Björk

Björk, The Billboard Cover Story

Björk doesn\'t like to think about her legacy. "I try not to. It can paralyze you. It unplugs you," she says, "with your gut."

It\'s fitting, then, that after selling 3.1 million U.S. copies of her first six solo albums (according to Nielsen SoundScan), the Icelandic musician is ready to move beyond the CD, and even the MP3, and peer into the future.

"I\'ve always been aware that vinyl or CDs are not the only way [to release music]," says Björk, 45. "Both are very short-lived formats if you look at how long music has been around. There are always going to be people who listen to music and always going to be people who want to play it for them. That will never change."

"Biophilia", due Sept. 27, isn\'t a new album as much as a new experience: The 10-track set will be released as an iPad app suite that invites the listener to tinker with its sonic palette through touch-screen technology. Björk and a team of developers designed the apps to plunge the listener into the album\'s cosmology theme. The suite is stacked with interactive games, visuals and musical tools. "The spectrum is from \'music video\' to \'instrument,\' and generally all the apps are fitting somewhere in between that, sometimes in multiple places," says media artist Scott Snibbe, who served as one of the chief developers on the project.

 For those who don\'t own Apple\'s tablet computer, "Biophilia" will exist as a gargantuan live show that features one-of-a-kind instruments, an educational program that teaches abstract musicology to kids, a 90-minute documentary that captures the making of the project and a relaunched website-the design mirrors the experience of the apps. "Biophilia" will also be released on CD through Nonesuch/One Little Indian, and first single "Crystalline" has be pushed to radio before the premiere of its breathtaking music video.

At the center of it all, of course, is Björk, whose cavernous, emotionally stirring follow-up to 2007\'s "Volta" is her most immediate album since 2001\'s "Vespertine." "This project is led first and foremost by Björk\'s music," says Michele Anthony, Björk\'s co-manager with Derek Birkett and former president of Sony Music. "The apps and the live show are just different mediums of expressing the heart of the project."


Before "Biophilia" came to fruition, Björk was working on new music in a Puerto Rico beach house with engineer Damian Taylor, writing songs on pre-iPad touch-screens and forging new sounds with organ pipes that they had bought on eBay. After an extensive 18-month tour for "Volta," which included 10 U.S. shows that grossed a combined $3.5 million (according to Billboard Boxscore), Björk was ready to experiment. "We were making pendulums with elastics, rope, magnets and buckets . . . we were building something from the ground up," she says.

The album was originally conceived as a 3-D movie to be helmed by longtime collaborator Michel Gondry, but around the same time the director bowed out to finish "The Green Hornet" last year, Björk had become fascinated with the capabilities of the recently released iPad. Björk reached out to a collection of her favorite app developers through email and presented them with a unique financial opportunity: Without a major label attached to her next project, the apps would be self-funded and the developers would reap the majority of the revenue.

"Björk did it in a different way, which is that she said, \'What we can offer you guys is a creative partnership. Let\'s equally invest,\'" Snibbe says. "She has the freedom to decide how to distribute it . . . and that\'s part of why this project could happen."

Sometimes Björk would email the developers (who also included iPad luminaries like Max Weisel and Theo Gray) hundreds of times per day after the project was started last June. Other times, the team would meet up at locations like an abandoned lighthouse in Iceland and work for eight hours straight. Her goal was to ensure the developers used the 10 individual apps for each album track to showcase the natural elements at the heart of the songs.

"Virus," a song about parasitic interaction in which Björk coos, "Like a virus needs a body . . . someday I\'ll find you," is supported by an app that lets users fight off green parasites from healthy purple cells that each emit unique ringing sounds. In the game for the song "Crystalline," which is about shifting natural structures, players can navigate through neon-colored tunnels by physically swinging the iPad around, and collect different crystals that change the musical structure of the song mix. "I didn\'t want the connection between the song and the app to be superficial," Björk says. "It had to go to the core."