Bjork: The Billboard Cover Story
According to Apple sales reports through first-quarter 2011, the company has sold 14.7 million iPads worldwide since the device's launch in April 2010. And while "Biophilia" will primarily exist on a platform that isn't yet a household product-the 10 apps will also be available in scaled-down versions on the iPhone and iPod touch-Snibbe believes the iPad represents the starting point of a new creative outlet for artists. "This is like the birth of cinema," he says. "I know artists want to embrace it, and if the record companies can find a way to make this work financially and contractually for the artists, I think it will really thrive."
Björk signed to Nonesuch Records, which handled the release of her 2009 live album "Voltaic," for distribution in North America earlier this year, in conjunction with longtime indie label One Little Indian. As the new album's release date approaches, the label's goal will be to promote the far-reaching resources of "Biophilia" without bewildering casual Björk fans.
"Her audience has come to expect the unconventional from her," Nonesuch senior VP of marketing Peter Clancy says. "While there are multiple facets to "Biophilia" as a project, the publicity effort, the label site info and Björk's own site have been geared to bringing clarity to the overall concept."
Björk's new website launched in May with a redesign that features an astral pattern similar to the appearance of the mother app. After leaking online in June, "Crystalline" was put up for sale on iTunes and other digital outlets while being serviced to college, noncommercial and modern rock radio formats. It has sold 4,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan. "Cosmogony," the soaring second single, was released July 19, and the apps for that song and "Crystalline" were made available for purchase the same day. "Biophilia" became available for preorder in CD, vinyl and deluxe CD formats, while iPad owners have the option to prepurchase the entire "Biophilia" app suite.
The Gondry-directed video for "Crystalline," which expands upon some of the concepts of their dissolved 3-D movie, will be unveiled July 26, and multiple 12-inch releases with remixes are being planned prior to the album's release.
Meanwhile, Björk's personal focus will be on her live show, which will travel the world during the next two years. Instead of visiting new cities every day, the "Biophilia" tour will entail multiple-week residencies in which a custom-built stage setup will be meticulously installed and Björk will perform her new material twice per week. The project debuted at the Manchester (England) International Festival on June 30, where Björk performed with a 24-person choir, an iPad for orchestration and unique instruments like a gameleste (a celeste made with bronze gamelan bars) and pendulum harps (a collection of four harps that swing on pendulums) to a crowd of 1,800.
"The residency that we had in Manchester existed somewhere between a music concert, an art installation and a piece of theater," says MIF organizer Alex Poots, whose festival hosted Björk for three weeks. Although other residencies haven't yet been finalized, Björk is expected to visit eight cities in the next two years, with Iceland up next in October and a U.S. residency tentatively planned for 2012.
On days between shows, Björk will use her residencies to host free educational programs in collaboration with local schools, in which children will learn about the spatial and structural qualities of music by writing songs on iPads that can be connected to custom instruments. For Björk, these programs epitomize the point of the "Biophilia" project's massive task: to use her music to stimulate others in a singular manner.
"The point where cutting-edge technology, music and nature can meet right now is extremely moist," Björk says. "I have wanted to start a music school though, ever since I was a child. I guess technology just caught up with me."
Jason Lipshutz (@jasonlipshutz) works for Billboard.com and edits singles reviews for Billboard magazine.