It takes an artist like Björk to turn the complex process of DNA replication and transcription into something as simple and beautiful as a pop song. For the video of her song "Hollow," from last year's app-based album Biophilia, Björk has collaborated with biomedical animator Drew Berry to create a partly-scientific representation of the haunting song.
Explore innerspace in the video for Bjork's "Hollow"
"Hollow's" instrumentation is sparse — a rhythmic organ-like pulse and Björk's echoing voice. The blending of the electronic manipulation of the vocals, which makes it sound like there's a whole tribe of Björks singing in unison, and the thudding electronic notes give the song a feel that is primal yet futuristic. The lyrics add to the sense of looking back hundreds of generations: Bjork yearns to "belong" to the "generations of mothers" that pulse through her body, to be part of the necklace of "jewels after jewels."
In an email, Björk described her idea behind "Hollow":
It's just the feeling when you start thinking about your ancestors and DNA that the grounds open below you and you can feel your mother and her mother, and her mother, and her mother, and her mother 30,000 years back. So suddenly you're this kinda tunnel, or trunk of DNA ... All these ghosts come up so it ended up begin a Halloween song and quite gothic in a way ... It's like being part of this everlasting necklace when you're just a bead on a chain and you sort of want to belong and be a part of it and it's just like a miracle.
The video for the song could be a documentary of a strange alien world or the beginning of life on Earth. Every frame is bursting with hyperactive life. It's an odd feeling, watching DNA strands twist and form as small bits of proteins scurry around in the background. This is the unceasing chaos that is going on inside every one of us. The video could be a piece of a museum explaining our biological process were it not for the strange molecular face that appears near the end. That little addition adds a touch of mysticism to the piece and puts a small bit of humanity in a universe of mindless chemical processes.
Director Drew Berry told us about the blending his scientific work and Björk's music:
The "Hollow" music video is a powers-of-10 exploration of the microscopic and and molecular landscapes inside Björk's body. The animation was constructed from molecular models of DNA and proteins derived from various forms of scientific data such as x-ray crystallography.
My work is usually defined by goals of didactic science education and accuracy, so this is the first time that I've strayed fully into the world of art, with the opportunity to mess around with the scientific data to create a whimsical and playful journey.
Inside a cell nucleus the audience encounters Björk's ancestral spirit — her ghost in the machine — that watches over her genes as they flow from one generation to the next. The spirit manifests as a large molecular complex which was modeled from a three-dimensional head scan of Björk. The inspiration for the face came from the 'fruit face' paintings by the 16th century italian artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo who took objects such as fruits, vegetables, or books, and arranged them in such a way that they formed a portrait.
Björk's Biophilia is out now from One Little Indian/Nonesuch Records.