Ever the innovator, Björk has announced that an “app album” will accompany a conventional music album for her upcoming Biophilia project. What is it, and why is it important?
Björk is an unstoppable force. Even with seven albums under her belt, she persists in finding new ways to distribute her artistic vision. A stereoscopic 3D video was shot for “Wanderlust,” with Wired magazine providing directions on how to make your own 3D glasses. Almost ten years earlier, she was the first musician to release a DVD single in the United States, for the award-winning video “All is Full of Love” by director Chris Cunningham. Her commitment to a fuller experience for the listener should be admired and replicated.
Her upcoming project, Biophilia, will feature a traditional music album. However, listeners will also be able to purchase an “app album”: one iPad app housing 10 separate apps, each corresponding to a different song on Biophilia. The purpose is to invite fans to interact with the songs and their themes, allowing them to more deeply understand and connect with Björk’s vision.
One song, “Virus,” features an app that appears to ask the user to stop an attack by a virus on a biological cell. However, if the user succeeds, the song stops playing. The user learns that they must allow the virus to accomplish its purpose in order to complete the song. App creator Scott Snibbe describes it as “a kind of a love story between a virus and a cell. And of course the virus loves the cell so much that it destroys it.” While the lyrics have yet to be released, it is assumed the app is being used to reinforce the song’s message.
Snibbe is an interactive artist who has recently been specializing in iPhone and iPad applications. He has worked on music projects such as OscilloScoop, an iPad app that allows any layman to create music merely by shaping spinning crowns.
Björk commissioned him last year to create the Biophilia apps, as well as visuals for her upcoming live tour. Snibbe stated, “Björk’s put herself way at the forefront here by saying, ‘We’ll release this album and these apps at the same time and they’re all part of the same story.’ The app is an expression of the music, the story and the idea.”
This inherent understanding of music as story is crucial for a musician’s ability to effectively cultivate their art across other platforms, beyond the traditional music release structure. These extensions do not have to be literal translations, they need only evoke the themes and feelings that the artist is trying to convey in their work.
For example, Brian Eno created an iPhone app, Bloom, in 2008, a colorful ambient music generator that easily calls to mind his body of work and philosophies on music production.
Flying Lotus premiered an augmented reality web cam app prior to the release of his album Cosmogramma. The free app allowed fans to “touch” the cover art, manipulating the harp in the background, one of the instruments in his newer, more organic sound.
If created with care and an eye towards replayability, these types of interactive apps can be very successful as revenue streams, easily making back their development costs and more.
More exciting than the app album is the fact that it is part of a larger transmedia campaign. The first hints of this project came with a mysterious redesign of her website, which displays a galactic spread with stars and constellations spelling out her name. When viewed in Safari or Chrome, the user can explore the space of this star system by using their mouse and the arrow and shift keys on their keyboard.
This is not only entertaining for the user, but gives them a tactile sense of the theme of the upcoming album. Björk states, “the project is a continuation of Volta, whereas Volta is more about anthropology, this is kind of without the humans and, both zooming out, like the planets, but also zooming into the atoms, and in that way, aesthetically, sympathizing with sound…” Further interactive elements are expected to appear.
The fourth component in the rollout (interactive web, mobile app, music) will be specialized live performances that will tour major cities.
The show will feature a range of specially conceived and crafted instruments, among them a bespoke digitally-controlled pipe organ; a 30 foot pendulum that harnesses the earth’s gravitational pull to create musical patterns – creating a unique bridge between the ancient and the modern; a bespoke gamelan-celeste hybrid; and a one-off extraordinary pin barrel harp. These devices make visible some of the physical processes that are the subject matter of tracks.
Localization is a very powerful method of transmedia: modifying content for a specific event or location creates extra value for the lucky few to witness it. Given her knack for aesthetic and history of innovative performance techniques (touring choirs, playing cards as percussion), it is bound to be extremely effective.