Over the past two decades, Björk has set a gold standard for technical innovation and creativity in music videos.
Now the Icelandic pop auteur is breaking new ground in the digital realm with her multi-faceted Biophilia project, including a new website designed by Toronto-based web design firm Jam3.
Billed as the world's first "app album", Biophilia will encompass a studio album due sometime this fall, mobile apps for each track on the record, a documentary feature, multimedia live shows featuring custom-made musical instruments and a series of educational workshops for kids.
Björk will spend the next three years performing six-week residencies in eight cities around the world. The tour kicked off at the Manchester International Festival in June and will head to the Icelandic capital Reykjavik, her hometown, in October.
The online hub for all things Biophilia is a re-launched Bjork.com, a website that thematically builds on the album's exploration of the connections between music, nature, solar systems and technology. Björk imagined the new site as an interactive 3D galaxy that users could explore to uncover hidden content. The hitch was that she wanted to use new programming language HTML5 to build a 3D engine for the site, something not many web studios have experience in yet.
"I don't think anybody really had a grasp of a way to do 3D in HTML5 to the extent that they intended," says Adrian Belina, creative director at Jam3. "They needed somebody who could take on a challenge and I think our work demonstrates a leading edge challenge-driven, diversified approach."
Björk found Jam3 early last year through Sandbag, a London-based marketing agency and merchandiser that also works with Radiohead. She tasked the firm to search the web for a production partner and it stumbled across a Jblog post about an experimental 3D application built by a Jam3 developer using HTML5.
"This new website focuses on a sitemap that's broken into the past, the future and the present," says Belina. "They had this idea to create a 3D space people could explore using their mouse and keyboard and there would be hidden elements inside the galaxy that will be revealed over time. Even now there are things in there that people don't know are there."
The present has already launched and features a news feed of all the happenings around Biophilia, such as audio excerpts hosted on Soundcloud, concert news and press clippings. Jam3 is busy preparing to launch "The Past" the plethora of information once housed on the old, cavernous version of Björk's website and "The Future," which Belina says, "will launch sometime in the future."
Jam3 worked closely Björk, frequently conferring with the singer via Skype, and creative her long-time collaborators at M/M Paris, the French creative studio that designed the graphics and type associated with Biophilia.
"For them to even explore digital anything was new," says Jam3 technical director Mark McQuillan. "When they showed us their creative, we had to consult on how it would be possible to bring this creative vision to life. They were open to collaboration and allowing us to creatively express their initial ideas."
Though Apple CEO Steve Jobs touted HTML5 as the best way to create rich media experiences for iPad last February, the programming language is still evolving. To date, Arcade Fire and Google's interactive music video Wilderness Downtown is one the most high-profile artistic projects to use HTML5. As such, the new Bjork.com is very much experimental and limited to certain web browsers (Google Chrome, Safari and Firefox) and Apple devices, like iPad and iPhone.
Indeed, optimizing the experience for multiple browsers has been the studio's biggest challenge. When more of the sections begin to roll out, the website's role in the wider Biophilia sphere will should crystalliyze. "[The website] establishes a mood across the board," says McQuillan. "It's the first look at Biophilia and it will probably make a whole lot more sense when we start seeing the other stuff as well."
The innovative nature of Biophilia most certainly means that the music industry is keeping an eye on its progression, though at the moment it's to early to gauge the potential implications of Bjork's app album on the way we experience music in the future.
What is becoming clear, however, is the iPad's creative potential for artists and musicians. In the audio clips posted to Bjork.com, the singer explains that she is on a mission to demonstrate the emotional potential of electronic music and calls the iPad a watershed for electronic music.
When she started working on Biophilia in 2008 she felt like technology had advanced enough that songwriters could compose music more easily undaunted by complex technical constraints inherent in many software programs.
"I didn't want to get too caught up in certain programming. I wanted to be more outside and work with electronics more from emotional idea and the ideas rather than the pure technical aspect of it," she says. "It's an instrument, which in an incredible way, unites impulsive and intuitive music making."