Appy days for trailblazer Björk
Ever since the dawn of the modern computer software and technology, musicians have been able to provide an extra interactive element to their music. Yet most of what was offered was pretty tame, characterised by 'enhanced CDs' with poor quality music videos and a few promo photos tacked on to the disc.
The rise of mobile apps and new web technologies thanks to the iPad, iPhone and Android has led to a resurgence in experimental projects, many of which have been covered here of late. But perhaps there is no-one better than Björk to tackle the world of interactivity with her latest multimedia venture, Biophilia.
Biophilia is first the name of the Icelandic singer's latest album, but it is also a suite of mobile apps for the iPhone, iPad and iTouch. Download the free 'mother' app to gain access to 12 different apps. You are greeted with a map of a cosmos with 12 planets, one for each song/app.
The voice of David Attenborough introduces the concept of Biophilia, which is Björk's attempt to examine "nature, music and technology and how all three come together".
Each aspect of the project bleeds into one another. The songs largely concern themselves with themes of nature and the universe, while the app attempts to visualise the parallel aspects of the way humans create music, and how technology can be used to visualise the natural world.
That's a lofty goal, but Björk has the ambition and audacity to pull it off as her live shows with custom-built instruments have shown.
At the time of writing, only two of the apps/songs are available (each app costs €1.59 each). The app for Crystalline is the most impressive one available so far. The main interactive element is a game in which the unique Gameleste (one of the custom instruments in the form of a modified upright piano) is used and melodies of the song are represented by crystals in a polygonal spatial world (imagine a more primitive version of Wipeout, video game fans).
As the song plays, you fly by sequences of crystals which represent the melodies. Different coloured tunnels represent the verse-chorus song structure and as the song progresses and moves into another musical form, you enter other tunnels with different crystal patterns.
Pick up special crystals on the wall by tilting your device and you can unlock other tunnels, enabling you to reach the song's climax -- a frenetic drum and bass outro. There's also a score version of the song, an essay from a musicologist and an animated version with lyrics.
That's just one part of Biophilia but, as the rest of the project is released over the coming weeks. And if the project manages to pull off Björk's scopic ambition with the same aplomb (and iron out some navigational difficulties), we'll once again be hailing Björk as modern music's most experimental and visionary artist.
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