Björk turned her last album into an app. Now she’s turning her music into a science exhibit for city students, with an unusual three-week run at a Queens museum better known for its molecule models and retired spacecraft.
The singer arrives at the New York Hall of Science next month to hold a series of classes for middle school students, as well as six open-to-the-public concerts in the museum’s Great Hall. Björk will also stage four shows at a more conventional concert venue : Manhattan’s Roseland Ballroom.
“The whole idea is to take music education out of a bookish, academic thing and into a more physical, tactile experience,” said Björk, 46 years old, in an interview as she was preparing for the event.
“We looked at the venues last August,” said the Icelandic-born musician. “[We] decided on the Queens science museum because it was really set up for the educational department. And just seeing all the kids there, I guess they’re from a neighborhood of…how do you say in English ? Less privileged children.”
As part of her residency, science and music classes from schools in Corona and Flushing, two neighborhoods adjacent to the museum, will make their own songs in an after-school program using the app created for her 2011 album, “Biophilia.” At the end of each week, the students will take home the music they made on a USB drive.
At Public School 185 in Queens, a magnet school participating in the program, the principal is running an essay-writing contest to select the students who will take part, said Dan Wempa, a vice president at the Hall of Science. He said instructors from the museum are developing all the science-related content and demonstrations.
The app anchoring Björk’s effort, released on iTunes at the same time as her latest album, allows listeners to play around with components of her music. For the song “Thunderbolt,” for instance, app users can tease out arpeggios from a lightning sound with a few simple gestures. The idea is to connect scientific and musical concepts, with links between lunar cycles and scales, viruses and generative music, tectonic plates and chords.
Adapting “Biophilia” this way was born out of Björk’s dream of opening a music school. The pop star said she sees herself as “a frustrated music teacher.” The impulse to look at unconventional ways of teaching was also inspired by experiences she had with her partner, the artist Matthew Barney, in educating their daughter, Ísadóra.
Björk initially envisioned participating in the museum program as an instructor but decided instead to focus on her performances, which run in tandem with the after-school curriculum. “I can’t really do the concerts and teach at the same time,” she said. “I become a bit of a racehorse when I’m singing — I save my voice and have massages.”
Her approach is an unusual way to reach students, but its first two tests with actual pupils last year — in Manchester, England, and Reykjavik, Iceland — were met with acclaim. The program has now been integrated into Reykjavik’s school curriculum for the next three years, and Björk said it proved particularly beneficial for hyperactive and dyslexic kids.
The apps used in the program are regularly updated, and could potentially incorporate feedback from students at each stop on her 10-city tour.
“I’m hoping that in each city there will be some different angle that each location can bring to the program — something new that we can discover,” Björk said. “So at the end of the three years it will have matured into something better.”
Organization of the program is split between Björk’s team of musical instructors, the Hall of Science staff and the Creators Project, a global arts and technology initiative helmed by VICE and Intel Corp.
The hope, said Creators Project organizer Hosi Simon, “is to make this part of the curriculum for schools” in New York. “It’s something we’re trying to push really hard.”
Plans are afoot to take the program elsewhere after New York, with Björk citing Buenos Aires as another potential destination. But the singer hopes to buck the trend of token gestures by adopt-a-cause celebrities. Once she moves on from each location, the infrastructure of the “Biophilia” project is set up to grow organically in her wake.
“The whole idea of this program is it’s not a completely totalitarian, concrete thing,” she said. “It’s just a suggestion, a theme, on how to put a different angle on music education — to pull it into the physical world.”