Reviews/Music/Perth Festival

Bjork’s fantastical epic a feast for the senses

5 March 2023

Bjork elevates the environment in a wondrous Cornucopia of sight and sound. An awestruck Harvey Rae believes this daring spectacle is the epitome of great festival programming.

Cornucopia, Bjork 
Langley Park, 3 March 2023 

 You might call it Avatar: The Musical

Across two hours, the comparisons to James Cameron’s epic environmental fantasy film are hard to miss. A visual spectacular and sensory experience, Cornucopia is no standard concert. It happens to us; we merely watch on in awe. We are observers, not participants.  

Based largely on Bjork’s 2017 album Utopia, it’s far from a greatest hits set. Labelled Bjork’s first theatrical production, it uses 12 of that album’s 14 songs with a splattering of more familiar numbers. The best of these is Isobel, also the oldest song of the night, dating back to 1995 album Post. It’s hardly a hit, but the familiarity is welcome. 

Capturing the fluidity of a microcosm but on an epic scale, environmental concerns are at the forefront. Never is this more profound than during the encore break, with a video of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. “It is the sufferings of the many that pays for the luxuries of the few,” she begins, before doubling down with “we cannot solve the crisis without treating it as a crisis” and “I’m here to tell you that change is coming, whether they like it or not”. It’s a moving and powerful interlude. 

Bjork wears a bustier and an emerald green dress with large puffy sleeves. She is holding a microphone to her face which is covered with a fanned mask. Behind her the shadows of musicians playing flutes and a harp are set against a large screen.
Bjork is accompanied by an array of musical wonders, including a choreographed flute section. Photo: Santiago Felipe

Created in collaboration with Argentinian film director Lucrecia Martel, two veils separate the musicians from the crowd. This has the dual effect of creating mystery early on, before enhancing the visuals to send 3D images hurtling towards us. 

Meanwhile, the musical wonders aren’t limited to Bjork’s incredible voice. Whether it’s a choreographed flute section, or percussion floating in a water bath to enhance the depth of sound, we are constantly met with otherworldly sights and sounds. 

Tying together in wondrous unison, it’s not quite VJing but the images seem to respond to the music. 

In the end, the bespoke tent seems like a better idea in theory than practice. Crammed into tiny school chairs and with very little tiered seating, compromising direct views, the venue feels more adhoc than a Fringe World spiegeltent. Would it have worked better at RAC Arena, or even Red Hill Auditorium? Perhaps. 

Musicians on stage are dwarfed by a fantasy-like image projected onto a large screen. A fairy-like creature with large eyes and flowers surrounding her face holds her hands to her face as if in surprise. Behind her are dreamy blue and pink flowers. This is Bjork's Cornucopia.
Veils separate the musicians from the crowd, adding to the mystery and enhancing the visuals. Photo: Santiago Felipe

But Perth Festival must be commended for a booking this daring. Even if the show isn’t particularly new (it debuted in 2019) and contains very little of Bjork’s 2022 album Fossora, let alone her greatest hits, this rare spectacle is what great festival programming is all about.  

For too long, east coast festivals such as Vivid Sydney and Tasmania’s Dark Mofo have held a monopoly on truly unique contemporary music events, featuring artists performing works quite differently to their standard tours. Risks such as these put Perth, and Perth Festival, on the map. 

More of this, please. 

Bjork returns to Langley Park on 6, 9 and 12 March 2023

Pictured top: The surreal visuals are as mesmerising as Bjork’s incredible voice. Photo: Santiago Felipe

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Author —
Harvey Rae

Harvey is a familiar face in the Perth arts scene, having been a journalist, promoter, events manager, artistic planner, songwriter, radio host, marketer, publicist, label owner and more. Music may be his first love, but you'll regularly find him at anything comedy, theatre or food related. Harvey gravitates towards the swings but sometimes forgets he’s too big for a playground flying fox, too.

Past Articles

  • Extreme confidence in full colour

    In a double act worthy of an arena, Living Colour and Extreme have the crowd on their feet from start to finish. Harvey Rae can’t help but join them. 

  • Who’s who elevate Timmy’s Tommy

    You Am I revisit The Who’s classic Tommy, with two of Australia’s finest rock vocalists. Harvey Rae goes on an amazing journey.

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