Bjork Releases Experimental Album Biophilia
World's first "app album"
As a child growing up in Iceland, Bjork would compose music in her head as she walked to school. The cadence of her footsteps became the rhythm. The dramatic landscapes of her homeland became the inspiration. In her new album, Bjork says she fuses that natural world with iPad apps to invent a music genre she calls an "appbox."
"Biophilia" — and a host of applications representing tracks on the album — were released Monday and are meant to immerse listeners in a complete audiovisual experience. Speaking to The Associated Press ahead of the launch, Bjork said she sees "the structure and shapes of songs" during the creative process. That led her to work with a team of iPad app designers and musicians to chart out visual representations of the songs.
The beauty of Bjork's stark volcanic homeland courses through the new work, and the singer said the link between the environment and music is "effortless and natural." "My accompaniment has always been nature" Bjork said during a recent interview in a boho Reykjavik theater attic. In addition to traditional album form, Biophilia is being released as "mother app" for iPad, and within it, individual apps give a new dimension to tracks on the album with interactive visuals.
But Bjork assured fans that they don't need an expensive iPad to enjoy the work, describing the app technology as "more like an accessory." "The music on Biophilia has to be able to stand on its own." And despite the iPad twist, Biophilia's music is vintage Bjork.
With titles like "Virus," ''Crystalline" and "Solstice," the album embeds nature at its very heart — an enduring feature of Bjork's work. "For me, to connect nature to music is a very effortless and natural connection" Bjork said. Her homage to lightning, "Thunderbolt," is "almost sort of superhero macho, about the thirst for miracles which we all have."
She described "Moon" — one of the standout tracks — as "slightly melancholic, slightly possessed. That idea about death and rebirth which maybe the ladies feel more than the gentlemen." The songs, when mapped out as algorithms for iPad users, also function as basic music lessons. "I kept thinking that this project would be for children, like music school" said Bjork.
So "Thunderbolt" has a written structure that resembles arpeggios, while "Mutual Core" contains allusions to Iceland's volcanic rock strata that teach simple chord progressions when viewed on an iPad. "It sounds really complicated" Bjork said, "but I've seen some kids play with the apps and once you touch them and play with them it's actually quite simple."
Biophilia's Icelandic identity has been infused with international touches. Bjork called on musicians like London-based duo 16bit; Germany's Current Value; Spain's El Grinch and long time collaborators Matthew Herbert and Iranian-born Leila Arab — whom Bjork describes as "an incredible sonic sculptor" — to finish the beats on the album.
Many of the sounds on the album have been created as a fusion of old and new, with a decidedly low-tech pipe organ and gamelan getting a 21st century upgrade to make them compatible with Bjork's writing process. "They can receive digital information, you can plug them into a touch screen" she says.
The inclusion of a giant Tesla coil to generate not only shocking electricity bolts but also a distinct musical crackling, was a particular hit during what Bjork describes as a "low budget" version of her Biophilia show in Manchester, England this summer. The full version of the show will play at Reykjavik's stunning new Harpa music hall in October and November.
Biophilia's music-meets-nature theme, the reinvented instruments, the iPad app and the music lessons for an wired, environment-loving audience — all of that's in line with Bjork's reputation for eccentricity. She describes some of the rhythms on Biophilia as "magnetic liquids, almost like planets rolling out of orbit," then giggles "if that makes any sense. I'm not your normal troubadour".