Icelandic singer-songwriter Bjork is changing the way people enjoy music with iPad apps that expand on the songs from her new album, “Biophilia.” The apps push the boundaries of music while exploring natural and technological themes in her lyrics. Because it bridges entertainment and education, 50 Queens middle-school students recently had the opportunity to participate in workshops that let them explore the CD’s scientific subject matter, too.
Bjork and a talented team of artists, designers, scientists, writers, and software developers have created a multimedia experience with the apps — one for each of the 13 tracks from her album.
These apps were the foundation of a three-week educational program, sponsored by the artist, to teach the students from Corona and Flushing how music relates to nature. In conjunction with the Creator’s Project, a global arts and technology initiative, New York Hall of Science launched “NYSCI Neighbors,” a community program aimed at establishing a connection with local schools and families.
The workshops were run by program instructors, as well as guest musicians and music teachers who delved into the different scientific concepts on the album. Students participated in hands-on activities and demonstrations that explained the science behind the album’s themes and how they relate to music. They also used the apps as tools for music composition and production.
With “Biophilia,” the students studied the universe on many different levels, from atomic to cosmic. The first song, “Cosmogony,” invites students to journey through a three-dimensional galaxy. In the app that accompanies the song, there are 10 stars, each representing a different tune. When students tap on a star, they can explore the song in more depth.
With the song “Solstice,” they can manipulate the music while learning about the movement of planets and the earth’s rotation from the counterpoint. “Moon” repeats musical cycles similar to the lunar phases, and the lyrics of “Virus” describe fatal relationships, biologically represented by a virus and a cell. App users can play a game that will stop the song if they succeed in destroying the virus. Lyrics appear on the screen, many containing metaphors that relate to scientific concepts such as dark matter and DNA.
The workshops culminated in live shows Bjork performed at the New York Hall of Science and Roseland Ballroom last month. Those lucky enough to get tickets to the sold-out events experienced an awesome show by the award-winning artist. Performed in the round, the intimate, audio-visual concert featured a 24-member Icelandic female choir and several custom-made instruments including the gameleste (a MIDI-controlled pipe organ), gravity harps (four 10-foot pendulum harps), and a sharpisichord (a pin barrel harp). Each reflected Bjork’s fascination with the connection between musicology and nature, like the two large Tesla coils that hung from the ceiling of the venue, both of which were transformers that played notes by producing electricity.
“She likes pendulums as a manifestation of gravity. They transform one kind of energy into another and back again,” explains gravity harp designer Andy Cavatora of Bjork’s vision for incorporating forces of nature, like lightening and magnetism, into the show. “In this case, it’s gravitational potential energy and kinetic energy.”
Bjork has created a revolutionary way to enjoy music and transformed it into something educational, too. “Biophilia” offers mesmerizing new music while stimulating young minds with interactive technology. Bjork’s cutting-edge experiment in the music world may very well influence how children will be taught in the future.
Laura Varoscak is a teacher and freelance writer. She is a regular contributor to New York Parenting Media and has won editorial awards from Parent Publications of America. Varoscak holds master’s degrees in fiction writing, education and psychology. She lives in Bay Ridge and is the proud mom of two sons, Henry and Charlie. For more, visit www.examiner.com/parenting-in-new-york/laura-varoscak.