Music is a fluid, ineffable phenomenon, triggering everything from repressed emotions to unexplained reserves of energy in its listeners. Music is also a product of math and science, the thing that happens when a string is struck and the resulting sound waves find their way to our ears.
Björk's Biophilia, which was released in the fall of 2011 and will be performed in-the-round in Richmond's Craneway Pavilion on May 22, 25 and 28, 2013, explores the nexus of music and science as only the diminutive Icelandic artist can. While the mechanics of sound (the struck string, etc.) are definitely a part of Björk's A/V-geek investigation, she's more interested in what music can tell us about our DNA, the interaction between a virus and a cell, the growth of crystals, the structure of the Earth, indeed, the very order of the cosmos.
When Biophilia debuted in the United States in New York in 2012, more than half the performances in its 11-night run were held at the New York Hall of Science at the site of the 1964 World's Fair in Queens. For her Northern California dates, the first stop on a six-city North America tour that ends at the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago, Björk has selected a similarly out-of-the-way space in the Craneway Pavilion. Designed by Albert Kahn, the building opened in 1931 as a Ford assembly plant and was retooled during World War II for tank and jeep production. Today, it's part of a complex that includes the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park.
The exterior of Craneway Pavilion, Richmond, California.
As in New York, the current tour will include educational programs for school kids (for the Richmond dates, these will occur at the Exploratorium), revolving around the enhanced, interactive versions of the album created for the iPad. San Francisco gets Björk's music-education curriculum for three days; Reykjavík middle schools have made Biophilia a core part of their teaching materials for three years.
With its high ceilings, 40,000 panes of glass and industrial vibe, Craneway promises to be a good home for Biophilia, as the live performance (see below) of "Thunderbolt," a track from the album, suggests. I mean, do you really want to see a MIDI-controlled pipe organ, a gravity harp, a pair of musical Tesla coils and a 24-member choir of Icelandic women hemmed in by the beautiful confines of The Fox? Probably not.
And then there's Björk's voice, as mysterious as the viruses, crystals, moving tectonic plates, and miracles she sings about. That, too, seems to cry out for a space that understands technology, a venue that has seen raw materials combined to make something new and greater than the sum of its parts. By the end of the show, you may not be humming Björk's melodies, such as they are, to songs like "Crystalline," "Dark Matter" and "Mutual Core," but it's a good bet you'll be infected by the science bug that bit Björk.
Björk performs Biophilia and pieces from other albums at Craneway Pavilion in Richmond on May 22, 25 and 28, 2013. For tickets and more information, visit livenation.com.