Music

Björk’s Kórsafn: a choral retrospective

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

Singer, songwriter, producer, and creative force majeure, Icelandic artist Björk has opened up her archives to showcase some of her choral arrangements that she’s created over the course of her career.

Collaborating 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.

Now when you enter Sister City in New York City, you will hear recombined snippets of various arrangements written by Björk. Some are 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 is a living and evolving soundscape, thanks to Microsoft AI. Similar to the earlier iteration, the images in the installation are powered by a camera perched on the roof of Sister City. However, the AI in this version is more advanced; it’s continuously being trained and learning to identify more objects in the sky above the hotel. It can find and understand with better accuracy a wider range of objects, in much higher detail. So it doesn’t just find clouds, but denotes the density and type of cloud, whether cumulus or nimbus. And it won’t just find a bird, but will also distinguish an entire flock of birds.

All that accuracy and evolution means that the choral arrangements you hear will change over time as well, as the AI learns to identify new objects.

Off

Visit Sister City and keep an ear open for these evolving bursts of song, composed by Björk and AI.

Photo of the NYC skyline featuring the Empire State Building, with an animation of a flock of birds flying across the image, from left to right. Boxes appear over the birds as they fly.
Hear Kórsafn for yourself
Sister City has a live feed of the roof camera on their website, allowing you to see the NYC skyline and hear how Björk and Microsoft AI interpret it in real time.