Bjork's 'Biophilia': Interactive Music, Pushing Boundaries Bjork is known for experimenting with new sounds, but her latest album extends even further into the world of multimedia. Biophilia includes interactive apps for each song, as well as an educational component.
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Bjork's 'Biophilia': Interactive Music, Pushing Boundaries

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Bjork's 'Biophilia': Interactive Music, Pushing Boundaries

Bjork's 'Biophilia': Interactive Music, Pushing Boundaries

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Let's talk now about the Icelandic singer known for experimenting with new sounds and stretching music's boundaries. She's known by a single name which Americans tend to pronounce Byork. She pronounces it this way...

BJORK: My name is Byersk and I make music.

INSKEEP: In her latest album, Bjork expands beyond music into the world of multimedia. The album includes interactive apps for each song, an educational component and even residencies in different cities around the world.


NPR's Laura Sydell has this look at "Biophilia."

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: The title of Bjork's new album came to her after she read a book by the neurologist Oliver Sachs about the mind's empathy for music.

BJORK: So he called it musicophilia. And then, obviously I make music but I wanted to do a project about nature. So I thought, okay, if I call it by "Biophilia," it sort of empathy with nature.

SYDELL: So there are song titles like "Solstice," "Dark Matter" and "Crystalline." The lyrics actually touch on processes in nature. For instance, how crystals grow.


BJORK: (Singing) Underneath our feet, crystals grow like planets, and how they grow...

SYDELL: During the time that Bjork was writing this album, the iPad came out. She was intrigued by the touch-screen technology and the creative possibilities it presented. She'd seen some music apps but found most of them pretty superficial - just updates about tours or an extra interview. She wanted to go beyond that.

BJORK: Where the interactiveness goes really to the core of music, the structure of the song; it's not just something like an accessory.


BJORK: It's the core of - it is the song.

SYDELL: So Bjork fans with iPads or iPhones - it won't work on Androids - can downloaded a main app for "Biophilia" that's free. You tap on it and open up to a black background with white glowing star-like objects. Using your fingers to swipe and tap, the universe expands and turns in bits of music and songs emerge.


SYDELL: Each song has its own star. You tap on it and you can buy the app for a buck-99 from the iTunes Store. Each one has essays about music and science, and each interacts with its song in a different way. Take "Thunderbolt." You can change the bass line by tapping on an icon of lightning.

BJORK: There is lightning, arpeggio bass line, and then you change the speed of the arpeggio, or the range. But so you're basically you're like this crazy lightning bass player.


SYDELL: Bjork says this album isn't a romantic look at the natural world. She turns a virus into a sort of natural femme fatale, to create a stalker song about love so strong it kills the object of its affection - living cells.


BJORK: (Singing) Like a virus needs a body, as soft tissue feeds on blood, someday I'll find you. The urge is here. Ooo-ooo-ooo-oooh...

SYDELL: She worked with app designers from all over the world. Scott Snibbe coordinated their efforts and designed several of the apps himself, including the one for the song "Virus." The screen fills with beautiful pink cells being attacked by spiky green viruses.

SCOTT SNIBBE: And you can try to save the cell. So in a way it's a kind of a game where you're trying to save the cell in the center. But if you succeed in saving the cell, the song stops progressing. And, you know, meanwhile, the cells around are singing along. You see the nuclei turned into lips that sing along with the song.


SYDELL: He plays with the app.


BJORK: (Singing) Oh-oh-oh....

SYDELL: Bjork says this album isn't just for children. But she was thinking of it as a teaching tool and she wanted to make sure it wasn't Disneyfied.

BJORK: Obviously coming from Icelandic, volcanoes - and like for me nature is anything but cute. I could never really understand why when people think of nature, they think of flower power and acoustic guitars. I mean it's dangerous. It's very creative, nature. But it's also very destructive.

SYDELL: Bjork was deeply involved with this project. Designer Scott Snibbe says they communicated regularly. Sometimes, he says, they exchanged hundreds of emails a day. They also worked with scientists to make the apps as scientifically accurate as they could. But Snibbe says the project is more about whetting people's appetites than providing a lesson plan.

SNIBBE: It gets you excited to learn more about it. If you associate viruses with, you know, a great song by Bjork and this like emotional, strange, you know, animated love story, then you might pay attention a little bit more in class. Or you might type it into Google and look up a virus and see how it works.

SYDELL: Bjork wants to help people explore. Rather than a traditional concert tour, with a day or two in each city, she plans to do residencies that will last for two months or more in 10 cities around the world. She'll play a couple of nights a week and then spend time at a local museum, working with kids on music and science projects.

Bjork says her own education, even in music, was often about reading books. As she watched her 8-year-old daughter play with the "Biophilia" app of the solar system, she realized its potential.

BJORK: She knew more about the solar system than I learned for five years of school, that certain things are not meant to be in a book. Like if you can just play with them with your hands, it's more like a little game, then you understand that in 3-D, like in space. And music is like this - you cannot learn it from a book.

SYDELL: But Bjork says music is still central to this project. People can buy the apps and play along, or they can just buy the CD, which she believes will hold up on its own.

Her multimedia experiment is getting a lot of attention from people in the music industry who hope it will inspire a new way of making and selling albums to consumers, who seem to want to do more than just listen.

Laura Sydell, NPR News.


BJORK: (Singing) Heaven, heaven's bodies whirl...

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.


BJORK: (Singing) And they say back then, our universe wasn't even there until a certain bang. And there was light, was sound, was matter. And it all became...

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