Icelandic musician Björk has launched ‘Biophilia’ the world’s first app-based album and I, for one, am not the least bit surprised. Björk first came to prominence in the early Nineties with her debut album Debut she has, over the past nineteen years, continuously pushed the limits of what we would define as music. In her work she has consistently demonstrated a willingness to embrace the experimental as her defining form and she continues to live and work in an artfully constructed fantasy world that is uniquely her own. With Biophilia Björk appears to have gone one step further than any of her peers in creating a multi-platform experience that has already been hailed in the press as the future of the entire record industry.
“This project started on touch screen and ended on touch screen. I started out thinking that I wanted to map out how I see songs, like how I write with touch screen, and I wanted to base it on my experience of musical structures…. The fact that I had touch screens, I could map out for the first time the structures associated with my melodies. For me, I guess maybe it is a little idiosyncratic, but I felt it was nature for me.”
The album takes its name from the Biophilia hypothesis and contains themes that are typical of Björk’s oevre: romance, society, science and nature. The difference here being that the app also enables the listener to interact with the music in ways that restructure the passive act of listening. The app functions like an educational workshop, art installation and performance series, all wrapped up in the comfortable term and familiar term of ‘an album’. This is quintessential transmedia storytelling. The album encourages you to play games, follow lyrics and even warp the music in an exploration of the instinctive connection between human beings and other living systems. In the same way that the auditory experience of music appreciation has become gradually more visual, Biophilia is an attempt to introduce an tactile dimension to the mix. Admittedly, it is hard not to be just a little bit sceptical about this just being one big marketing stunt to reel in the fresh crowd of tablet-toting tech fans, regardless of any real appreciation for the music. The entertainment industry has never been shy of proliferating licensed products across multiple mediums to expand the their profit margins financial gain *cough* George Lucas *cough* but as Henry Jenkins over at Fast Comapany explains:
“Yes, many early transmedia experiments were funded through marketing budgets. Transmedia has been closely linked to the industry’s new focus on “audience engagement” and sometimes uses “viral” (or “spreadable”) media strategies. But, the best transmedia is driven by a creative impulse. Transmedia allows gifted storytellers to expand their canvas and share more of their vision with their most dedicated fans”
If Björk’s app-ified universe is still not enough to get your eyes and ears teaming up to crack open the wallet, there’s also this: Biophilia: The Ultimate Edition which is encased in a silkscreened oak-hinged lid case and offers a treasure trove of CDs, chrome-plated tuning forks, artwork and, indeed, more. Personally, I feel that all of this is a natural, creative progression of the Björk music brand.
“Björk has collaborated with artists, designers, scientists, instrument makers, writers and software developers to create this extraordinary multimedia exploration of the universe and its physical forces, processes and structures – of which music is a part. Each in-app experience is inspired by and explores the relationships between musical structures and natural phenomena.”
So, do you think that this could be the new industry-defining standard for albums? Should it be? What do you think?