The Hot Seat: Björk
The Icelandic artist embraces new platforms with Biophilia.
Fri Jan 27 2012
Photograph: Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin 2011 Wellhart/One Little Indian
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Your latest album, Biophilia, has its own iPad app. Why did you decide to add that feature?
It's just an album, you know? [Laughs]. I wrote it on touch screens, and all of a sudden the iPad came out. I was like, wow, I can also release it on touch screens. The apps here are the songs. You literally go inside the song and can play around in it.
How much input did you have in the visuals? The app for "The Moon" looks like functioning fallopian tubes.
[Enthusiastically] Yeah! It was meant to look like that. The ideas would usually first come from me and then [a team of programmers and I] would come up with solutions.
Did Steve Jobs know about your project when it was in development?
I think so. We didn't have any platform where we could distribute this, so we went to a couple of meetings at Apple. It was kind of tricky for me because I'm an old punk. I've never been sponsored by anything. I was really clear with them: I'm not accepting any money. When I came to the offices they were really keen and they programmed iTunes differently so that we could distribute Biophilia.
The album is about connecting nature with technology. Do you worry that kids in big cities won't grow up surrounded by nature like you did in Iceland?
It does alarm me. The reason we have laptops is [because of] the natural elements and science. We cannot cut ourselves off from it. That's one of the reasons why I'm trying to reconnect the two. It's easier to do that today than it was 200 years ago, when we had this kind of extreme left and right. Either you wanted a factory built and your village destroyed or [you stayed] in the woods. Now it's a totally different choice. It's not, Either I have a laptop or I have a tree. You can [have] both.
Do you ever get nostalgic for your childhood?
Yeah, but I still have these things—I live half the year in Reykjavik, and the mountain I used to walk around is still there. A week ago we had a blizzard for 48 hours and it was really reassuring.
Have you always been in love with the elements?
In Iceland, we have so many volcanoes and lava, and we don't have any Eiffel Towers or Coliseums. People talk down on subjects like history and call it va ra, which means "chatter." And it was interesting taking Biophilia to Iceland and realizing, Oh damn, it was so silly of me to think that the album was universal: it's actually very Icelandic! [Laughs] The subject matters of the songs are all kinda sciencey.
British natural history broadcaster Sir David Attenborough narrates the app. How did you meet?
I got asked by Dazed & Confused magazine to do an interview with him ten years ago, and we kept in touch. When I asked him to get involved in this, he was up for it!
What do you have in common?
I really admire him for building that bridge between urban life and nature in a positive way. He doesn't tell people off, but instead creates a temple on television where people can worship nature. I found it so interesting when I moved over to the States how different nature programs are. If it's a story about beetles or whatever it's like [in doomy voice], "If you are alone with one million beetles, you might die." And it has this scary horror music in the background, and the tone of the narrator will be like, "The destructive energies of volcanoes!" And then you watch David Attenborough, and it'll be quite majestic.
You're performing Biophilia at science museums around the world, including the New York Hall of Science in Queens. Do you find museums boring or inspiring?
I think a bit of both! In museums, I'm really predictable. I come out and say, "Oh, I liked that piece there," and my friends laugh because it will always be the one with sound.