Björk’s Biophilia is the first ever app-album. The idea originated in 2008 as a physical building in Iceland that would function like a museum or school for kids to study music and nature. But when the iPad came out, it offered a new way to combine education, music, and interactivity in a 3D virtual world that would be workable, affordable, and available worldwide.
Björk began writing songs for Biophilia as a kind of curriculum, with lyrics about crystal formation, plate tectonics, and DNA replication, and started contacting top app developers to build iPad games for each song. Each song has a small visual toolbox that interactively combines some facet of music theory and a lesson on nature. For example:
- “Mutual Core” lets users arrange geological layers to form chords.
- “Virus” lets users fight off an army of mutating rhythms by swiping invading pathogens away from an innocent cell.
- “Hollow” lets users build a basic drum machine from DNA bases by lining up various proteins—different proteins change the rhythm, time signatures, tempo, or beats per minute.
- “Crystalline” lets users tilt and swivel the iPad to add colorful crystals to a growing aggregate as they fly through neon tunnels.
- “Dark Matter” lets users take control of a sound-creation tool, tapping pools of light to combine and mix tones and scales.
- “Thunderbolt” lets users augment the song with flashes of lightning and booms of thunder to create a kind of beat box.
- “Solstice” lets users take control of vocals and layers of harps to create their own remixes.
- “Moon” lets users play a harp-like instrument.
On the “Mother App” or main interface, a 3D galaxy unfolds that lets users twist, zoom, and pan through the digital space. Each of the 10 major stars represents a song. When users tap a star, they are given ways to explore and interact with the music and concepts. As users pan through the terrain sound loops from the 10 majors stars overlap and fade into and out of each other, creating emergent sonic compositions.
Biophilia is significant not only because it gives the stalled music industry a glimpse of a possible future, but also because it’s based on an assemblage of human agents—musicians, programmers, visual artists, and users—nature, music, and technology to co-produce an emergent, affective experience through a physical object and a layered digital environment. Most of the musical arrangements are fairly spare and unmelodic in order to allow users the ability to play with and layer the music. The game player is expected to feedback into the system to create more complex compositions and co-produce a feeling, a vision, a passion, or an idea—not just through sound and words but also through the digital-material tools.