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Interview with Bjork: “The industry was making too much money; now it’s gone normal again”

We spoke to one of the world's most innovative artists as she releases her latest album, Biophilia

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Björk Biophilia

Ever the innovator, Björk Guðmundsdóttir has just released her 9th studio album, Biophilia. Actually, “just released” is no more accurate than “album” resumes the concept: Biophilia is an all-encompassing, multi-platform project spanning live performance, audio, video, games and apps.

First revealed at a breathtaking concert in Manchester late June, it was then released as a “mother app” introduced by British nature TV star David Attenborough, through which the user navigates to access different songs, declined as games or similar interactive experiences (Crystalline, for example, is a tunnel shooter game which you hear more the better you play, à la Guitar Hero…)

Now the cycle is complete, midemblog thought the time was rife to quiz Björk on topics such as the conception of this magnum opus; the role of technology — inparticular tablets — in its creation; and her views on the music industry, from the summit of her ever-pioneering career. Enjoy!

 

> midemblog: Many of us first heard your unique voice on “ex:el”, the 1991 album by 808 State, then one of the most innovative bands around. 20 years later, it seems you still won’t embark on a project unless it’s innovative. Is that your creative sine qua non?

Björk: Perhaps not so much that I am focusing on innovation but more so i am trying to prevent boredom. In the beginning of every album I try to avoid the boring stuff and go for whatever turns me on. Albums tend to take 2 or 3 years. That is a long time! So towards the end of them I am usually desperate for new toys and new ideas and songs to play with.

 

> The project is based on the union of nature and technology, through music. Where does this notion come from? Do you not think technology and nature are more foes than friends?

They used to be friends all the way until about 300 years ago; ‘techno’ means simply craft in greek and computers are simply tools; an extension of us. So they are whatever we want them to be. Perhaps this clumsy outburst of industrialisation was simply an exception, a strange route we had to take to end up here! Not only this is the first time technology that can communicate with nature; but also, we have to, in order to survive until the 22nd century. Our cars, houses, phones and computers should be run on solar power, wind and so on. The handshake is on its way.

 

> How did (renowned UK nature documentary-maker) David Attenborough come on board? Were you surprised to discover he shared your vision?

I did an interview with him a while back. When I asked him to do this I wasn’t expecting a yes but I was thrilled when it came. He is such an inspiration to me.

 

> After having made technology more accessible than ever, are iPads now making music creation more accessible than ever? What could this imply?

As I’ve said before, I feel touchscreens are simply tools, they are an extension of us. Different people prefer different tools; and of course it is not about the tool but what you do with it. I am not sure i agree that iPads are making music more accessible than ever. Before man kind had bongos and flutes and guitars and such , pretty accessible stuff. This album did definitely not feel easy to make; as much as I think technology is fun and truly can help us solve riddles both in music making and other things. I also feel it is important to remember that it is not a lazy short cut.

 

> How much time do you spend per day in dialogue with fans, online?

None, really…

 

>… your website largely makes up for that. For me it’s the golden standard of what an artist should be telling fans; i.e. almost everything! Why do you need other media… like interviews? Shouldn’t your own “propaganda” – your website’s tag for anything sales-related – suffice?

It’s a good question. Interviews are definitely not my favourite thing. I would gladly do without them but so far they have been able to help me tell about my albums that enough bought them so I could continue to make them. That’s vital: but perhaps it’s all changing anyway. Moreover, press interviews like this one we are doing are extinct. Let’s enjoy this fossil fun!

 

> What advice would you give to other artists to a/. stay creative and b/. get noticed?

Hmm… Not like I have a golden solution. Something’s got to be said for originality though, right? It definitely can come in handy.

 

> The music industry has been through a lot since your career began. How has that changed things for you? Is the new music industry — weaker major labels, internet enabling DIY art — a better place, in your opinion?

I don’t think it is better or worse. I started as a 14 year old hanging out with folks from Iceland’s only indie label (Gramm), where it was all about self-sufficiency, and not signing to big labels because they killed Elvis and will rip you off. I think for a lot of years there was a lot of unnecessary overhead in record companies; they were kind of making too much money and now it has gone normal again. However, at the end of the day, there will always be people who want to listen to music and always be people who want to make it and that’s what it is all about.

 

> I gather Biophilia was initially to be a house with one song per room, until the IPad’s arrival enabled the current app version. Why do you think it’s such a revolutionary device?

It is helping us to make things more tactile and 3D. Things like encyclopedias are already, and electronic music instruments are growing a lot from this. Some things were not meant to be locked up in books or computers, they were meant to be touched and felt. I started writing biophilia on a touchscreen called “le mur”, so iPad is not the only device of its kind. I wrote the songs and my engineer Damian Taylor programmed for me behaviours of pendulum and such on them.

We did one programme per song; 10 songs; each one featured 1 natural element and different musicology. For example: DNA and rhythm, chords and tectonic plates, structure in music and crystals, lightnings and arpeggios and so on. Once we had prepared this for 2 years and had it all ready, the iPad came out. At this point it seemed a waste since we had written the whole thing on a touch screen, not to use the touchscreen platform to release it.

The full audio version of Björk’s new multi-platform album is now available here; all tracks are also now available as games and/or interactive experiences in the Biophilia iPhone/iPad app (free app, pay per song/experience).

We also highly recommend her website, as we said is the gold standard of what an artist’s site should be!

 

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