Music

Björk’s Kórsafn: a choral retrospective

The Icelandic musician brought her choral arrangements to life with AI at Sister City.

Singer, songwriter, producer, and creative force majeure, Icelandic artist Björk opened up her archives to reimagine choral arrangements created over the course of her career in a singular, AI-empowered installation work.

Made in collaboration with New York’s design-centric Sister City hotel and Microsoft, the result is Kórsafn—an AI-powered composition that builds on the generative soundscape concept that Sister City launched with Julianna Barwick in 2019. In Icelandic, “kór” = “choral,” and “safn” = “archives.”

"an architectural structure downtown manhattan offered me the hand in an AI tango and i accepted the call, i am alert with curiosity waiting the results. i offered them my choir archives, written over 17 years that will float through the pinball of artificial intelligence by the grid of bird migrations, clouds, aeroplanes and that voluptuous thing called barometer ! hudson valley happens to be one of the most bird-trafficked deltas on the planet, i know this of my own experience .... hope you will enjoy this ! warmth björk"

Musician Björk, holding a microphone, stands in profile on stage in an elaborate costume designed by Iris Van Herpern evoking orchids and birds of paradise.

When you entered Sister City in New York City, you were greeted by recombined snippets of various arrangements written by Björk. Some were even performed by the Hamrahlid Choir—an acclaimed Icelandic 50-person choir considered a national treasure in its own right, and which Björk performed in when she was younger.

Members of the Hamrahlid Choir (male and female Icelandic college students) face the camera and stand in rows singing, while being conducted
Iceland’s celebrated Hamrahlid Choir rehearses one of Björk’s choral arrangements for a live performance at Sister City.
Listen to a selection from Björk’s Kórsafn.

This soundscape lived and evolved thanks to Microsoft AI. Similar to the earlier iteration, the images and sounds in the installation were altered in real-time via a camera perched on the roof of Sister City. However, the AI in this version was more advanced; continuously training itself to find and identify a wider variety of objects in the sky above the hotel, and translating them with better accuracy and in much higher detail. It didn’t just find clouds, but denoted the density and type of cloud, whether cumulus or nimbus; it identified not just a single bird, but an entire flock.

As the AI learned to identify new objects, the choral arrangements would themselves continue to evolve, taking on greater nuance and complexity.

While Sister City is currently closed due to Covid-19, you can hear selections of this evolving soundscape, composed by Björk and AI, via the video above.