Wire

Biophilia

There are so many versions of björk’s biophilia, it’s easy to forget that at root, it’s an album of music, available on cd, download and 12" vinyl, as well as a limited £500 box set ; it’s also a suite of ten ipad/iphone apps, a set of residencies across eight cities, and an educational workshop for schoolchildren. It’s a sprawling project with equally sprawling intentions concerning technology, non-traditional music education methods and bridging the gap between nature and sound.

The app suite is what the publicity for biophilia shouts about. It comprises ten apps, one a hub with a free track and navigational cosmos-like interface, plus nine ‘tracks’ (one app per track). Each app contains a game, lyrics, credits, an academic essay and two types of score. Both scores allow you to follow the track as it plays, but neither have any tools to play with the elements that make up the song. The “crystalline” game’s audio is arbitrarily fragmented, broken into short loops to soundtrack a crystal collecting game. It’s a slightly patronising conceit, as though simply listening to an album could not possibly be enough to stave off boredom.

Other apps are better thought out, bringing the audio elements to the fore. The “moon” app visualises harp notes as stages of the lunar cycle : two looping strings of moons are moved through lunar phases to change their pitch. The phase defines the note each plays to compose a two-part harp loop, offering interaction rather than distraction. Disappointingly, only a handful of the apps offer the latter, providing the tools for primitive composition or aids to understanding how music works.

Typically for björk, though, none of biophilia feels truly original. Existing apps already perform similar functions to those created for her project. Brian eno’s bloom raised the bar for generative music apps in 2008, while the visual concept for “crystalline” recalls tetsuya mizuguchi’s synaesthetic computer game rez, and “sacrifice” is a sound effects app with a playback and record function.

But you can’t play biophilia from start to finish in app yet. As it is, the app suite devalues the music, fragmenting it beyond recognition or, in some cases, sidelining it for nifty graphics and games.

Musically, biophilia might hold together as an album, but it forms a shaky foundation for the rest of the project. Wistful and plain, the plink-plonk of harp and ‘gamelest’ (a gamelan/celeste hybrid controlled via midi) is repetitive. Drifting, aimless melodies lead nowhere, trailing björk’s vocals in a fug that calls to mind the drearier sections of medúlla. This could serve as a motif for the whole project : ideas that lead nowhere, without purpose or effect. See also the tenfoot pendulums, commissioned as part of the project’s efforts to bridge the gap between nature and sound. They swing via the force of gravity, with harp strings plucked from barrels at their bases. Here, the design exceeds the function – why such an extravagant commission to construct what is essentially a harp ? Other commissioned instruments make better use of the sounds of natural phenomena, like the giant tesla coils used to generate basslines.

Lyrically, biophilia is a mishmash of geography lessons and uncomfortable metaphors, as on “virus”, which talks about love through the queasy analogy of a spreading fungus. Any meat to the movement of her compositions comes in unexpected dollops of digitised percussion (programmed by 16bit, matthew herbert and el guincho), panicked splashes of drum machines at ridiculous bpms or chunks of ugly breakbeat, as at the close of “crystalline”.

Björk’s project is too far reaching, conceptually and geographically. Collaborating with artists, developers, designers and musicians from across the globe has inevitably resulted in a lack of focus. If the main purpose of biophilia is education, it fundamentally flawed in its choice of platform, since access to iphones and ipads is restricted (even björk has said that the apps have been specifically designed to be easily hacked and pirated for other devices).

Björk has embraced digital in an awkward hug that has squeezed her music out of shape. Positively speaking you could say biophilia takes her a step deeper into digital zones little charted by other musicians. At worst, it’s a supermarket sweep : a giddy wish list made reality without the conceptual foundations to hold it up."

Jennifer Lucy Allan

publié dans Wire - 30.09.2011

En lien avec...

 
 

Articles de la même année

 

2011

date
publication
titre
17.03.2011
Dazed Digital, 2011
28.05.2011
guardian.co.uk
27.06.2011
slantmagazine.com
29.06.2011
Stereogum
29.06.2011
pitchfork.com
01.07.2011
orange.co.uk
02.07.2011
liberation.fr
04.07.2011
Le Monde
04.07.2011
Dazed & Confused n°200
07.07.2011
Wired (UK)
11.07.2011
www.bjork.fr
13.07.2011
BBC Radio 6
22.07.2011
Billboard
27.07.2011
NME
29.07.2011
drownedinsound.com
04.09.2011
Madame Figaro
14.09.2011
L’Express
15.09.2011
L’Obs
19.09.2011
Télérama n°3218
20.09.2011
Les Inrockuptibles n°824
20.09.2011
Rock & Folk n°530
23.09.2011
M Magazine
26.09.2011
M Magazine
27.09.2011
M Magazine
27.09.2011
The boston Phoenix
28.09.2011
M Magazine
28.09.2011
Electronic Beats
29.09.2011
bbc.co.uk
29.09.2011
M Magazine
29.09.2011
M Magazine
30.09.2011
M Magazine
30.09.2011
Wire
30.09.2011
Tribune de Genève
01.10.2011
Marvin (MX)
01.10.2011
Vibrations
01.10.2011
Têtu
01.10.2011
Björk
01.10.2011
What HI-FI ? Sound & Vision
03.10.2011
drownedinsound.com
04.10.2011
drownedinsound.com
05.10.2011
drownedinsound.com
05.10.2011
Entertainment Weekly
05.10.2011
BBC Music
05.10.2011
MusicWeek
06.10.2011
cycling’74 .com
06.10.2011
drownedinsound.com
06.10.2011
Libération
06.10.2011
Libération
06.10.2011
The Guardian
06.10.2011
musicOMH
06.10.2011
Prefix Magazine
07.10.2011
drownedinsound.com
07.10.2011
Independent.co.uk
07.10.2011
The Reykjavik Grapevine
07.10.2011
Mirror.co.uk
07.10.2011
toutelaculture.com
07.10.2011
irishtimes.com
07.10.2011
Consequence of Sound
08.10.2011
The Globe and Mail
08.10.2011
NME
09.10.2011
New York Post
09.10.2011
Journal du Dimanche
10.10.2011
AllMusic
10.10.2011
guardian.co.uk
10.10.2011
Mowno
10.10.2011
Le Monde
10.10.2011
Libération
10.10.2011
Financial Times
10.10.2011
Pop Matters
10.10.2011
Wearsthetrousers.com
12.10.2011
Wall Street Journal
12.10.2011
Les Inrockuptibles n°828
13.10.2011
Paris Match
13.10.2011
Pitchfork
13.10.2011
Rock & Folk
17.10.2011
LA Times
18.10.2011
LA Times
23.10.2011
Icelandair Info
26.10.2011
Les Inrockuptibles n°830
28.10.2011
Wall Street Journal
01.11.2011
Mojo
01.11.2011
Gay & Night
17.11.2011
Dazed & Confused, 2011
22.11.2011
The Economist (blog)
24.11.2011
F5 - Magazine Russe