Bjork opens Manchester International Festival

Bjork on stage Bjork gave the first full performance of the songs from her nature-themed concept album Biophilia

A musical lightning generator and four harp-playing pendulums were among the custom-made instruments unveiled by Bjork as she opened her world tour.

The Icelandic singer performed the first date of her Biophilia tour on Thursday to launch the Manchester International Festival.

The festival specialises in staging music, theatre and art premieres.

Bjork's concert also involved a 24-piece all-female Icelandic choir and a voice-over from Sir David Attenborough.

With voluminous ginger hair and a purple robe, Bjork gave the first full performance of songs from her forthcoming album Biophilia.

It is a concept album about nature with songs inspired by such themes as DNA, tectonic plates and crystals.

The concert's opening song Thunderbolt featured two Tesla coils - electrical columns that shoot out small bolts of lightning to generate musical notes.

Sharpsichord The "sharpsichord" was among the bespoke instruments made for the tour

Four "gravity harps" were made from 10ft (3m) pendulums that plucked strings as they swung back and forth during a song about gravity.

Other newly-invented instruments included a "sharpsichord", a large cylinder with protruding pins that played a harpsichord as they were turned, and a "gameleste", a kind of piano that had been adapted so glockenspiel-style bronze bars were struck as notes were played.

Bjork approached Sir David Attenborough to take part after drawing inspiration for the album from his natural history programmes. She recently said he was her "rock star" when she was growing up.

The singer watched hundreds of video clips from his landmark shows to get inspiration for her songs and concert visuals.

The story of so-called zombie snails, which are invaded by parasites and were seen in Sir David's Trials Of Life series, has been incorporated into one song.

Bjork on stage The Graduale Nobili choir accompanied Bjork on stage

Footage of three-foot worms and carnivorous starfish feasting on a seal carcass at the bottom of the Antarctic, from the Life series, was shown on screens during the show.

Sir David recorded his introductory voice-over hours before the concert on Thursday. "He's been a constant source of inspiration for the project," the Biophilia project co-ordinator James Merry said.

The concert took place in front of 1,800 fans in a Victorian former fruit and vegetable market, which has more recently been used to store a Spitfire aeroplane and other items from the Museum of Science and Industry.

Bjork has said she wants Biophilia to be a multi-media experience combining music, technology and nature.

As well as a standard album and tour, the project involves a series of iPad and iPhone applications that let fans play with and create their own versions of the songs.

The apps also include a brand new system of musical notation devised by Bjork as well as academic essays explaining the ideas behind the tracks.

She will now play two shows a week at Campfield Market Hall for the next three weeks before taking the show to eight cities around the world over the coming two years.

Thursday's concert opened the third Manchester International Festival, which aims to put the city on the global cultural map by hosting new works by respected performers.

The festival began in 2007 and takes place every two years.

This year's other highlights include an opera by Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn. Dr Dee, which tells the story of 16th Century alchemist, astrologer and spy John Dee, opens on Friday.

Victoria Wood is staging a new musical play about a 1920s Manchester children's choir, while performance artist Marina Abramovic and theatre company Punchdrunk are also showcasing original productions.

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