Back in January Vulnicura, Björk’s eighth studio album proper, emerged suddenly after an internet leak dragged forward its release. It had been intended for March: to coincide with the publication at the beginning of the month of the Björk: Archives retrospective, featuring text by critics including Alex Ross, poetry by frequent Björk collaborator Sjón, and photographs from across Björk’s music videos, record covers, and entwinements with the world of high fashion; and the opening days later, on 8 March, of the Klaus Biesenbach-curated multimedia exhibition Björk at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Made available digitally from 20 January, physical versions of Vulnicura were still held for 16 March.
With the MoMA exhibit to come, last year Björk filmed three pieces with Andrew Thomas Huang – who previously directed the video for ‘Mutual Core’ from 2011’s Biophilia. These were a moving album cover set to the Vulnicura track ‘Family’; a video for ‘Black Lake’ described by MoMA as an ‘immersive music and film experience’ with themes of ‘pain, perishing, and rebirth’, which has served as the grand finale of the exhibition; and a 360° virtual reality music video for Vulnicura opener ‘Stonemilker’.
The ‘Stonemilker’ video was filmed in Iceland in November, on Grótta, a beach with a lighthouse outside of Reykjavik. This was the site where Björk wrote the song. Also contributing to the filming were audio specialist Chris Pike and creative producer James Merry. Speaking to Dazed, Huang explained:
‘We captured “Stonemilker” in November on the westernmost tip of Reykjavik, an island called Grótta on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula, which is the very site by the lighthouse where she wrote the song and recorded much of Vulnicura. After arriving in Iceland with a variety of camera gear and open minds, and after my in-depth conversations with Bjork at her home about the circular nature of the song, we spontaneously decided to shoot a performance of “Stonemilker” on the beach where it was written, using the 360 VRSE.works camera with the intent of capturing an intimate performance for virtual reality.
Grótta was a challenging location, as our only access to the island was a rocky narrow beach frequently covered by a swift moving tide easily stranding anyone who didn’t keep watch of the clock. We only had time to plan the shoot the night before, and only 2 hours of filming due to the tide, and captured the performance in just a few takes.
Because of the all-seeing nature of this camera, my whole crew and I ducked behind boulders, leaving Bjork alone with the camera, not knowing what we would be ultimately capturing. All I remember is staring at the pearlescent purple seashells beneath my feet throughout the takes listening to her strings reverberating against the wet tidepool rocks, popping my head up occasionally to steal glances of Bjork in her duet with the camera.
The spontaneity of the experience contrasted the months of planning and designing “Black Lake,” shot in Iceland only a few months before in August. My experience with Bjork that summer involved her wearing a fitted sculptural black dress, pounding her chest in frigid temperatures, reliving her separation on camera while kneeling in a jagged ravine carved away by glaciers.
The woman we found in November was much different: her home was adorned with lilac candles, the air was moist and thick with neon yellow garments hanging and the tables covered in creamy lilac latex. There was a feeling of soft, translucent skinlike textures everywhere, evoking a sense of healing, molting and nakedness. This was the new Bjork we captured in “Stonemilker”.’
And Björk reciprocated:
‘this came about as a spontaneous fruit of mine and andrew huang´s collaboration. we had already done black lake, the “family” moving album cover and the black lake “book cover” trailer and then found us in iceland one day with nothing to do and a 360 camera lying about . we discussed its potential for intimacy and andrew then suggested we take it to the beach where the song was written . it immediately rang true for me as that location has a beautiful 360 panoramic view which matches the cyclical fugue like movement in the song . if the song has a shape it is sort of like a circle that just goes on forever .’
The video, with a 3D sound mix, was initially viewable in three locations upon the record’s physical release. Fifty album buyers at New York’s Rough Trade Brooklyn and London’s Rough Trade East were given access to virtual reality headsets across release day; and the experience has been possible at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City for the duration of the larger exhibition across the river. With Björk at MoMA coming to a close this week, the video has been rendered and released today for all to see. You can drag the screen or click in the upper-left corner to get the full 360° panoramic feel.