Bjork’s latest album Biophilia is a foray into the unknown, within the mass audience fan-base in album concept and form. It is devised as a series of digital music toys that attempt to embody her collection of songs written for this album into an all singing and dancing multimedia iPad app. Within this ‘mother’ app each individual song becomes a ‘child’ toy. The toys function so that you can explore the songs chords, tempo and other compositional elements. On top of this some of the toys give you the option of either listening, watching animations of the music represented visually or interacting with a system or electronic instrument/interface to build your own variation of the song; so you’re not lost in the array of quirky toys, Bjork has left footnotes which are mostly about tonal range and choices of chords. These may seem trivial to most but probably interesting for a trained musician or those interested in scoring music.
When interacting with some of these extended toys you have have the option to play with the songs chords sequences that can also, excitingly, be sent via wifi to any other standalone midi enabled device. Each songs chords can be played through to your microkorg , keyboard or laptop for example. While the idea is somewhat genuine, and despite being aimed at very particular audience, it still feels a bit forced and unnecessarily restrictive to make an album for just one operating system. It also sits at odds with the biophillic nature of the project – from a simplistic view argues that environments rich in nature act to reduce stress and enhance focus and concentration – as iPads do not really do this; they channel the stress of millions of social media channels right into your hands, anywhere at any time. It’s never disconnected and its round edged and shiny, unlike anything nature could ever produce. So far I’ve not really even mentioned anything about the music and I probably won’t.
I’m sceptical of the word “multimedia”; despite doing a degree in multimedia arts, the term summons up feelings of the 90’s digital encyclopedia Microsoft Encarta, whereby people somehow would become excited abut seeing a video clip or sound clip alongside text information, as if it’s a new concept. This is now standard fare in a wikipedia entry, just as it was standard fare years ago to hear a music sample or video clip alongside a display at a museum or suchlike.From the get go, this idea felt as if Bjork was desperately attempting to crystalize a concept but got lost and ran out of ideas so figured a bunch of unrelated music toys and some footnotes would suffice. It’s also hard to work out what came first, the music or the app. The songs are simple for Bjork and while not exactly stripped down or minimal, they lack the textured and electronic ambience of previous greats such as Vespertine.Also Biophillia’s apps are surprisingly limited in functionality, fun and lack a meaningful experience. Considering the depth and addictive nature of time-wasting games available on iOS, it’s as if all thought that is usually present in the design of these games (user experience, meaningful interaction) has been lost. But by not moving away from typical game format archetypes (Yes! you can complete ‘levels’ in one of the songs!) you essentially have the format of most IOS games albeit a throwaway time waster ideal for a days commute to work. Not an album from Bjork.
If Biophillia is the world’s first popular “app as album”, a concept that could become popular and a viable commercial format in the near future (given the radical nature of commercial music recently), I don’t think we are quite ready for it yet.
Some new music I HAVE enjoyed this year:
Battles – Gloss Drop
Burial – Street Halo
Grouper – A I A : Alien Observer
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
The Weeknd – House of Balloons
The Weeknd – Echoes of Silence
Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact
Wolves In The Throne Room – Celestial Lineage