Biophilia - ONE LITTLE INDIAN/NONESUCH
FILTER Grade: 87%
By Ken Scrudato on October 14, 2011
Björk’s new multi-multimedia project Biophilia has a seemingly unassuming title, referring to biologist Edward O. Wilson’s theory of the innate sensitivity humans possess towards all living things. But in these times of such rapacious consumption—nay, environmental annihilation—and against a backdrop of manifold, ceaseless conflicts and violent put-downs of civil unrest, it is shot through with the sort of audacious gravitas one has generally come to expect of her. It also finds the diminutive goddess dancing through a where-technology-ends-and-art-begins conceptual minefield, tied as it is to a series of, well…apps.
Cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard posited that art, indeed contemporary life itself, had been subsumed by “simulacra,” and wrote of existing in a world “with all the veracity of living phantoms.” And, without delving too deeply into the functionality of the apps themselves, Biophilia seems a vivid, deeply modernistic attempt to call upon the primordial spirit to guide us to an understanding of our place in such increasingly technologically driven times. Bravely, she has based the songs on actual patterns in nature, from DNA structures to phases of the moon; in other words, the sort of thing very few artists can be trusted not to turn into an insufferable, misguided mess.
“Crystalline,” which opens the album, is raw and human, built around little more than a tinkling toy piano and an occasionally swelling beat, with Björk going on about “internal nebula” and how “crystalizing galaxies spread out like my fingers.” It then jarringly explodes into a frenzy of frantic, machine-gunning beats. The spacey-speak continues on “Cosmogony,” which is like a flower-child recitation of the origins of the Universe (“They say back then our Universe was an endless land,” she intones rather enigmatically).
In fact, while there are a few doomy deviations (the moody, gothic synth-pop of “Thunderbolt”; “Mutual Core”’s jolting eruption into industrial speedcore), Biophilia is mostly a stark, openhearted meditation on Earth and Space and where we hapless, tottering humans fit into it all. It’s profoundly intellectually conceived, yet carried out with a childlike sense of the resplendence of it all.
“I knock on your skin and I am in,” Björk thusly delights to the enrapturing accompaniment of fairy-like bells and chimes on “Virus.” And the contemplative “Moon” flaunts barely more than a plucked mandolin to shadow her metaphorical exaltation of “being in life-threatening circumstances / And once again being reborn.” It seems like a profession of genuine hope for our degenerating reality, however hopeless that hope may in fact be.
And for all the technological fascinations of the App (which features games, animation and even an academic essay, all based on the music, scientific theories and concepts pondered in the lyrics), the challenging but exceedingly rewarding Biophilia is at its heart a deeply moving, mind-expanding tribute to how that most ineffable of human achievements—the assembling of words and sounds and ideas into music—can intensify our understanding of the very knowable, but often perplexing and terrifying natural world which supports our existence. It is a masterpiece of obstinate anti-nihilism.
Indeed, as if summing up the essence of the entire Biophilia project, on closing song “Solstice” Björk elatedly exults, “You remember why it got dark / And why it got light again.”
All is full of wonder.