Q&A : Bjork on the evolving music industry, Kickstarter and Spotify

Wired Blog, 15 octobre 2013

An Icelandic singer-songwriter with a career spanning four decades, Björk’s creativity and energy defies proper description. Her most recent album, Biophilia, was released in 2011 and pushed the boundaries of the album as a form. Called " the first app album", it was released via a series of multimedia apps for iOS and later Android. She spoke with Wired.co.uk ahead of her talk at Wired 2013.

Wired.co.uk : Your Biophilia tour recently came to an end — after two years of touring, what’s on your schedule for the rest of the year ?

Björk : Decompressing, writing, enjoying.

With Biophilia you challenged your audience to reimagine the album as an all-encompassing and interactive media experience. Was it a one-off, or will you now adopt that approach for future creations ?

Hmm… I really enjoy in the beginning of projects to not know, to just let my instinct take me wherever it wants. It isn’t until later a theme appears, so right now I don’t know.

You began your solo career in the 90s and since then the music industry has endured tremendous upheaval. In what ways has that affected the way you express yourself creatively ?

Well, the changes have put even more importance on that the expression is the most important part. All else are just tools to express yourself with, and so they should be.

Biophilia took the idea of an album app to another level. What are the challenges around creating music in this way, and what are the benefits that make overcoming those challenges worthwhile ?

The feeling of freedom it gives is worth every effort it has taken and the sense of adventure was incredible. But it took a lot of work, I guess I became some sort of "project manager" for the first time since it all was so DIY. There wasn’t much budget so it was driven on my own punk energy, which was the best part. But when you go down fresh roads like this I think it is important that the artist is involved in all the functional and creative parts all the way. Otherwise the new method will override the artistic emotional expression, which I fought for fiercely all the way to the end and at the end of the day this is what I am most proud of with Biophilia. This is something that came into full bloom in the live shows, since such a big part of Biophilia is the interactive instruments, this is where the album received its physicality. It wasn’t just "inside" the iPads : that is only half of Biophilia. The live show with the pendulums swinging, the Tesla coils shooting off lightning, the gameleste and the midi pipe organ and then the choir and the musicians is where Biophilia became fully what I intended. This is how the cerebral energy of the iPad could connect to the hyperphysicality of these instruments.

The music industry has been having the discussion about how to handle the internet for years now. Do you think we have figured out what the future landscape will look like yet, and how would you describe it ?

I think it is still in the making. It is sad though how long it has taken and how desperately many have clung to the old ways. It means that a generation of musicians haven’t gotten paid for their music. Let’s hope it will get solved soon, but I feel the artists need also to come up with solutions because they are the only ones that know what they need.

Some artists have criticised streaming services like Spotify for not paying artists enough. Thom Yorke, for example, pulled his music from the site in July and more recently called it " the last desperate fart of a dying corpse". Do you feel that there’s a problem with live-streaming music at the moment ?

Yes, but it could possibly be improved if there is will.

Your Kickstarter project to bring Biophilia to Android was sadly unsuccessful — looking back, what would you do differently and would you use crowdfunding again in the future ?

I think it was the only thing we could do at the time, but only because of it failing we were approached by a company that had the latest technology to change Biophilia to Android in a lot simpler and more effortless way. So I don’t look at it as a mistake. When you go on an adventure like this, sometimes you have to accept that solutions come from places you couldn’t imagine and in a different way and from a different direction than you were aiming for. You have to drop control in a way but still try, not give up and not be too concerned about looking clumsy at times.

There has been a great deal of debate about established artists from across a range of media using crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. Why do you think its right for established artists to crowdfund their projects ?

I think it is both right and wrong. It depends on the project, the artist and the circumstances. That’s the good thing : this is all being still formed. The educational side of Biophilia has been totally non-profit. It has been international and thousands of children have done the courses now, most of them "underprivileged". We were getting tons of requests to teach the educational program in areas where no-one had iPhones, so it made sense to ask those who wanted to help these kids out to donate. This was not money going to me and now the Biophilia educational project is rolling on Android in many places ! All non-profit of course.

With the Biophilia app you also sought to create a platform for education — do you see yourself revisiting this area in future ?

It seems like the Biophilia educational programme has only started, already we have planned years ahead. This will probably be my only educational project in my lifetime but I will probably attend it for a long time.

Can you give us any hints as to what ideas are interesting you at the moment, and what might come next ?

Hmm, I’m still blindfolded myself, still grappling in the dark, curious but unknowing.

Finally, are there any other themes that you’re interested in talking about or exploring at Wired 2013 ?

Absolutely everything.

publié dans Wired Blog