrative utlises VIVE headsets and room-scale technology, resulting in a compelling feeling of being inside an immersive environment. Without going into further detail (so as to preserve its wonder), the experience is a thrilling unfolding within the Vulnicura saga - a masterstroke in its story-telling and overall metamorphosis.
The final two rooms extend the ideology of the Digital dialogue, however in a more archival way – The next room paying homage to Björk’s previous interactive application release Biophilia (2011), where viewers can interact with the app which merges science, musicology and technology seamlessly. The educational app, as Björk demonstrated, was picked up by Scandinavian schools and integrated into several parts of the schools' curriculum - something which she clearly regarded with high esteem as it fused both the physicality and the visual elements of creating music.
Finally, the conclusion to the exhibition sees a carefully curated programme of Björk’s entire video catalogue in the context of a cinema-room. The final room, in part, echoes the archival structure of her recent exhibition-collaboration with MOMA and brings to the fore Björk’s visual and musical oeuvre in a cohesively accessible way. Besides its technical professions, the organic delicateness behind this exhibition is never overshadowed. There is a wonderfully stoic and reflective synergism to the natural order and technology that is never lost throughout Björk Digital, yet is ever so present with the viewer for its entire duration.
Essentially, Björk is a metamorphosing musician, and more importantly (in what we can see from such projects as this), a technician of characters within a universe where sound and technology are ideally part of the same constellation. It is by no coincidence that, throughout her time promoting Björk Digital in Sydney, her insect-like appearances are in effect an expression of this metamorphoses - from the beautiful J.T.Merry headpieces which allude to anatomical, insect-structures, to her DJ-ing tunes from a personal music archive, obscured and overwhelmed by overarching plants. When it comes to Björk, expectation is usually a restrained approach to the Icelandic artist’s world - a world that she systematically offers only accessible upon those willing to be immersed within its embrace.
Björk Digital, a free event hosted by Carriageworks in collaboration with Vivid Sydney, runs until the 18th of June.