Magazine article The New Yorker

BJoRK ED

Magazine article The New Yorker

BJoRK ED

Article excerpt

"I want the kids to feel like they're superheroes of sound," Bjork said the other day, at the New York Hall of Science, in Queens. The Icelandic singer and composer, restlessly youthful at the age of forty-six, was rehearsing for a monthlong series of events related to her new project, "Biophilia," which is part album, part stage spectacle, part iPad-app emporium, part new-instrument laboratory, and part curriculum. It is one of the more ambitious schemes undertaken by a pop artist in recent years, and perhaps the most singular thing about it is that education has been part of the plan from the outset. Since the beginning of February, students from Queens middle schools have been dropping by the Hall of Science to learn scientific and musical concepts side by side, following a "Biophilia" syllabus.

"A few years ago, when I first started making music with touch-screen technology, I felt like I was revisiting my own music classes, back when I was seven or eight," Bjork said, during an Indian-food dinner break with her musicians and Icelandic choristers. "I thought about how certain ideas could have been more fertile, more tactile, if this technology had been around. It was so empowering for me when the touch screen was hooked up to, say, a pipe organ. And I kept thinking about how empowering it would be for a child. We have this instrument called the singing Tesla coil, which makes monster tones from electric bolts. When I wrote my 'Biophilia' songs, I chose natural elements that I knew kids would really like. Lightnings! Pendulums! Natural processes that move 3-D, in space. You can relate them to arpeggios, counterpoint, all those musicology things."

Each track on "Biophilia" includes what Bjork calls a "science element" and a "music element." "Crystalline," for example, compares crystal formations to flexible structures of songs. "Solstice" likens swinging pendulums to overlapping contrapuntal lines. And "Virus," whose folk-like melody seems to come from the depths of the centuries, has an unstable, ever-shifting accompaniment that suggests cells subdividing and multiplying. The "teachable" elements are basic, although they sometimes venture into more esoteric zones. "Dark Matter," a song based on rumbling cluster chords, evokes the secret places of the universe. (A Rutgers astrophysicist joined the "Biophilia" team to elucidate dark-matter theory.)

On a recent afternoon, a group of children--Jiselle, Anthony, Ethan, Michael, Joselyn, and two Andys--gathered in a learning lab at the Hall of Science. …

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