The singer Björk is probably the best known Icelander.
When discussing Icelandic music one cannot do this without mentioning the grande dame.
She is best known for her unusual voice and eclectic musical style (Trip Hop- Avant-garde – as well her eccentric costumes – just think about that infamous swan dress she wore to the Oscars in 2001.
Long story short, if you’re reading Iceland Review Online it is most likely that you know who Björk is. And if not, I would be... surprised.
Let's just say Björk Guðmundsdóttir is a versatile, superbly gifted artist.
Whatever she does, she draws worldwide attention.
Even in Iceland, people get giddy with excitement when she’s around and usually Icelanders don’t get star struck by their own kind.
Biophilia is Björk’s seventh full-length album, released in October 2011 with One Little Indian Records.
It’s a complex multimedia project containing music tracks and iPad applications.
The album comes with ten diverse tracks and ten separate iPod\iPad apps, all housed within one bigger app. Each of the smaller apps is connected to a different song from the album and allows the user to explore and interact with the musical themes. One can even compose an entirely new version of the song.
Wow, sounds pretty sci-fi to me!
Here in Iceland, the singer is known for being an activist for environmental protection of her native country so the close relationship between Björk’s music with the topic of nature is no surprise.
Biophilia is supposed to melt both the world of science and nature together with musicology, as the artist herself stated.
With the apps one can go even further and get deeper into the matter of the songs and their message.
For example, the application for the song “Virus” features a close-up study of cells being attacked by a virus.
I read about all this before I actually listened to the album and it really sparked my interest.
Let's talk about the music now.
The album opens with “Moon” and gently leads us into the world of Björk. The song is slow paced and is based on beautiful harp sounds and Björk’s tender voice. Different musical cycles represent the lunar cycles.
"Thunderbolt" contains arpeggios that are inspired by the time between when lightning is seen and thunder is heard. The bass line features an unusual instrument: a Tesla coil.
"Crystalline” was the first released single of Biophilia and is mostly electronic, accompanied by a continuous gameleste base and some drum 'n' bass beats.
Björk’s women’s choir is a beautiful addition to the song. After the bridge, the song features a gameleste solo and ends with a break core section that will sweep you off your feet.
By the way, a gameleste is a mixture between a gamelan and a celesta.
This is definitely one of my favorite tracks of the album.
In contrast to that is the next song, “Cosmogony”. It's a low-key composition with choir, minimal electro bass and brass instruments. On top of that we hear a lovely vocal melody.
The atmosphere changes with "Dark Matter". The lyrics are gibberish. That’s not supposed to be an insult – the gibberish is intended to stress the fact that the dark matter phenomena is actually directly unexplainable. Low basses and a heavy orchestral set add to the eerie, unsettling atmosphere. To me, this matter is a bit too complex.
This is followed by the equally unsettling “Hollow”. According to Björk it’s “quite gothic”. Quite right. The clutter of sounds (organ and drum 'n' bass elements) and a strange balance between Björk's calm, lulling voice and the menacing staccato of the choir contribute to the eerie atmosphere. I didn't like this track very much, it's just weird.
The tone changes with “Virus”, a lovely and melodic song with bells. One of my favorites.
“Sacrifice” is based on Björk's soothing voice and the gentle sounds of another unusual instrument, a sharpsichord. The slow pace is spiced up by occasional drum 'n' bass inflected rhythms.
The next song, “Mutual Core”, follows a similar concept. Björk’s mesmerizing singing and the spooky choir vocals are mixed up with some enthralling drum 'n' bass sequences. In my opinion, one of the best tracks of Biophilia.
For the closing track, "Solstice", a Gravity Harp was built, which is an apparatus of four robotic pendulums each connected to a harp. The pendulums refer to the movement of planets and the Earth's rotation. The beautiful melody just carries you away. The counterpoint adds a little twist.
I've never been an overly avid fan of Björk, I admit it. That might come as a shock as almost everybody loves and adores her. There are a few songs of her though that I love.
Biophilia is a magnificent and visionary project of music, sound and science. A fellow reviewer wrote one had to look past “the techno wizardry, the grand designs and the brainy philosophy to find an album that's intimate, playful and beautiful”. Well said! To me, a diverse record with its ups and downs.
A small critique is that the whole app idea is maybe a bit too fancy for some folks. Not everyone is a geek and all those technical gimmicks are a bit of an overload.
I mean, it’s all truly impressive and innovative, but I don't have an iPad and therefore the apps don't make any sense to me.
Honestly, at the beginning I didn’t like it too much, but Biophilia really grew on me. Furthermore, I love that Björk is using this project to teach children science in a visual, exciting way.
Buy Biophilia directly on Björk’s website!
Katharina Hauptmann – [email protected]