Music as app

The New York Times on Bjork’s latest album, offered as an app/interactive experience:

via Wikipedia

The traditional, linear version of “Biophilia,” released this month, can be downloaded from services like iTunes. The far more exciting option is to acquire the “Biophilia” program from the iPad App Store. Alas, the iPad is the only device that delivers the full experience. But what an experience…

On the iPad screen a galaxy unfolds that you can twist and zoom and pan. Each of the 10 major stars represents a song. When you tap a star, you are offered ways to explore, understand and interact with the tune. There are lyrics and detailed musical analyses. You can watch a scrolling score of the song or simply listen as a colorful visualization passes by.

The real magic happens when you press “play.” That doesn’t tell the machine to play the song; it means it’s time for you to play the song.

Bjork and her team have created a small visual toolbox for each track. A few, like “Crystalline,” play much like a simple video game. In “Crystalline” you tilt and swivel the iPad to add colorful crystals to a growing agglomeration as you zoom along neon tunnels. It is one of the few elements of “Biophilia” in which you are not controlling the sound. Instead you are having a visual and motor-control experience meant to complement it.

Major points here. The one thing I do wonder: sure users can manipulate the songs within the confines/design of the app. But what about outside that? In some sense this seems like a major step forward in terms of producing “music” and offers users a fairly thin set of new options for experiencing it. But do those users really have control to fully reimagine it? Or can they only do so within the narrow mechanics of the artist’s vision? In other words, if listening is the ultimate experience-the-artist’s vision and remixing is creating an entirely new vision, this seems like a middle ground. Still working within the confines of the artist’s vision, but in a new way. So still huge points for creativity. All I’m suggesting is that this might not be a new bar for user control.

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