In these days of the rapidly reshaping music industry, artists often generate buzz as much by their choice of delivery system, or by what bells and whistles they attach to the music, as with the music itself. That’s true and then some of Bjork’s Biophilia (One Little Indian *** 1/2), the Icelandic iconoclast’s eighth album, which she’s releasing as a CD, digital download, LP, and as a series of apps that can be fooled with on an iPad or iPhone.
The title of Biophilia is inspired by Oliver Sacks book Musicophilia, which means "empathy for music." Bjork intends to communicate a "love for nature in all its manifestations,” as British naturalist David Attenborough, who Bjork has described as “my rock star” intones on the introduction to the mother app, which is free on iTunes, with each additional interactive song app going for an additional $1.99.
There are some cool looking graphics and interactive features to go with the songs, some of which, like the charmingly chiming “Crystalline,” were played with instruments such as the gameleste, a combination of a gamelan and celesta, which were invented specifically for the project. I've played around with a few of the songs apps, and so far, I'm underwhelmed with that aspect of the project, but I haven't immersed myself in it enough to say if it's a display of visionary genius or not.
In many ways, Bjork has reinvented herself as the world strangest science teacher, an orange-haired faerie who thinks geodes are really cool and who is dedicated to, again quoting Attenborough, “using technology to make visible much of nature’s invisible world.” As she sings of tectonic plates bonding together to form a “Mutual Core” or about “craving miracles” in “Thunderbolt” - “No one imagines the light shock I need,“ she exclaims - her fetchingly off kilter delivery pulls you into her wonky world.
None of the nifty stuff that goes along with Biophilia would be worth bothering with if the otherworldly music wasn’t any good. Thankfully it is. And while the album rarely kicks into high energy club mode - the drum n’ bass style kinetic coda of “Crystalline” is about it - much of it is eerily beautiful and arranged in a manner spare, uncluttered manner that invites remixers to have their way with it.
A Bjork interview on MidemBlog is here. Hear Attenborough give you taste of what Biophilia's about, and hear "Crystalline," below.