Go back to the past. You're a teenager hovered over the liner notes of a cherished new album. Or perhaps your eyes are closed to better absorb all the auditory sensations and to make sure to take in every word and phase to aid later recitation in the dark.
This week I returned to those past times of devoted attention to an album as foreground instead of experiencing it like a scented candle floating in the background. But Bjork's Biophilia has more than just music and static liner notes to absorb. All the stunning visuals of Bjork's Biophilia app suite accompanied the musical experience as I huddled under the covers cradling my iPod touch in the dark, impressed with these songs and the apps. This is not a music review blog and I'm not a real music critic, so perhaps then I am allowed to gush.
I. absolutely. love. this. album.
The first word that came to mind after taking in all the apps and their songs was "synesthesia," the neurological condition that blends the separated senses. In the case of Biophilia, the experience of sound and music is effortlessly blended with bright and enchanting visuals through the medium of the iPad/iPhone. The project is born out of a love of music, wonder, sounds, and creativity in a way that's innovative enough for a device conceived by the late Steve Jobs. You can definitely tell that Oliver Sacks' Musicophilia was a great inspiration for the design and conception of the album as an interactive visual entity.
There are little science and music nerd-friendly gems in many of the apps and song structures. Musicologist Nikki Dibben details Bjork's songwriting rationale and methods in essays for each song. Tesla coils were used to play the arpreggiated bassline in the song Thunderbolt while Bjork croons the lyrics, "my romantic gene is dominant."
In the song "Dark Matter" I wondered what the recent Nobel Laureate Perlmutter would think of Bjork singing about the largely unknown entity of dark matter in her equally mysterious self-created language.
A few times I actually found myself gasping out loud from the surprises. In the self-replicating melody Virus, the term "lovesick" is taken to a new level when the nuclei of the cells surrounding an infected cell spontaneously burst into a lipsticked singing chorus. Besides the cell nuclei chorus of pink lips, I was most taken with the animation for the song Hollow. The details in the animation rival those of XVIVO's Inner Life of the Cell and accurately reflect most things I've painstakingly learned in upper-level and graduate cell biology courses. I found myself shouting "beads on a string!" at the nucleosomes and feeling like I was on a roller coaster ride, jumping through the nucleopore of the cell in order to follow a dancing major groove binding protein as it twirled around a strand of DNA to the beat of the song. You can even select from two types of info on the bottom of the screen as you watch the animation: one to display the descriptions of the cell biology visuals and the other to display the the beats per minute, time signature, and beat/measure of the song.
In many of the songs, Bjork took a personal topic that related to science to use as inspiration. I love her attempt to integrate different aspects of being human into one. Our vulnerability to infection at the whims of viruses and disease melds with our vulnerability to destruction at the forces of romantic love and attraction in the song Virus. In the song Moon, the cycles of the moon and its influence on the tides merge with our personal life cycles of failing and starting over again. The result of all the iPad programming, years of planning, and attention to detail is that you really get the full experience of the music and the rationale behind its conception and creation. Biophilia is a marriage of the rational and the emotional, of modern technology and art, and of music and innovation that works extremely well.