Cornucopia (Björk concert tour)
|Tour by Björk|
Official poster for Cornucopia, designed by Tobias Gremmler and M/M Paris
|Start date||May 6, 2019|
|End date||November 28, 2019|
|No. of shows||13 in North America|
5 in Europe
|Björk concert chronology|
Cornucopia (also called Björk's Cornucopia) is the tenth concert tour and first theatrical production by Icelandic singer and songwriter Björk. Debuting as a residency show on eight non consecutive nights at Manhattan's The Shed culture center, it was one of the first shows being performed at the venue, which was inaugurated in April 2019. Concepted upon Björk's ninth studio album, Utopia (2017), it is directed by Argentine film director Lucrecia Martel, and was described as the singer's "most elaborate stage concert yet."
The show featured several digital visuals created by media artist Tobias Gremmler, while Chiara Stephenson provided the stage design, which was made to resemble fungi. Onstage, Björk was backed by The Hamrahlid Choir, an Icelandic 50-people choir, which would also open the show. The live band included a 7-piece flute ensemble, an harp, percussions, electronics and also a number of bespoke instruments, which were implemented in the surround sound stage design. Björk requested a reverb chamber to feature onstage, in which she could sing before technical equipments, to mimic the way she usually compose her music. Björk and the band wore dresses by Balmain's Olivier Rousteing and Iris van Herpen. A speech by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was projected onstage as an interlude before the encore.
The performances were praised by the critics, which lauded the singer's performance and the overall production of the show. Tickets for Cornucopia sold out quickly after going on sale.
Background and concept
On 27 May 2018, Björk kicked off her Utopia Tour in London after performing two dress rehearsals in her hometown of Reykjavik. The tour lasted throughout the summer and hit many European music festivals, ending in Rome on 30 July 2018.
On 12 November 2018, Björk announced her new theatrical production / concert tour Cornucopia at The Shed, a new performing arts venue opening in Manhattan's Hudson Yards neighborhood in the Spring of 2019. She described it as her "most elaborate stage concert yet, where the acoustic and digital will shake hands, encouraged by a bespoke team of collaborators". On the musical side, these collaborators include the seven member female Icelandic flute ensemble Viibra, percussionist Manu Delago, harpist Katie Buckley, and Bergur Þórisson on electronics, all of whom performed on Björk's 2018 Utopia Tour. The show will be directed by Lucrecia Martel with stage design by Chiara Stephenson and digital visual design by Tobias Gremmler. The creative team for Cornucopia is rounded out by Margrét Bjarnadóttir (choreography), Bruno Poet (lighting design), Iris Van Herpen and Olivier Rousteing (costume design), Gareth Fry (sound design), John Gale (sound engineering), and artist James Merry, who has been a frequent collaborator and mask maker for Björk since 2011. Members of The Shed (called "Shed Movers") received early ticket access. Also unannounced was what material Björk will be playing at Cornucopia as her 2017 album, Utopia, was not referenced during the press release though the promotional art for the tour had the singer in the same outfit featured in her "Utopia" music video. On 8 January 2019, The New York Times reported the opening of The Shed as 5 April 2019, with Björk's Cornucopia opening a month later on 6 May and running for 8 performances, concluding on 1 June 2019.
On 29 April 2019, The Hamrahlid Choir was announced as part of Cornucopia’s lineup, conducted by Þorgerður Ingólfsdóttir. Björk herself was once a member of the famous choir and utilized them for the Utopia track, “Body Memory”. Airfare for the 50-person choir was provided by the Icelandic government, with Minister of Education Lilja Alfreðsdóttir saying, “the state often strengthens cultural events” and “this will be very good for all parties”. This news broke as part of an update to The Shed’s digital program for Björk’s Cornucopia which also announced new versions of classic Björk tracks “Isobel” and “Mouth’s Cradle” prepared by Utopia’s co-producer, Arca.
The day after the show opened, Björk confirmed to Dazed her plans to tour Cornucopia around the globe. On May 24, 2019, it was announced that the show would continue as a concert tour with additional shows in Mexico City. On August 5, 2019, Björk announced five additional arena shows for the tour, taking place in Belgium, Luxembourg, England, Scotland and Ireland.
Björk views Cornucopia as “digital theater” and a “sci-fi pop concert.”  She instinctively knew the music of Utopia was best suited to “a theatrical set design and staging for the songs to be semi-believable.”  The Shed’s artistic director, Alex Poots, commissioned the work and said he “would’ve been really upset if (The Shed) hadn’t seemed relevant” to Björk. They first worked together at the Manchester International Festival in 2011 when Poots, working as artistic director, commissioned the first of seven Biophilia Tour residencies. Poots admires Björk's ability to “(keep her) eyes wide open all over," her “prodigal approach to creativity” and her “yearning to reinvent.” Björk spoke equally well of Poots, complimenting his positive attitude towards “idiosyncratic ideas” and his disinterest in "differentiating between high and low arts.” Björk also described her new show as “an optimistic proposal” on how the world can deal with climate change. She envisioned a possible “postapocalyptic” future where “plants, birds and humans will merge into a new mutant species,” an idea she created sonically on Cornucopia’s 2017 parent album, Utopia. “On the album there are birds that sound like synths, synths that sound like flutes, and flutes that sound like birds... Nature will still offer energy, optimism and life. She always finds a way.”
Lucrecia Martel was brought onto the production in January 2019, replacing original director John Tiffany of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child fame. Björk described Martel as “instinctive, vibrant and fun” and Cornucopia is Martel’s first theatrical production in New York after a celebrated and ongoing career as a filmmaker in Argentina. Martel admitted to finding Björk's unique working methods and turns of phrase “a little bit hard to understand” at times and often feared, “this is a disaster,” but, she concluded, “when I see everything together, it is incredible.” While Björk did the musical arrangements, Martel added “materiality and physicality” and devised the special projection concept which throws up digital artist Tobias Gremmler’s creations against a curtain of ropes placed in front of the stage in addition to the large screen behind the performers. "The whole show," Björk said, "is a lot about females supporting each other” and she described her flute arrangements as “folk music for the future.” She sees her acoustic and electronic fusions as “ways to express the spiritual in the digital... there is an enormous need to the find a place for the soul in our global landscape.” Supporting this grassroots, female-led vision is a direct appeal for global climate reform by young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg who’s video message appears towards the end of the show unencumbered by digital effects or music. Thunberg and Björk's daughter are roughly the same age, and Björk notes that their generation “is extremely aware of the power of activism, and I'm very proud of them.” The Utopia concept is a proposal to deal with nature in “a more compassionate way... Hopefully (starting) from a female point of view will help” And, Björk concluded, after nature is brought to the brink, “we would all go to an island and become mutants between plants and birds, break off branches and make them into flutes and start playing.”
About the show
Costume designer Olivier Rousteing of Balmain revealed he's been a Björk fan since her Debut album and that Dancer In the Dark, which Björk starred in and composed the soundtrack to, is his favorite film. The Icelandic singer reached out the Rousteing after she saw Balmain's Spring 2019 couture line: “It was a curious feeling after me and (frequent collaborator) James Merry had been swirling around in our utopian hemisphere for a while to see Olivier Rousteing’s Balmain collection a few months ago and witness such an obvious overlap between both of our headspaces. We had been looking for plantlike uniforms for habitants of this sci-fi concert, and we were thrilled when we found it." "It’s often hard to describe music without words," Björk later said, "but Balmain really understands my esoteric descriptions." Rousteing had to alter each piece to fit the physical needs of Björk and the other musicians, of which he dressed 15 including Viibra, the flute septet and percussionist Manu Delago with particular attention paid to harpist Katie Buckly's outfit. In all, Balmain contributed 3 different outfits for Bjork herself to wear during Cornucopia's run at The Shed, including a new dress in Utopia's green/blue color scheme. "I think the fact that she has no boundaries with her music," Rousteing said, "that’s where we connected, and that’s what she loved about the last couture show. Is it fashion? Is it art? Is it furniture? What is that? There’s no name. You can’t put it in a box. You cannot label it, and I think that’s what she loved."
After seeing everything come together during the opening night dress rehearsal, costume designer Rousteing was moved to "tears. It was really emotional for me and sometimes I think we forget that fashion is about emotion. This was pure, beautiful emotions."
Stage and instruments
In an interview with Vogue Magazine set designer Chiara Stephenson revealed that "Björk wanted Cornucopia to be both intensely intimate, as though the audience could feel her whispering in their ear, and vast, voyeuristic and distant,". The designer was inspired by natural shapes to create the setting for the show, saying "Natural forms are at the heart... whether the intricate beauty of fungi or the grand wonder of the cosmos, there was no part of reality too big or small to consider. In the same way, Björk’s music is so personally and emotionally raw, it takes you deep into your own life experience, but is also about the human condition in general." Stephenson went on to say that she sees no separation between high and low culture and sees Björk as a "brilliant example" of someone who can "confidently" move between both worlds. She also detailed how the stage would use a surround sound system that syncs with a surround lighting, to give the audience the feeling of being surrounded by the music and the stage. Steve Jones from d&b audiotechnik explained that "Björk wanted the sound for Cornucopia to create an otherworldly sensory experience that draws the visual, aural and virtual elements together and utilizing Soundscape, from the studio composition scenario all the way through to the show performance scenario has delivered of that vision". Craig Jenkins of Vulture describes the stage by saying that "[the stage] gives the appearance of an outgrowth of oyster mushrooms, one for the singer and her harp player, Katie Buckley; another for drummer and percussionist, Manu Delago; a third for the storied Icelandic producer Bergur Þórisson; and a fourth for the flute septet, Viibra. A screen behind the flutes pumps in visuals, sometimes mined from the music videos and sometimes not, while complementary videos are displayed on either side of the band and projected on a series of translucent curtains at the front of the stage".
The show was backed by several bespoke instruments, created or modified to suit the needs of the show and the singer. The performance of "Body Memory" utilizes a unique instrument consisting of four conjoined flutes that are curved to form a circle called The Circle Flute. The instrument cannot be played by a single performer and requires four players to come together into a quartet where each player's relationship to the instrument becomes inseparable from their relationship to the others. It was designed by a Swiss/German company called Studio Brynjar & Veronika and built by flute maker Jean Yves Roosen. The show features a set of two organ pipes, which make the tone of E♭ and B-flat major, a xylosynth, an aluphone, a piezoelectric violin made by MONAD Studio and the Segulharpa, a harp whose steel strings interact with the magnetic fields created by the internal analog circuitry.
In addition to this, the show also includes a cocoon-like reverb chamber, a large pod created by meant to recreate the effect of singing alone in nature and the way she often composes music. The singer first described the concept for the chamber to Arup Group's acoustic designer Shane Myrbeck via Skype call. At first, they were to have multiple rooms on stage, but at the end the team settled for only one, with an octagonal layout with a tall roof, inspired by the architecture of cathedrals. To test the design, Björk sent the group an audio of her performing a song with a reverb effect, before completing the work in London where Björk could test the reverb room before the opening of the show. Björk admitted to being "scared" to be so raw in front of an audience.
The Hamrahlid Choir opened the evening with a 20 minute set of traditional Icelandic songs and choral arrangements of Björk's "Sonnets/Unrealities XI" and "Cosmogony". Björk emerged from "swirly helixes of color" to perform "The Gate", which segues into "Utopia" and "Arisen My Senses". The singer goes inside the reverb chamber to perform the a cappella track "Show Me Forgiveness" and "Venus as a Boy", which she hadn't performed since 2006 and 2011 respectively. Afterwards, Björk sings the Utopia album track "Claimstaker" and the second single from Post, "Isobel", which was re-imagined by Arca and features "percussive intervention". Later on, Brooklyn-based artist Serpentwithfeet joined Björk on stage for a live rendition of his duet remix of "Blissing Me". Following the performance, an video interlude projects a message about the risks of "pulling out of the Paris Agreement, while backed by a flute solo. Björk then sings "Body Memory", while accompanied by the Flute Circle and the choir. At one point during the performance, confetti resembling snow start falling on stage. Björk and the choir then sing a reworked version of "Hidden Place" and "Mouth's Cradle". Later on, Björk segues a shortened version of "Pagan Poetry" into "Losss", before singing other Utopia tracks, "Sue Me" and "Tabula Rasa". Before the encore, a video message by Greta Thunberg is shown, in which she addresses climate change and sustainable energy:
We are about to sacrifice our civilization for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. The biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. But it’s the suffering of the many which pays for the luxuries of a few. In the year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children, maybe they will spend the day with me. … Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you’re stealing their future in front of their very eyes. Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis … And if the solutions within this system are so impossible to find, then maybe we should change the system itself. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. They have run out of excuses and we are running out of time. But I’m here to tell you that change is coming, whether they like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.
Björk then returns onstage after changing into a dress by Iris van Herpen to perform "Future Forever" with the choir. She then proceeds to introduce the musicians that played with her, before closing the show with "Notget", taken from her 2015 album Vulnicura.
Björk’s Cornucopia opened to positive reviews from the music press. RockNYC gave the preview dress rehearsal an "A" grade and called it "stunning" and "the best show in town...like reality overlaid on to virtual reality" and "a world of sound like no other." Writer Imam Lababedi called Serpentwithfeet's surprise duet with Björk on "Blissing Me" and new renditions of "Isobel" and "Venus as a Boy" evening highlights and described Björk's voice as "warm and clear and confident." The Guardian labeled it "a masterclass in exploration" and Rolling Stone said the show's billing as Björk's most elaborate staged concert to date "would be a tough claim to refute". They described the digital projections against the stage's forefront curtain of threads as "jaw-dropping" and "lushly layered" and heralded the environmental message behind the show as "gloriously angry in the way Björk can be at her best" and "punk-rock Valkyrian fury."  Both publications praised the musicians that joined Björk on stage, with The Guardian signaling out The Hamrahlid Choir as opening act and support during the main show, as well as the stark, unprocessed video projection at the end of the concert by 16 year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Rolling Stone called it "a poignant passing of the torch from artist to activist" and said "it put the datastorm complexity of what came earlier into stark, simple, fittingly scary perspective."
Entertainment Weekly praised the show and its visual presentation, with journalist Leah Greenblatt describing it as "the meticulous product of her own supremely Björkian making, from the heralding trumpets and imported Icelandic choir that open the evening to the gleaming Barbarella tea-cup platforms and the mind-bending visuals, projected throughout like screensavers from a civilization much more advanced than ours". Vulture journalist Craig Jenkins billed the show as "the Wildest Visual Display in a Concert That I’ve Ever Seen". He went on to commend the show as "a dream of a future where technology and nature can commune as one. For 100 minutes, Cornucopia helps the audience to imagine that world. It is one of the most incredible displays of lights and sounds ever to grace a stage in the city". Eli Petzold from The Reykjavík Grapevine analysed the theme of the show, noting that "In Cornucopia, coherence, linearity, and familiarity are indulgences rather than givens, underscoring the overarching imperative to reject comfort and precedent in search of a better future". In a mixed review for the show, Financial Times journalist John Rockwell observed how "Björk’s remarkable ear for musical timbres can get lost in a bass-heavy sonic sludge. Her fascinating lyrics are pretty much impossible to discern, and the costumes often verge on the downright weird. The whole affair verges on emotion overcome by pretension", but concluded by writing that "there is nothing out there like Björk, in Iceland or Brooklyn or the world. She epitomises Icelandic art while transcending it". NJ.com commended the show for its promotion of climate change awareness, noting that "that's not to suggest this performance was simply a vehicle for Björk’s political views, or to say the musicians relied on the room's exceedingly advanced tech as some sort of crutch. No, the most dazzling moments came from the humans involved in this mesmerizing production, which was at once bafflingly esoteric and immediately unforgettable". Gabriela Tully Claymore of Stereogum described the show as "a sensory feast".
|"Arisen My Senses"||Utopia|
|"Show Me Forgiveness"||Medúlla|
|"Venus as a Boy"||Debut|
|6 May 2019||New York City||United States||The McCourt at The Shed||The Hamrahlid Choir||Sold Out|
|9 May 2019|
|12 May 2019|
|16 May 2019|
|22 May 2019|
|25 May 2019|
|28 May 2019|
|1 June 2019|
|17 August 2019||Mexico City||Mexico||Parque Bicentenario||TBA||N/A|
|20 August 2019|
|23 August 2019|
|27 August 2019|
|30 August 2019|
|13 November 2019||Brussels||Belgium||Forest National||TBA||N/A|
|16 November 2019||Esch-sur-Alzette||Luxembourg||Rockhal|
|19 November 2019||London||England||The O2 Arena|
|25 November 2019||Glasgow||Scotland||The SSE Hydro|
|28 November 2019||Dublin||Ireland||3Arena|
- Björk, creator, creative director, choir, flute and string arrangements, music production and musical direction
- Lucrecia Martel, director
- Tobias Gremmler, digital visuals
- James Merry, co-creative director, headpiece designer
- Chiara Stephenson, set designer
- Olivier Rousteing of Balmain, costume designer
- Iris van Herpen, costume designer
- Viibra, flute septet
- Melkorka Ólafsdóttir
- Áshildur Haraldsdóttir
- Berglind Tómasdóttir
- Steinunn Vala Pálsdóttir
- Björg Brjánsdóttir
- Þuríður Jónsdóttir
- Dagný Marinósdóttir
- Katie Buckley, harp
- Manu Delago, percussion
- Bergur Þórisson, electronics, rehearsal direction and score preparation
- The Hamrahlid Choir, choir
- Þorgerður Ingólfsdóttir, choir conductor
- Margrét Bjarnadóttir, choreographer
- Bruno Poet, lighting designer
- John Gale, sound design
- Nick Verstand, laser design
- Hungry, makeup artist
- Arca, original music co-production, new versions of "Isobel" and "Mouth's Cradle"
- Matt Robertson, rehearsal direction and score preparation
- Peter Van Der Velde, production manager
- Poul Holleman, software development
- NAP Framework, software platform
- Arup Group, reverb chamber design
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- "These sixteen pieces together make the circle flute". Retrieved 8 May 2019.
- "the circle flute played in #cornucopia consists of four conjoined flutes..." Retrieved 8 May 2019.
- Björk. "in preparation for the next performance, we wanted to share with you some of the instruments that are included in the cornucopia performance …". Facebook. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
- Wilson, Mark. "The fascinating design behind Björk's otherworldly reverb chamber, on tour now". Fast Company. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
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- Rockwell, John. "Psychedelic flowers and singsong incantations — Björk's lavish Utopia opens at The Shed, New York". Financial Times. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
- Olivier, Bobby. "Bjork's insane new theater production is an experimental artpop masterpiece: review". NJ.com. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
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