Björk : how Android is helping us take Biophilia to the masses

Wired Conference, 18 octobre 2013

"I’d always wanted to start my own music school as a kid, and I guess all this other stuff just happened in between," Björk Guðmundsdóttir told the audience at Wired 2013.

The musician uttered this quietly humble remark while explaining how her desire finally came true, thanks to touchscreens, a team of ten app developers from all over the globe, a lot of imagination — and Android.

But Björk isn’t just teaching children about music, through her album Biophilia and its accompanying ten apps she is teaching them about our relationship with sound and nature, and how they interweave and connect in strange and beautiful ways. It was only when the final app launched on Android in July this year that her vision of a new type of musical theory could be taken across the planet, to everyone.

"Now, Biophilia can travel independently without me and the instruments created round it. Now it’s translated to Android we can see classes in Buenos Aires using it, where all the children have small mobiles they can use."

The seed for this project, however, began more than 30 years ago, before iPads, before Android and before anyone thought to teach science and music simultaneously through technology and touchscreens.

"Being brought up in Iceland I always had a relationship with nature before I knew that’s not common," she said. "Living in a capital in Europe but still surrounded by mountains and ocean, my relationship to music was strongest walking to school and back. I would sing to myself and very quickly started mapping out my melodies to landscapes — at the time I just thought it was very matter of fact, a common thing to do."

At music school from the age of five, Björk knew there was a disconnect between her desire to create, and the practices of "four guys in Germany in the 1700s" she was being taught about by teachers. But it was not until her 2007 Volta tour, when she used touchscreens, that she began to connect the dots between her desire to teach "musicology for Icelandic girls in the 20th century" and the influence of nature on her musical compositions. Three years before the launch of Apple’s iPad, Björk knew she was in front of something that would revolutionise the way we interpret and mediate our relationship with technology, culture — everything.

"I was gagging to able to write using it, not just perform. I had to hold my breath and the minute I got home I started working with an engineer Damien Taylor mapping out the touchscreens." Once she had experimented with writing music in this way, she realised she had a responsibility to share this new tool.

Björk penned ten songs inspired by ten different natural elements in nature and ten different types of musical rules — chords and arpeggios etc. She realised each was a lesson in itself — for instance, the song "Thunderstorm" was linked to lightning and the arpeggio. She began talking to a team at MIT, narrowing down her vision for what to do with these songs and the tools she could see coming together. Just as when she was a child, walking to school and connecting the tunes in her head to the peaks and troughs of a mountain range, Björk had made an unconscious connection between these complimentary elements without really knowing what it meant or how to transform it into something that could be useful, and shared.

From there, Biophila exploded. Each of those songs has been turned into an app created by one of a team of ten competing app developers that came together to debate the project ("Apple told me that was unheard of as they’re meant to be competitors — they were sharing ideas"). Each song has a complementary new musical instrument, from a Tesla Coil for the lightning to a gravity harp representing counterpoint (baseline).

During workshops children could see these instruments in action, but after three years it’s the advent of the Android app Björk launched earlier this year that has helped take the Biophilia Educational Programme to classrooms across the globe. "I really wanted to empower kids — now they see something in nature they recognise and they play with it and hear the structure they just made. It makes a direct impact — I could see them in weeks learning what I learned in five or ten years."

"The whole theme was about connecting the dots, building bridges between things that didn’t have a bridge before — nature and technology, atoms and the galaxy. It is so overreaching in unifying everything in the Universe."

publié dans Wired Conference