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(Credit: J Hayne)

What's that sound? Björk's electrified 'Thunderbolt'

Bjork’s 2011 Biophilia is an exploration of the crossroads between music, nature and technology. It is not your normal album — as if the next step in the biological evolution of releasing music — Biophilia is a multimedia project released with a series of electronic apps that can interact with the music. It is an artistic attempt to bring us closer to our understanding of where humanity stands with nature.  

Biophilia could be interpreted as a statement on humanity’s unspoken pronouncement that it would rather be closer to technology than with its very source of origin: nature. Or perhaps technology is an extension of nature, which is the next inevitable step in our evolution. One thing we do know for sure; Biophilia’s concept was born from Bjork’s desire to raise awareness about our ecosystem and environment.

The Biophilia app consists of 10 separate apps, one for each song. These are all found in the mother app of which its main menu features a three-dimensional constellation, which can be moved around and zoomed in on – making it interactive. 

Everything about the record is extremely revolutionary. Bjork composed all the songs on an Apple Ipad; she combined traditional instruments with real elemental forces and computer programming. For example, the track ‘Moon’ has different musical cycles that repeat throughout the song to match the different phases of the moon; Bjork and her team also incorporated pendulums and transmitted the Earth’s movements to a harp – this one is called ‘Solstice’.

One of the more impressive tracks is ‘Thunderbolt’, which literally uses lightning bolts as part of the music. An introduction to what we’re hearing in the song can be found in the song’s app: “Imagine the most powerful and fantastic natural force that generates sound and you probably think of thunderstorms.”

Björk harnesses lightning to make this song and app: the Bassline is the sound of an electrical discharge created by a Tesla coil forming a leaping musical pattern — the arpeggio. “As the vocal arrangement and lyrics yearn for miracles, the bassline teeters between musical and natural sound, and between heard sound and felt vibration.”

In collaboration with Scott Snibbe, an interactive artist and app developer, Bjork created these wondrous apps. Snibbe was able to program a musical electronic phrase that is then sent to the tesla coils; the bolts of electricity erupt in short punctuated bursts at different pitches, which can recreate the musical phrase. 

Snibbe said in an interview with The New York Times, “what Bjork is doing feels a lot like the birth of cinema or the birth of opera.” Snibbe also went on to describe the context of the project: “We’re entering the age of interactivity. The passive, one-way media will become a blip in human history. Bjork had a complete, unified concept where everything was interconnected. The music wasn’t dominant, the image wasn’t dominant, the interactivity wasn’t dominant. Everything worked together the way a movie or an opera does.”

Listen to the elemental ferociousness of ‘Thunderbolt’ — it’s hard to miss the tesla coils.

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