Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Feeling Good...


It has been a long time since I've talked about anything writing related. I don't have any major news (yet), but I'm relieved that today, officially, I have the rights to The Mistress reverted back to me. I won't get into the details about why things didn't work out with the publisher that had it. Some of you know about it, but the rest who don't, well, it doesn't really matter anymore now. I'm just happy that it's mine, and I can develop the rest of it any way that I wish. Sure, I'm a tad bit disappointed that yet again things fell through with getting this thing published, and once again it doesn't have a home. It still has never been published, but...you know, I'm honestly in no real rush or hurry to get The Mistress out there. The book is special to me in that 1) it's my first novel ever and 2) it's the only book that I've written that delves so deep and personal into my intersex experience/identity. I might take the self-publishing route with it, but then again, I'm not sure if self-publishing is for me, because financially I couldn't afford it, and because I personally want the book to be with a publisher who can try and get this book into reader's hands, and preferably, in print. I have options, which is why I'm not stressing over it really. When I'll continue to work and build on it from where I left off at Chapter 6, I'm not sure. It might sound silly, but I'm still recovering from The Man on Top of the World that outside of writing movie reviews, I haven't been driven to write or rewrite. I'm still in my "input" stage, and I'm loving it, enjoying life and not letting writing be my life. But let me tell you, something about The Mistress being free has lifted this huge weight off my shoulders. I didn't realize just how much it weighed on me until now, and now, I feel FREE. This year so far has been ROUGH, with many highs, but many lows too. I'm still hanging in there, and just...taking each day at a time. My hope and optimism keeps me sane through it all, and that's a blessing. I'm learning, doing my best to not take any blow personally or seriously, not only in the publishing world, but any world, really, outside of it. I have not a clue what the future holds, but...every day is always a new day.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Criterion Challenge: May


* 31. Badlands

Synopsis:
  
Badlands announced the arrival of a major talent: Terrence Malick. His impressionistic take on the notorious Charles Starkweather killing spree of the late 1950s uses a serial-killer narrative as a springboard for an oblique teenage romance, lovingly and idiosyncratically enacted by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. The film introduced many of the elements that would earn Malick his passionate following: the enigmatic approach to narrative and character, the unusual use of voice-over, the juxtaposition of human violence with natural beauty, the poetic investigation of American dreams and nightmares. This debut has spawned countless imitations, but none have equaled its strange sublimity.

Review:

Badlands is Lolita meets Bonnie and Clyde - so criminal, so creepy, and so wrong, and though it may not be shocking by today's standards, this movie is still pretty mesmerizing. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek are almost a little too believable in their roles as the bad boy and the Lolita-esque teenager on the run and madly, crazy in love; they make it hard to believe that they're only just acting. Even the violence---the human and the animal kind---is so real to life (no worries, no animal or person was actually really harmed in this movie!). The romanticizing of death, violence, and crime juxtapositions beautifully with the nature that surrounds them. But it's not all surface; Badlands is psychologically intense as it is also darkly comical. The impeccable use and timing of the voiceover and the film's score ties it all together into not only a unique experience, but a truly horrifying one.

32. Ballad of a Soldier

Synopsis:

Russian soldier Alyosha Skvortsov is granted a visit with his mother after he single-handedly fends off two enemy tanks. As he journeys home, Alyosha encounters the devastation of his war-torn country, witnesses glimmers of hope among the people, and falls in love. With its poetic visual imagery, Grigori Chukhrai’s Ballad of a Soldier is an unconventional meditation on the effects of war, and a milestone in Russian cinema.

Review:

Even though this is a war movie, Ballad of a Soldier is about love: the love between a man and his country, of a son and mother, and of a man and a woman. It's so poignant in its simplicity, so moving in its honesty, and so charming in its innocence. It's also one gorgeous film; the cinematography is poetic and really sweeping in its beauty. Even if you may not be a fan of war movies, this one is so worth watching because there's a whole lot to admire, and simply, it's one that you will never forget.

* 33. The Ballad of Narayama

Synopsis:

This haunting, kabuki-inflected version of a Japanese folk legend is set in a remote mountain village where food is scarce and tradition dictates that citizens who have reached their seventieth year must be carried to the summit of Mount Narayama and left there to die. The sacrificial elder at the center of the tale is Orin (Kinuyo Tanaka), a dignified and dutiful woman who spends her dwindling days securing the happiness of her loyal widowed son with a respectable new wife. Filmed almost entirely on cunningly designed studio sets, in brilliant color and widescreen, The Ballad of Narayama is a stylish and vividly formal work from Japan’s cinematic golden age, directed by the dynamic Keisuke Kinoshita.

Review:

This is one strange film, and I'm not putting that lightly. The Ballad of Narayama is brutal: brutally sexual, brutally violent, and through it all, brutally human. And the movie doesn't take any of this lightly as it introduces us to this village and its people and all their hardships, from a family being buried alive, from a young man seeking "sexual relief" with a neighbor's dog, from a mother finding a woman, any woman, to take her son's virginity, and onward to the ultimate sacrifice, of a son carrying his mother, Narayama, to her death at the top of a mountain, which is a brutal journey in and of itself. This movie isn't for the faint of heart; everything is pretty graphic and hardcore. And what does it all mean? What does one get out of this movie? If anything, is that humanity can be pretty sick, and that's part of the beauty of this movie, is just how vividly, in such a surreal and tender way, it gets that message across. 

34. Band of Outsiders

Synopsis:

Four years after Breathless, Jean-Luc Godard reimagined the gangster film even more radically with Band of Outsiders (Bande à part). In it, two restless young men (Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur) enlist the object of both of their fancies (Anna Karina) to help them commit a robbery—in her own home. This audacious and wildly entertaining French New Wave gem is at once sentimental and insouciant, effervescently romantic and melancholy, and it features some of Godard’s most memorable set pieces, including the headlong race through the Louvre and the unshakably cool Madison dance sequence.

Review:

I've seen this in almost every college French and film class, and I'm still not blown away by it. I love it more for its style, cinematography, literary references, and editing than for its story, which is interesting and kind of funny on the surface, but is actually pretty boring, at least to me. But Band of Outsiders does have a charm about it, and has some pretty cute and endearing moments, like that Madison dance sequence and the Louvre scene. So what it lacks in plot, it makes up for in its suave and cool style. It's definitely not the ordinary gangster film. It's not for everyone, but if anything, this movie does what very few gangster films (not even the great ones) will do: make you smile.

35. The Bank Dick

Synopsis:

W.C. Fields stars as an unemployed, henpecked drunk who spends most of his time at the Black Pussy Cat café. Things take a turn for the absurd when he unwittingly captures a bank robber and lands a job as a security guard. Written by Fields under the pseudonym Mahatma Kane Jeeves and featuring one of his most hilarious performances, The Bank Dick is an undisputed classic of American comedy.

Review:

This is classic comedy right here. It's only 75-minutes, but this gem turns every minute into gold. More absurd than the story is the main character of The Bank Dick; he's so repulsive and unlikeable, and yet only W.C. Fields can make a man like that get away with his tomfoolery, and make you laugh out loud while he does it. There are so many hilarious moments in this film; it's all very vaudeville and slapstick---so dated by today's standards of course---but surprisingly, it's still laughable and even charming. This is just one funny film from one unique comedian from America's Golden Age of comedy.  

36. The Battle of Algiers

Synopsis:

One of the most influential political films in history, The Battle of Algiers, by Gillo Pontecorvo, vividly re-creates a key year in the tumultuous Algerian struggle for independence from the occupying French in the 1950s. As violence escalates on both sides, children shoot soldiers at point-blank range, women plant bombs in cafés, and French soldiers resort to torture to break the will of the insurgents. Shot on the streets of Algiers in documentary style, the film is a case study in modern warfare, with its terrorist attacks and the brutal techniques used to combat them. Pontecorvo’s tour de force has astonishing relevance today.

Review:

Based on a true story, The Battle of Algiers is so full of heart, passion, and power. It's documentary-like in style, very gritty, raw, and authentic, filmed through the lens of a savvy and intelligent director who also put his own personal experiences into this gripping story. The cast is largely non-professional actors, and it was financially assisted by the Algerian government. The result of all this makes it no wonder that the film is so nail-biting, depicting both sides of conflict fairly, and why the horrifying scenes feels and looks so graphic. Even the film score (co-composed by Pontecorvo himself and the great Ennio Morricone) is quite something. This movie was released in 1965, but it still has relevance--it's one of those films that's simply timeless.

* 37. The Beales of Grey Gardens

Synopsis:

The 1976 cinema vérité classic Grey Gardens, which captured in remarkable close-up the lives of the eccentric East Hampton recluses Big and Little Edie Beale, has spawned everything from a midnight-movie cult following to a Broadway musical, to an upcoming Hollywood adaptation. The filmmakers then went back to their vaults of footage to create part two, The Beales of Grey Gardens, a tribute both to these indomitable women and to the original landmark documentary’s legions of fans, who have made them American counterculture icons.

Review:

Big and Little Edie Beale are the world's first reality TV stars, and Grey Gardens was indeed like something straight out of fiction, but the fact that their riches-to-rags story is real is what makes these people and the original movie hilarious, frightening, sadistic, charming, and just...zany as hell. It's no wonder that Grey Gardens became a midnight-movie cult classic that inspired a Broadway musical and a Hollywood adaptation, and why Big and Little Edie are counterculture figures. Gone but never forgotten, Big and Little Edie also live on in part two of Grey Gardens, The Beales of Grey Gardens, that's remarkably as amazing as Grey Gardens. It's instantly charming and weird from the get-go with Little Edie singing "You Ought to Be in Pictures", outside in front of their run-down East Hampton mansion, showing off some leg, sass, and glamor. It's chilling, and inspiring, that from decline these two characters can rise up against it and make each day bright even when they're in a living hell, and they even make hell seem like a hell of a lot of fun, even if their idea of fun is pretty depressing and bleak. Their eccentricity is simply wonderful, and this documentary showcases that in a more down-to-earth fashion, tearing away the camp and showing us the real Big and Little Edie Beale. For certain, you'll never forget these two, nor Grey Gardens, and not even this. All a classic in every way.

* 38. Beauty and the Beast

Synopsis:

Jean Cocteau’s sublime adaptation of Mme. Leprince de Beaumont’s fairy-tale masterpiece—in which the pure love of a beautiful girl melts the heart of a feral but gentle beast—is a landmark of motion picture fantasy, with unforgettably romantic performances by Jean Marais and Josette Day. The spectacular visions of enchantment, desire, and death in Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête) have become timeless icons of cinematic wonder.

Review:

There's no adaptation of Beauty and the Beast like this one. To say it's beautiful and magical is an understatement. More than that, it is surreal, courageous, and passionate, as it's loud and clear that Jean Cocteau is faithful to the beloved fairytale but then is also honest to his natural instincts as a visionary, artist, and director. This movie is flawless. Every character is unforgettable. Jean Marais as the beast and Josette Day as Belle obviously are the centerpiece of this divine landmark of not just French cinema, but cinema as a whole. Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast may be 69 years old, but how remarkable that it is still, after all these years, truly timeless, as iconic as the fairytale itself.

* 39. Bed and Board

Synopsis:

The fourth installment in François Truffaut’s chronicle of the ardent, anachronistic Antoine Doinel, Bed and Board plunges his hapless creation once again into crisis. Expecting his first child and still struggling to find steady employment, Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) involves himself in a relationship with a beautiful Japanese woman that threatens to destroy his marriage. Lightly comic, with a touch of the burlesque, Bed and Board is a bittersweet look at the travails of young married life and the fine line between adolescence and adulthood.

Review:

This is the fourth installment of the Antoine Doinel series, and I think that it's by far the most entertaining and accessible one. Antoine isn't this annoying and creepy kid anymore, but yet he's not really all-grown-up either, very much in an awkward stage between still being that boy while growing into a man. Except that he's a husband and a father this time around, which needless to say, both enriches and complicates his life that's far from boring. Like all the films in this series, the charm of Antoine Doinel is that anybody can relate to him, because in many ways, a lot of us have been like him, and maybe some of us still are, especially in this Bed and Board stage of Antoine's life. This film entirely works as a comedy with some touches of sweetness. You can't start this one without having seen the other films in the series (The 400 Blows, Antoine and Colette, Stolen Kisses, and the last installment, Love on the Run), but once you get to Bed and Board, you'd be hard pressed not to love it.

* 40. Before the Rain


Synopsis:

The first film made in the newly independent Republic of Macedonia, Milcho Manchevski’s Before the Rain crosscuts the stories of an orthodox Christian monk (Grégoire Colin), a British photo agent (Katrin Cartlidge), and a native Macedonian war photographer (Rade Šerbedžija) to paint a portrait of simmering ethnic and religious hatred about to reach its boiling point. Made during the strife of the war-torn Balkan states in the nineties, this gripping triptych of love and violence is also a timeless evocation of the loss of pastoral innocence, and remains one of recent cinema’s most powerful laments on the futility of war.

Review:

This was one of the most emotionally heavy, gripping, and heart-wrenching movies that I've seen in a long time. Released in the mid-90's, it's remarkable how it feels as if Before the Rain was released in 2015. But then I suppose perhaps that's the point: Before the Rain is a timeless story about religion, spirituality, the futility of war, and the clash between the ancient versus modern Macedonia, how be they separate or apart, different or the same, all is futile. There's always this sense that life in and of itself is an all or nothing affair, no matter if it's affairs of war, affairs of one's country, affairs of one's religion, or affairs of the heart. At the heart of this film is a very simple, introvert story that screams louder than words; it's the pictures and images that has the final say. Not only does this movie beautifully craft a story around ethnic violence in Macedonia, but it also expertly uses multiple narratives that makes sense, keeps the tale moving, and makes it more engrossing. Of all the movies I've watched this month, Before the Rain is one that I highly recommend seeing the most. It's incredible.

The movies omitted from this month's challenge are:

The Bakery Girl of Monceau

Synopsis:

Simple, delicate, and jazzy, the first of the “Moral Tales” shows the stirrings of what would become the Eric Rohmer style: unfussy naturalistic shooting, ironic first-person voice-over, and the image of the “unknowable” woman. A law student (played by producer and future director Barbet Schroeder) with a roving eye and a large appetite stuffs himself full of sugar cookies and pastries daily in order to garner the attentions of the pretty brunette who works in a quaint Paris bakery. But is he truly interested, or is she just a sweet diversion?

The Beastie Boys Video Anthology

Synopsis:

The Beastie Boys are among the most influential groups of the last two decades. As their music has opened hip-hop to a wider audience and changed the parameters of its sound, their ambitious music videos have carried the medium to new levels of artistic expression. This groundbreaking two-disc anthology showcases the vast potential of DVD technology, with most of the eighteen videos containing alternate visual angles and multiple audio tracks. There are hundreds of possible image and sound combinations, including new surround mixes, a cappella versions, instrumentals, and more than 40 remixes (by such artists as Moby, Fatboy Slim and the Prunes), including many new remixes created exclusively for this release. Loaded with never-before-seen footage and unreleased music tracks, this special edition also contains a trove of rare still photos and exclusive audio commentary by the band and the video directors. And the coup de grâce; the world-premiere director’s cut of Nathanial Hornblower’s “Intergalactic” spin-off “The Robot vs. the Octopus Monster Saga.”

Le Beau Serge

Synopsis:

Of the hallowed group of Cahiers du cinéma critics turned filmmakers who transformed French film history, Claude Chabrol was the first to direct his own feature. His absorbing landmark debut, Le beau Serge, follows a successful yet sickly young man (Jean‑Claude Brialy) who returns home to the small village where he grew up. There, he finds himself at odds with his former close friend (Gérard Blain)—now unhappily married and a wretched alcoholic—and the provincial life he represents. The remarkable and stark Le beau Serge heralded the arrival of a cinematic titan who would go on to craft provocative, entertaining films for five more decades.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Björk Marathon: Vulnicura

To celebrate the announcement today that Björk has made it on Time 100's The World's Most Influential People list this year, I think it's more than appropriate to kick off the last (for now) segment of the Björk marathon, focusing on her newest released album, Vulnicura. 

In May 2013,  Björk told the San Francisco Bay Guardian that she was in the early stages of her new album, and in that same month, she told the San Francisco Chronicle that she had "enough songs that I'm ready to see the next thing." She had been working with Venezuelan producer Arca, who co-produced with her, having no clue that Arca had worked with Kanye West on the BRILLIANT  Yeezus and FKA twigs EP2, and being somewhat turned off that Arca was such a fan, knowing her songs better than even she did, but finding that she and Arca had a fabulous connection as artists and friends. And she had also worked with The Haxan Cloak, another major collaborator in helping to produce the album with Björk. When word got around that two well-known, respected, and talented producers like Arca and The Haxan Cloak would be working with Björk, needless to say, fans were extremely excited, but then fans (me included, of course) nearly had an orgasm when on January 13, 2015, Björk posted this on her Facebook page:


And then, 3 days later, on January 16, 2015, she posted this picture on her Facebook page, including a message:

 yes !

new york , here are your vulnicura tour dates ! they are for real ! hope you enjoy them !

first we have

march 7 - carnegie hall ( 12pm matinee show )
tickets : http://bit.ly/1DQU1mx

march 14 - carnegie hall ( 12pm matinee show )
tickets : http://bit.ly/1BO7SrP

and then there's

march 25 - city center ( 8pm evening show )
march 28 - city center ( 12pm matinee show )
april 1 - city center ( 8pm evening show )
april 4 - city center ( 12pm matinee show )
tickets : http://bit.ly/15eJTp5

and of course


june 5-7 - governor's ball

see you soon !

photo : james merry


And that was when the madness began with me getting tickets for the Carnegie Hall shows and some of the New York City Center shows! Lucky for me, I got tickets for four shows, two for all Carnegie shows and two for the New York City Center shows. The April 4th show would be cancelled. In place of that, she added shows on March 18th and March 22nd at Brooklyn's Kings Theatre.

Then, not long after this announcement, the first-ever Vulnicura era interview was posted on Pitchfork in what is the most emotional interview that I've ever read from Björk. So heartwrenching. 

Another great interview (the 2nd from the Vulnicura era) that I highly recommend reading as well is the underrated Reykjavik Grapevine interview, Björk's Folk Music.

Vulnicura means "Cure for Wounds" (Vulnus + Cura) and she described it as:

"...a more traditional album than Biophilia for what concerns songwriting. It's about what may come to a person at the end of a relationship. It talks about the dialogues we may have in our heads and in our hearts, the healing processes."

Right away, it was clear that Björk's newest album would be a heartbreak album, giving us a devastating listen into the dissolution of her 13-year relationship with Matthew Barney.

After only just days of the album being announced, 2 months ahead of schedule, Vulnicura was leaked online. Björk had no other choice but to release the album digitally just days later, while having the physical release of the album still remain as a late-March release date.

So on January 20th, 2015, Björk gave us her most vulnerable and personal album of her career:


And in case some of you have missed it, here's my review of it.

I've listened to this album hundreds of times now practically, and I'm still touched and moved to tears by the raw emotion of this record. Every song is just beautiful, the string arrangements really do harken back to Homogenic, and the depth of emotion and sound is very much a throw back to Vespertine, but Vulnicura is its own masterpiece. All the positive and glowing reviews for Vulnicura were so well-deserved. And the praise for her first Carnegie Hall show was well-deserved as well.

Here's my review of that March 7th, Carnegie Hall show.


My favorite of all the NYC shows I went to for me was the first New York City Center show on March 25th, where I was front row, and truly able to see Björk's raw emotion. Just seeing her up close and personal (as I also had experienced with her Biophilia shows) is always out of this world, truly!

With the release of this album was not only the NYC shows to look forward to, but also her MoMA exhibit that opened to the public on March 8th (the day after her March 7th concert), and will end on June 7th, 2015.


I didn't review the MoMA exhibit on the blog (surprising, right?), but I'll say this: the exhibit was panned by critics, and in many ways, I agree with them. The MoMA exhibit was presented well (as you can see from the clip), but...there wasn't much in the exhibit. What was there was beautiful, gorgeous, and fascinating, but there was no historical basis or depth behind anything, and instead gave off an almost touristy Madame Tussauds meets Hard Rock Cafe feel to what should have been a far better exhibit. But, it is worth seeing, and it was and still is a crowd pleaser. The best part of the exhibit wasn't the "Soundlines" but the commissioned music video of Black Lake, which was extraordinary, so much so that every time I saw it, everyone in the audience would clap afterwards!


And the inclusion of a theater where everyone can watch all of Björk's music videos from Debut to Vulnicura (with the new addition of Lionsong) is a pretty nice touch, because it's where her art speaks for itself. Speaking of Lionsong, here's that music video:


Sure, the MoMA exhibit wasn't all it could and should have been, but it's still a well-deserved exhibit from one of the world's most extraordinary and unique artists.

There would also be a music video for Stonemilker, released March 22nd but only at MoMA PS1, available for only the Oculus Rift at the time, until June 5th when it was shared on Dazed.

This music video is "revolutionary" because the viewer can virtually explore the music video and the gorgeous landscapes of Iceland, with Björk dancing wherever direction you turn. Pretty cool.


And to be bought either online or at the MoMA book store is a new book called Björk: Archives, written by the guy that I'm happy to call a friend, Sjón, curator Klaus Biesenbach, Alex Ross, Nicola Dibben, and naturally, Björk.



The physical release of Vulnicura finally made its debut on March 23, 2015, with a special deluxe edition that has the slipcase cover. I've also ordered the LP copy of Vulnicura, which I believe may also be the same cover as the slipcase. So many fans really hated this cover and thought it "ugly" and "dated" looking, and at first, I was kind of shocked by its grotesqueness, but...it all makes sense. This cover is her expression of her heartbreak/break up with Matthew Barney: ugly, open, and gutted.


And this cover looks shinier and actually very pretty in person than it does on this picture!

A little later after the debut of this new cover art, Björk posted on her Facebook page the "moving album cover" which is as devastating and yet beautiful as the entire album itself:


To celebrate the release of Vulnicura and the opening of the MoMA exhibit, Björk's entire back catalog (as a solo artist) was released in limited edition colored vinyl! 

You can find my review of ALL these LPs here

I've said this from the beginning, 2015 is a very good year to be a Björk fan!

Since this album is still oh so new, there's no conclusion to this era, yet. But, there's still more to come. Sadly, the day after Björk's last NYC concert for Vulnicura, Matthew Barney sued Björk for custody of their daughter, claiming that he wants more time with the child and that she's "hogging the child" and is only looking out for her "selfish needs" because she's the mother. I sensed something was unusual when that night, Björk didn't sing a single Vespertine song like she had with all the shows, didn't introduce the band, and she ended the evening singing Mouth Mantra, changing into this attire, looking as if she was a football player ready for battle:


That's only my interpretation and observation, of course, but I doubt any of this was by accident or coincidence. I really hope the two will settle out of court, and that things won't get any more uglier than it already is.

Björk will be performing in Europe from July to November. On May 15th, 2015 she was a surprise DJ for the birthday of Tri Angle Label, and she shared the hour-long set with us on May 18th. It's orgasmic!


 https://soundcloud.com/bjork/bjork-tri-angle-records-birthday-dj-set

(And that mask? Leigh Bowery realness!)

This give us a gorgeous insight into Björk's favorite vocalists and favorite beats (naturally, she credits those artists in her set when she announced it). Her "tune-tinder" is as magical as she is, really.

What will be happening from there - who knows!

As of now, all we have from Björk is Vulnicura, the MoMA exhibit (and its oh so many Björk merchandise - the only place where I've ever saw that many Björk stuff in one place!), Lionsong, Stonemilker, the moving album cover, and to those who have gone to them, memories from the NYC Vulnicura shows. Oh, and of course, these lovely Vulnicura-era photo shoots! :

                                                            By Alasdair McLellan

 

By Inez + Vinoodh - New York Times


By Inez + Vinoodh - T Magazine


By Inez + Vinoodh - Vulnicura

Björk Marathon: Biophilia

Björk's next project would become a lot of things, rooted from her passion for nature and environmental concerns. After finding the Náttúra foundation and releasing the single Náttúra, Björk wrote an article for The Times discussing the Icelandic financial crises and proposing a sale of natural resources to help with the situation. She also collaborated with Audur Capital to set up a venture capital fund to support sustainable industries in Iceland. On top of collaborating on a nature-themed album with Dirty Projectors, Björk wrote an article to the Reykjavík Grapevine calling on the Icelandic government to "do everything in its power to revoke the contracts with Magma Energy," when at the time Magma acquired 98.5% of shares in the Icelandic geothermal power company HS Orka. After Björk's deal was approved by the Icelandic government, Björk launched a petition and promoted it by hosting a concert at the Nordic House. Near the end of 2010, she confirmed that she was working on a new album, and stated in the Icelandic newspaper, Fréttablaðið, that the project was almost complete and that it should be ready by the end of 2011. In early 2011, Björk started a 3-day public karaoke marathon to further protest the Magma Energy deal, which got the petition over 47K people, and got it welcomed by Icelandic Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir. Then, not long after, the app Solar System, made by Touch Press, introduced a new instrumental track composed by Björk, which officially confirmed that the new album, Biophilia, was on its way. Then, more details were announced about the project once it was announced that the first Biophilia live show would take place at the Manchester International Festival in June 2011. Biophilia was stated to:

"...to encompass music, apps, internet, installations and live shows."

And Björk gave details about the background of Biophilia:

"I was off all my record deals, [...] so I felt I was off the grid, [...] so in that sense it was kind of crossroads project for me. On another level, at the end of the last project I lost my voice, [I] had a vocal nodule, [...] I didn't even know if I could sing again, so I had to redefine different techniques. And then, all these situation were happening in Iceland, the Bank crush, so I got really involved in environmental stuff [there]. So, on so many different levels, there was this message that all the old systems don't work anymore, you gotta clear your table and start from scratch."

The album was supposed to be released around the beginning of the Manchester residency, but was confirmed for release in Fall 2011, to be released in 4 editions, the standard edition album, the deluxe edition (which contained 3 additional tracks), a special Manual edition (that one I own, it includes standard CD, a live recording of the Manchester show, and a gorgeous 48-page booklet), and the Ultimate Art Edition, which has the album contained in a wooden box with 10 chromed tuning forks, each one adjusted to the tone of a Biophilia track, covering a complete octave in a non-conventional scale. This was limited to only 200 copies and hand made to order.




With all these details, Björk updated her website and introduced her new logo, the "musical compass."


And then, at last, the Biophilia cover art was revealed:


Björk described the character on this cover as being a "frustrated music teacher" (with one amazing harp corset!) with her "head in the clouds" to explain the scientific concepts of the album, and that the red wig (resembling a nebula) was to be worn for this entire era and promotion to make it easier for Björk as this character to explain to her collaborators and to the world.

The album's release date was postponed, pushed back to two weeks, because Björk wasn't satisfied with the way the album was mastered, that it needed more "depth." With the help of Mandy Parnell, long-time collaborator Leila Arab, and drum and bass artist Current Value, they and Björk quickly went back to the studio to re-work the mastering again. Around this time, the album was leaked three works prior to its release date, which forced the album to be released worldwide the following days later.

When I first listened to this album, I didn't love it, but I definitely thought that it was a better album than Volta. It took many, many listens for me to really appreciate the album for all of its complexities, musically, sonically, lyrically, and emotionally. My favorites off Biophilia are:

Moon

Thunderbolt

Cosmogony

Sacrifice


Solstice 


And though the album may have gone over some fans' heads and may still be one of those Björk albums that many fans can say that they appreciated but can't say that they love (at the concerts, many have told me that they've only listened it to it a few times since its release in 2011), the album would chart pretty well, not one of her bestsellers or highest or fastest selling. Nonetheless, the album would be critically acclaimed by critics and would be on over nineteen Best Album of 2011 lists and was nominated and won many accolades for Björk and her collaborators for the technology.

Okay, I already warned in advance that this album era is meaty. Basically, on top of the album itself, it encomposed many new inventions conceived by Björk that was used for many tracks on the album and accompanied on the Biophilia tour:

The Gravity Harps


Used on "Solstice," this was made from grouping pendulums together, so as they moved, it transmitted the movements of the Earth to the sound of the harp, creating the tune for "Solstice."

The Gameleste

 
A mixture between a gamelan and a celesta which was programmed in order to play remotely by a tablet computer, this instrument was used for "Crystalline" and "Virus."

Though not a new musical instrument of course,  the Tesla coil was used as a musical instrument for "Thunderbolt."


And then, the MOTHER of this project was the apps, which made the Biophilia album the first-ever "app album." The Biophilia app consisted of 10 separate apps for each album. I don't own the apps and have never interacted with them, but they look nice, based on what I've seen from the demos:


I also found it fascinating how complex and interactive these apps are. Pretty cool and innovative!

And Björk herself also explains how every single apps can be used. Here's an example of one of them, for Mutual Core. Look how adorable and giddy she is when talking about science!


Four singles were released for the Biophilia era:

Crystalline.


Cosmogony

(No official music video was made for this one, but this fan one is nice!)

Virus

(Not the official music video either, just the app)

Moon


These videos weren't singles, but they were released nonetheless:

Hollow

(taken from the app)

Mutual Core


Björk mostly promoted this album through music criticism websites, like Stereogum, Drowned in Sound, Pitchfork, and Rolling Stoned. She was featured on the front cover of Dazed & Confused and hosted as guest editor for the 200th issue.


And she was on the cover of Billboard magazine. She also gave various radio interviews to discuss the scientific concepts of Biophilia. She restrained from doing any TV interviews for this album, but she performed songs from it on these shows:

Later...With Jools Holland

Here she performed  "Crystalline", "Cosmogony", and "Thunderbolt."


The Colbert Report, where she performed "Cosmogony."


And naturally, of course, the Biophilia tour was the core of promotion and a huge part of the era.  

The Biophilia Tour toured the world for two whole years, and I went to two of the Biophilia shows, both in the now defunct tiny and intimate Roseland Ballroom venue in NYC, on February 22 and February 25, 2012. What was so fascinating about this tour was how for every show, the stage was in-the-round, so you really got many different point of views of the show and got to also be close and intimate to not only Björk and her choir, but the instruments. The only thing that was awkward about these shows was that a lot of people didn't seem that much into the Biophilia songs, but everyone loved the Biophilia-themed arrangements for the older tracks (like "Hidden Place," "Generous Palmstroke," "Sonnets/Unrealities," "Where is the Line," "Possibly Maybe," and "Declare Independence), which were absolutely stunning, especially hearing "Possibly Maybe" with the Tesla coil. Regardless though, I'd say that Biophilia live was one of Björk's best tours that so beautifully showcased all that the Biophilia album is all about, exploring sound, nature, science, and technology.

Throughout the tour, Björk also promoted the Biophilia educational program, another layer of the Biophilia project, which consisted of workshops for schoolchildren that explore the intersection between science and music, teaching students age 10-12, using the Biophilia apps as a starting point.

Here's Björk herself explaining the program, and the kids showing how much they love it:



The program was so successful that The Reykjavik City Board of Education brought the program to schools all over the city over the next three years.

And on June 11, 2014, the Biophilia app became the first-ever downloadable app included as a permanent fixture at the New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Senior curator Paola Antonelli commented about this inclusion:

"Björk has never ceased to experiment and surprise. The multidimensional nature of her art—in which sound and music are the spine, but never the confines, for multimedia performances that also encompass graphic and digital design, art, cinema, science, illustration, philosophy, fashion, and more—is a testament to her curiosity and desire to learn and team up with diverse experts and creators. It was just a matter of time before she would invade and conquer the territory of design. [...] With Biophilia, Björk truly innovated the way people experience music by letting them participate in performing and making the music and visuals, rather than just listening passively."

Prior to this, in July 2013, the documentary, When Björk Met Attenborough, aired in the UK on Channel 4. Sir David Attenborough and Björk meet to discuss the relationship between the human relationship with music, tying in the themes of Biophilia.



To have two legends in one place discussing their passions that though seemingly different are pretty similar, it's pretty wonderful, and this documentary was definitely as wonderful as it was thrilling, insightful, educational, and inspiring. Though the reviews for this documentary was moderately positive, with many critics saying that their meeting was "awkward" and not much more than a promo tool for Biophilia, I really enjoyed it for what the documentary is. And I thought that Björk was so adorably shy around Sir David, and Sir David was very much like some grandfather figure with her as they discussed music and nature. I highly recommend viewing this. It's lovely.

In June 2014, Björk recorded original vocal samples for the Death Grips to use on all 8 songs of their double LP, Niggas On The Moon/The Powers That B.


And lastly, to end this pretty ambitious album era, Björk released a concert film in late 2014 called Björk: Biophilia Live.


This concert was filmed at Alexandria Palace in London on September 3, 2013. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 26, 2014, and screened across the world throughout the year, in more than 400 cinemas.


If you haven't been able to see one of her Biophilia shows, basically, this DVD is for those who can experience what those shows were like, and it is also a nice keepsake for those who have gone to the shows. This was at a much larger venue than the shows that I have gone to, but the filming still showcased the intimacy and uniqueness of what this event was. Being at the shows, I couldn't imagine how the concert would look like on film, because for some reason, Biophilia live just didn't seem made for the screen. This concert film proved me wrong. They captured everything at their right moments, and overall, this was just one very well made and well shot concert! I'd say that this is one of the best concert DVDs of Björk, definitely one if not the sharpest in quality, that's for sure. The concert film was very successful and rated highly as well. Björk was going to appear at one of the screenings for the film, until...she had to cancel. Her only explanation: to record a new album.