Biophilia (album)

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Biophilia
Studio album by Björk
Released 10 October 2011 (2011-10-10)
Recorded 2008–11, Studio Syrland, Reykjavík and Various places
Genre Electronica, experimental, trip hop, ambient, downtempo, avant-garde
Length 49:34
Label One Little Indian, Polydor, Nonesuch
Producer Björk, 16bit
Björk chronology
Mount Wittenberg Orca
(2010)
Biophilia
(2011)
Bastards
(2012)
Singles from Biophilia
  1. "Crystalline"
    Released: 28 June 2011
  2. "Cosmogony"
    Released: 19 July 2011
  3. "Virus"
    Released: 9 August 2011
  4. "Moon"
    Released: 6 September 2011

Biophilia is the musical project and overall eighth full-length studio album by Icelandic recording artist Björk.[1][2] The album was released on 10 October 2011,[3] over four years after her previous studio album, Volta (2007).[4]

The album is "partly recorded" on an iPad and, as well as a standard CD release,[5] was released in the form of a series of apps.[6] Biophilia is the world's "first app album" in collaboration with Apple.[7] Björk has described the project as a multimedia collection "encompassing music, apps, Internet, installations, and live shows".[8] Material from the album debuted during a concert series which was held in the summer of 2011 at the Manchester International Festival.[1]

Background and concept[edit]

At the end of 2010, Björk confirmed she was working on a new album.[9] In an interview published on Fréttablaðið the singer stated that the project was midway through the completion and that she hoped to go on tour before the end of 2011.[10] The project was officialised in March 2011, with the announcement of Björk performance at Manchester International Festival.[11] The project, called Biophilia comprises a series of live performances, a new website, a documentary and a series of apps, besides the release as a music album[12] which is partly composed on an iPad.[13] The Biophilia Tour was said to be touring eight cities for three years[14] and to be including a series of workshops for children[14] in collaboration with local schools.

"Björk's put herself way at the forefront here by saying, 'We'll release this album and these apps at the same time and they're all part of the same story.' The app is an expression of the music, the story and the idea."

—said Scott Snibbe on his collaboration with Björk.[15]

App development[edit]

Björk was initially set on creating a 3D film with filmmaker Michel Gondry that delivered a combined music, nature and technology experience. Her instinct, at first, was to provide that experience through a music house, like a museum. Each room would be designated a different song, and contain interactive exhibits related to the track [16] Unfortunately, due to his commitments with the Hollywood film The Green Hornet, Michel Gondry was not available to start on the Biophilia 3D film project. Björk decided to put the film on hold and she turned her attention to the iPad.

Through her manager, Björk reached out to a collection of app developers whose work had caught her eye and she met with them one on one and also together in Iceland. After discussions and meetings, in January 2010, the app developers together with Bjork decided that the apps would be self-funded and the profits from the apps would be divided equally.

"Bjork did it in a different way... which is that she said, "What we can offer you guys is to have a creative partnership. Let's equally invest." She's investing an enormous amount in the production of the music for the album and other aspects. And then we as the developers are gonna make our own investment in creating the app, and we're sharing the profits."

—said Scott Snibbe on developing the apps.[17]

Biophilia for iPad includes ten separate apps, all housed within one "mother" app.[15] Each of the smaller apps will relate to a different track from the album, allowing people to explore and interact with the song's themes or even make a completely new version of them. It will also be an evolving entity that will grow as and when the album's release schedule dictates, with new elements added.[15] Every app includes a game related to the song, the score of the song created by Björk and Jónas Sen, animations and a musical essay written by Dr. Nicola Dibben. Scott Snibbe, an interactive artist who was commissioned by Björk back in the summer of 2010 to produce the app, as well as the images for the live shows (which will combine his visuals with National Geographic imagery, mixed live from tablet computers on the stage), describes how Björk saw the possibilities of using apps, not as separate to the music, but as a vital component of the whole project.[15] While it is technically not the first app-album (the first is Bluebrain's The National Mall, a location-aware album that is available in no other form and was composed specifically for the iPhone) it is Björk's first venture into experimenting with apps.

For one song, "Virus", the app will feature a close-up study of cells being attacked by a virus to represent what Snibbe calls: "A kind of a love story between a virus and a cell. And of course the virus loves the cell so much that it destroys it."[15] The interactive game challenges the user to halt the attack of the virus, although the result is that the song will stop if the player succeeds. In order to hear the rest of the song, the players will have to let the virus take its course.[15] Using some artistic license, the cells will also mouth along to the chorus. It's this determination to fuse different elements together, be it juxtaposing a female choir from Greenland with the bleeps and glitches of electronic music pioneers Matmos during the Vespertine tour, or meshing soaring strings and jagged beats on Homogenic, that "helps explain the power and success of Björk's collaborations".[15]

Artwork[edit]

The artwork for Biophilia is based on a photo session by M/M Paris and Inez & Vinoodh. In the photographs, Björk wears a big, orange, entangled wig (by Eugene Souleiman) and a brown and golden ribbon dress (by Iris van Herpen) which features a harp-belt designed by Three-as-Four as she stands in front of a black background holding an orange crystal (likely mimetite). There are white ornaments superimposed that represent the Biophilia Universe designed by M/M Paris for the Biophilia app. In some photos, Björk is wearing a sleeveless red and blue ribbon dress with the belt, and holding a blue geode. The photo session inspired the video for "Moon".

The artwork for Biophilia earned M/M Paris the Grammy Award for Best Recording Package at the 2013 Grammy Awards.[citation needed]

Composition[edit]

A 28-second audio sample of the album's lead single, "Crystalline".

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Björk has previously revealed that Biophilia was partly composed on a tablet computer;[18] she has said that because she does not play conventional instruments like the piano or the guitar, this way of composing appeals to her.[19] "Crystalline", the first single released, is a mostly electronic song, featuring a continuous "gameleste" base and electronic beats and rhythm. After the bridge, the song features a gameleste solo, and ends with an uproarious breakcore section which uses the Amen break.

"Special" instruments were created for the album. The Tesla coil is used as a musical instrument on the song "Thunderbolt".

New musical instruments were specially developed for the album, and specially for the shows at the Manchester International Festival that took place in mid-2011 to introduce the album. The Tesla coil was used as a musical instrument on the song "Thunderbolt". A "gameleste", a mixture between a gamelan and a celesta which was programmed in order to be played remotely by a tablet computer, was also used in "Crystalline" and "Virus". A group of pendulums were put together, creating patterns with their moves, transmitting the movements of the Earth to the sound of a harp, making the song "Solstice".

For the music, Björk related the phenomenon the song describes to a musical structure or resource. For example; the song "Moon" has different musical cycles that repeat throughout the song;[20] the song "Thunderbolt" contains arpeggios, inspired by the time between when lightning is seen and thunder is heard;[21] and in "Solstice", the counterpoint makes reference to the movement of planets and the Earth's rotation, and the pendulums used on the song make tribute to the Foucault pendulum.[22]

The lyrics also present metaphors to those phenomena. "Dark Matter" features heavy gibberish since the dark matter phenomena are directly "unexplainable".[23] "Virus" describes "fatal relationships" such as the relationship between a virus and a cell,[24] as Björk explained: "It's like I have this new neighbour that I have to sort of learn to live with"; "Solstice" presents the relation between the gravity effect on celestial bodies, comparing the solar system to a Christmas tree.[22] and in "Hollow", Björk took inspiration from her "ancestors and DNA, that the grounds open below you and you can feel your mother and her mother, and her mother, and her mother, and her mother 30,000 years back. So suddenly you're this kinda tunnel, or trunk of DNA… All these ghosts come up so it ended up being a Halloween song and quite gothic in a way… It's like being part of this everlasting necklace when you're just a bead on a chain and you sort of want to belong and be a part of it and it's just like a miracle."

Björk also breaks the typical 4/4 time signature structure for many of the songs on Biophilia. For example, "Solstice" features 7/4 and 6/4 time signatures;[22] "Hollow", "Crystalline" and "Moon", all feature a 17/8 time signature; "Mutual Core", 5/4 time signature and "Virus", 3/4 time signature. In addition, "Dark Matter" is in free-time, it lacks a regular pulse.[25]

Just one month before the album's release, the date was pulled back due to conceptual issues on the album. According to Björk, the album needed to have more "live feeling" and a more determinated "body" than the versions on the apps. Björk worked with long-time friend Leila Arab in re-producing "Thunderbolt", "Crystalline", "Dark Matter" and "Virus";[26] adding new beats to "Sacrifice" and eventually substituting the studio version of "Solstice" with a live recording from the Manchester International Festival.[27]

Promotion[edit]

Björk debuted songs from the album during a series of performances at the Manchester International Festival in England between 27 June and 16 July 2011. Björk called the performances a "meditation on the relationship between music, nature and technology".[1] Björk performed Biophilia tracks and music from her back catalogue with a small group of musical collaborators, including Graduale Nobili, an Icelandic female choir. The show featured a range of specially-conceived and crafted instruments, among them a Tesla coil, a bespoke pipe organ that accepts digital information and a pendulum that harnesses the Earth's gravitational pull to create musical patterns.[1][8] Stephen Malinowski designed some animations which are displayed for Björk's use as a teleprompter; one animation is also projected to be viewed by the audience.[28] Malinowski's animations are also included in the app.

Björk performed at Bestival on 11 September. The press release stated that this was to be her only outdoor concert of the year.[29] She also performed eight shows during the Iceland Airwaves Festival at Harpa in Iceland from 12 October to 3 November.[30]

A stem of the song "Cosmogony" was released to promote the album, on the Solar System app. This instrumental was played by the Wonderbrass, the brass players who accompanied Björk in her previous album Volta.

Björk and Michel Gondry collaborated on a video for the track, which Gondry described as "a very ambitious project, a sort of scientific musical". Björk said on her website that the collaboration was about "both zooming out, like the planets, but also zooming into the atoms. And in that way, aesthetically sympathising with sound and how sounds move and the physics of sound, and how notes in a room behave ... it's kind of more similar to how planets and microscopic things work."[31]

On 22 November a "Crystalline" performance was broadcast on BBC2's Later... with Jools Holland. On 25 November "Cosmogony" and "Thunderbolt" were shown.[32]

In 2012 Björk started touring the US. On 31 January she appeared on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report for an interview and to perform "Cosmogony".[33]

On February 3 to March 5, Bjork played 10 shows in New York City. Shows from February 3 to February 18 were played at the New York Hall of Science in the Great Hall. Shows from February 22 to March 5 were played at the Roseland Ballroom. These have been Bjork's only US shows promoting Biophilia.

In 2013, Björk headlines twinkle rock festival this year, marking her first-ever live appearance on August 10 in Taipei World Trade Center Nangang Exhibition Hall, Taiwan.[34]

Ultimate Art Edition[edit]

The "Ultimate Art Edition" of Biophilia includes the Biophilia CD; a second CD with exclusive recordings;[35] the Biophilia Manual, which includes photographs, stories behind the songs, scores and lyrics; and a wooden box with 10 chromed tuning forks, each one adjusted to the tone of a Biophilia track, covering a complete octave in a non-conventional scale (There are two forks which produce the same note and another one which is silent).[36] The ultimate edition is limited to 200 copies, each one numbered and made to order, and every single book and fork pack will only be produced once.[36]

Singles[edit]

Björk's molecular-based headscan in the "Hollow" music video.

"Crystalline" is the lead single from the album, released on 27 June 2011.[37] The release of "Crystalline" was preceded by three teasers: in the first, entitled "Road to Crystalline", we can see Björk driving on her van through a road in Iceland while playing an excerpt of a thus far unreleased version of the song; in the second, we could see one of the new instruments developed for the Manchester performances, which also plays on the track: the 'gameleste', a celesta which was modified so that it could be played remotely by a tablet computer;[38] and in the third teaser, recording sessions of the remix featuring Omar Souleyman were shown. The Serban Ghenea mix of the song leaked onto the Internet on 25 June 2011.[39][40]

After "Crystalline", three songs on Biophilia were released in iTunes as singles beside the expansion app. The second single-app released was "Cosmogony" on 19 July, which accompanied "Crystalline" as a double A-Side single in The Crystalline Series remix release. It was followed by "Virus" on 9 August, then "Moon" on 6 September. A music video for "Moon" was released 23 September. The rest of the apps were released on October 10 with the release of the album.[41]

Even though it wasn't released as a single, a live performance of "Thunderbolt" from the Manchester International Festival was released as a music video on November 2, 2011.[42] On March 6, 2012, a promotional music video for "Hollow", directed by biomedical animator Drew Berry was released. The video, previously used in the "Hollow" app, features a three-dimensional exploration of Björk's molecules and also a molecular complex based on Björk's headscan, influenced by the works of Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo.[43] A music video for "Mutual Core" was produced and has been directed by Andrew Thomas Huang;[44] the video was released on November 13, 2012 on the MOCAtv channel.[45]

Biophilia Remix Series[edit]

On 6 March 2012, Björk announced via Pitchfork that an eight-part remix series would be released to promote Biophilia, released digitally, on CD, vinyl and as limited edition packaging every two weeks starting 16 April 2012.[46]

The series is divided in 3 different editions which differ only in the artwork, designed by M/M (Paris). The digital edition features a solid colour background with ornaments superposed (each ornament corresponds to each song on the album). The standard edition features a picture of an Icelandic landscape split in two (each part on each side, the pics are shown completely when the package is totally open) and the name of the song in black on each side. The pictures were made available on the M/M (Paris) official Facebook profile. The deluxe edition is printed on embossed paper and features the title of the song in a coloured foil.

Some of the remixes were compiled on the remix album Bastards.

Reception[edit]

Critical[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic 79/100[55]
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[56]
The Daily Telegraph 5/5 stars[57]
Entertainment Weekly (A−)[58]
The Guardian 4/5 stars[15]
NME 9/10[59]
Pitchfork Media 6.2/10[60]
PopMatters 8/10[61]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[62]
Slant Magazine 3.5/5 stars[63]
Tiny Mix Tapes 4.5/5 stars[64]

Biophilia received very positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 79, based on 36 reviews, which indicates "generally favorable reviews".[55] Critical acclaim came from BBC Music's Mike Diver, who described the album as "mesmerizing" and "an amazing, inventive and wholly unique eighth album from an artist without peer", praising both her voice as a "controlled presence" and her composition work: "Björk has crafted sounds which are entirely hers alone".[65] Möhammad Choudhery of Consequence of Sound praised the "asteroid-bass volley" of "Mutual Core" and "apocalyptical breakbeat coda" of "Crystalline" and stated that "they blend archaic instrumentation with blistering electronica" and even if he labelled Biophilia as "hardly easy listening", he found that "it'll stand as one of the more rewarding albums of her storied career".[66] Biophilia was named "CD of the week" by The Daily Telegraph, whose writer Helen Brown described the album as "wilfully weird" yet "surprisingly accessible, hypnotic and beautiful if you give it time and concentration: the audio equivalent of looking through a microscope at crystals growing".[57] According to NME's Luke Turner, "[looking] past the techno wizardry, the grand designs and the brainy philosophy", Biophilia is "intimate, playful and beautiful" and "a wonderful distillation of ideas, playful and serious, intimate yet the most fantastic journey. [...] A record so particular to Björk's own artistry that no-one could ever hope to replicate it."[59] Now magazine's Kevin Ritchie praised the album as "one of Björk's best and most challenging records" and that "[i]ts accompanying iPad suite [...] isn't required to enjoy the album, which has a satisfyingly messy and unhinged quality, much like the natural wonders that inspired it".[67] Similarly, Gareth James of Clash felt that the album "sounds beautifully warm and compellingly human", and stated that "while much of the fuss around the album has centred on its innovative and hugely interactive app release, this music really doesn't need any window dressing because it's as good a collection of songs as she has put her name to in ten years".[68]

Kyle Andersen of Entertainment Weekly stated that Biophilia is "an ingenious marriage of faerie and machine. But the singer's greatest strength remains the glistening natural resource flowing from her throat".[58] For Heather Phares of Allmusic, "Biophilia is easily her most ambitious project as a whole", whose "boldest innovations are in its presentation rather than in the actual music" and "sometimes feels like a soundtrack", but further adds that "just because the music is only one part of the Biophilia experience doesn't mean it's unsatisfying". Phares eventually gave the album 4 out of 5 stars, also citing its "blend of education and emotion." [56] Daniel Paton of musicOMH viewed Biophilia as a "synthesis of Björk's work thus far", yet "it sees her continue to pursue her own radical and individual path with unshakeable conviction." He also complimented her language, "English [...] always sounds so enticing and odd when delivered in her syntax."[69] Rolling Stone's David Fricke compared the album to Nico's work, "[with its] organ, squishy electronics and the high sighs of a women's choir in stark fields of echo, [Biophilia is] like a haunted digital sister of Nico's 1969 album, The Marble Index".[62] Alexis Petridis of The Guardian wrote that "Biophilia never feels like hard work, however much the accompanying bumf tries to convince you it is." Despite his skepticism over interactive music and apps, he stated the quality of the music is "far less questionable".[15] PopMatters music editor Arnold Pan complimented Björk as being "innovative by nature and eager to take risks" and praised Biophilia's songs, despite claiming "there are some moments on Biophilia that are too atmospheric and subtle [...] especially the low profile 'Dark Matter' and the overly abstract 'Hollow', with its cold modern classical stylings".[61] A more mixed review came from Pitchfork Media's Mark Pytlik, which felt that the singer "prioritized the superficial aspects of Biophilia's presentation over, well, the music", further adding that "she combats the lack of any real structure or melody by over-singing, or lapsing into one of her familiar and increasingly lazy-sounding house vocal runs." He also wrote that "[a]s an innovator, she's as vibrant as ever, but as a songwriter, she sounds tired".[60] Andy Gill of The Independent gave the album a negative review, dubbing it as "hard to love" and added that "at times, it's hard not to conclude that the music and lyrics were devised totally separately, and then forced together in forms it's difficult to acknowledge as songs".[70] Biophilia was nominated for two Grammys at the 2013 55th Annual Grammy Awards for: Best Alternative Album and Best Recording Package.[71]

2011 Year-end list entries
Publication Rank
BBC Music[72] 11
Clash[73] 12
Fact[74] 44
Gigwise[75] 22
guardian.co.uk[76] 17
La Presse[77] 8
Mojo[78] 32
musicOMH[79] 8
NME[80] 38
Q[81] 23
Rough Trade[82] 59
Uncut[83] 27

Accolades[edit]

Biophilia was nominated for the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album and won the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Recording Package awarded to art directors M/M (Paris).

Commercial[edit]

Biophilia debuted at number twenty-seven on the US Billboard 200 on the issue dated 29 October 2011.[84] The album also opened at number one on the Dance/Electronic Albums, number two on the Tastemaker Albums, number five on the Alternative Albums, number eight on the Rock Albums and number nineteen on the Digital Albums.[84] It debuted at number twenty-one on the UK Albums Chart, becoming Björk's first album not to break the top ten. In Japan, the album debuted at number eighteen with first-week sales of 6,525 copies.[85] The following week it plunged down to number twenty-three, selling additional 4,412 units.[86] In Taiwan, Biophilia debuted at number nine on the G-Music Western Albums Chart for the week of 14 October 2011, sharing the rank with Joe Jonas's album Fastlife, with 1.03% sales volume; the album managed to outrank her previous album, Volta, which debuted at number fourteen on the same chart over four years before.[87] The limited edition of the album debuted at number sixteen on the Gaon International Albums Chart in South Korea, while the standard edition debuted at number twenty-two.[88] After a year of its release, the album reached number one on the G-Music Western albums chart in Taiwan, coinciding Bjork's concert on the territory.

Track listing[edit]

Every song has a subtitle, announced live at the Manchester International Festival performances. While some subtitles refer to the physical phenomena related to the song, others may refer to musical resources also related to those physical phenomena. Also, every song has a characteristic color, featured on the album artwork and in the apps, and every tuning fork is also painted in the colour of the track.

The Digipak edition of the album includes one of Björk's previous non-album single, "Náttúra", while the Japanese edition will also include her 2010 Moomins tie-up single "The Comet Song".

All tracks produced by Björk, except "Crystalline", produced by Björk and 16bit and "Dark Matter" produced by Björk and Mark Bell. Additional production on "Thunderbolt", "Crystalline", "Dark Matter" and "Virus" by Leila Arab.

No. Title Lyrics Music Length
1. "Moon" (Lunar cycles, sequences) Björk Björk, Damian Taylor 5:45
2. "Thunderbolt" (Lightning, arpeggios) Björk, Oddný Eir Ævarsdóttir Björk 5:15
3. "Crystalline" (Structure) Björk Björk 5:08
4. "Cosmogony" (Music of the Spheres, equilibrium) Björk, Sjón Björk 5:00
5. "Dark Matter" (Scales)   Björk, Mark Bell 3:22
6. "Hollow" (DNA, rhythm) Björk Björk 5:49
7. "Virus" (Generative music) Björk, Sjón Björk 5:26
8. "Sacrifice" (Man and Nature, notation) Björk Björk 4:02
9. "Mutual Core" (Tectonic plates, chords) Björk Björk 5:06
10. "Solstice" (Gravity, counterpoint) Sjón Björk 4:41
Total length:
49:34

Personnel[edit]

Charts[edit]

Release history[edit]

Country or Region Date Label
Japan[91] 5 October 2011 Universal Music
Netherlands[123] 7 October 2011
Poland[124]
Germany[125] Polydor
Ireland[126] One Little Indian, Polydor
United Kingdom[127] 10 October 2011
Iceland Smekkleysa
France[128] Universal Music
Sweden[129]
Hong Kong SAR[130]
Australia[131] 11 October 2011
Italy[132]
Canada[133] Nonesuch
United States[134]
Argentina[135] 14 October 2011 Universal Music
South Korea[136]
Taiwan[137]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Spicer, Nathan (6 January 2011). "Björk Song Used in Solar System iPad App". Paste (Paste Media Group). Retrieved 17 March 2011. 
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External links[edit]