It’s not often that I use an app that makes me feel like I’ve been on a journey to another place or another planet. It’s even rarer that I use an app that subjugates my entire brain, seemingly grasping it within some sort of odd control that I don’t understand. As I write this, I’m having problems focusing. Oddly melodic strings of notes bounce and roll through my brain and flashes of lights and stars keep whirring by when I should be focused on my laptop monitor.
In other words, I just played Biophilia, the most wonderfully bizarre and inventively original app I think I’ve ever used. Set to Björk’s music and based upon her latest album release (also called Biophilia), the sort-of-but-not-quite-a-game actually brings you to a completely different place in your imagination. It’s one I can’t shake. Read on to find out what makes Biophilia the must-purchase, must-try, must-play app of the year.
Biophilia is an app with nine in-app songs that are described as “in-app experiences” in the Play Store. Frankly, calling them experiences is more appropriate. Even selecting a song is inventive. You’re free to explore a universe by pinching and zooming and moving around a small galaxy with your fingers.
Navigating the galaxy in Biophilia is a truly surreal experience.
You can fly through constellations and stars, hearing the distant sounds of Björk as you go by. And when you finally decide to stop and tap on a specific star, you’ll land upon a menu that shows off the song itself.
From there, you’ll be able to choose what you want to do. You can play the song-based mini-game for any of the songs, you can watch the score or you can read the lyrics as the song plays. And these are options available for every song on the album. It’s immense.
The menu for one of the nine in-app music experiences.
The games are all different; no two are alike. One was a race for crystals; another was a vibration of lightning in space. And as much as the games are intended to replicate the experience of listening to the album, they’re also meant to help teach and instruct the user. I have a background in music theory and have been playing since I was eight years old (I’m now twenty-two), but even I could learn something from this app.
This is an app that’s bucking every trend. If it becomes a trend to release music in this fashion, although I imagine it’s horribly expensive, it’s fair to say this could change the way we listen and learn.
The Music Itself
“This all sounds great,” you might be saying. “But if the music is terrible, I’m not interested. I’ve never heard of this Björk and I’m not sure I like the umlaut in her name.”
There are so many visually odd ways to explore each track, but each method is insanely rewarding.
I want to briefly correct you, because music is an integral part of this app. I like to think I know a little about music. I run a highly-praised music blog and spent my high school years barhopping with more bands than I can actually remember, including my own. I tell you all this so you know that I might actually have some taste and experience in the industry.
And the Björk record we’re talking about here is pretty amazing. Like everything she’s done, it’s original and what some may describe as an acquired taste, but it’s also layered with enchanting melodies and inventive electronic sounds that really do feel like they’re from another galaxy.
Dancing With the Stars
In that sense, this app is probably the best way to experience the album. It’s an other-worldly experience that, like the album, removes you from your own planet and places you in another.
Each game is very unique. It would take at least nine screenshots to capture a glimpse of each experience.
The games are almost secondary to the musical experience. Most of the time, I was caught up in the sounds and almost oblivious to the games themselves, but by their natures, the games felt like extensions of the sounds I was hearing. It’s a difficult illusion to explain properly, and I suspect it’s something that has to be experienced to be appreciated.
While some games have you chasing crystals, like the screenshot above, others have you creating arpeggios with bolts of electricity.
Lots of people have talked about music as a textural thing, as if notes are something that can be touched and felt. I have a friend who sees music in shapes; while some of us hear a C, she sees a square. Biophilia seems like the actualization of that thought, the full realization that sometimes images and music can be both seen and touched at the same time. And that’s why it feels so earth-shatteringly unique and commendable and interesting.
The Downside of an Android Port
With that being said, though, the app isn’t perfect. While the music sounds great when you’re playing a game, it doesn’t sound as good when you’re simply listening to it while watching the score. I did a little digging, and it apparently sounds better in the original iOS app.
Simply listening to the music while viewing the score doesn’t sound as good as the music does while playing a game.
The reason for this? The music in the iOS app is a high-resolution MP3 file, but it was reportedly down-sampled and transferred to a .ogg in the process of porting it to the Android OS.
While playing the app feels second nature, and it doesn’t feel like a port at all in practice, there are times when you’re clearly listening to a lower-resolution soundtrack. I’d love to see that situation improve in a future update, because at the moment, it’s doing an injustice to Björk’s work.
Something Truly New
At the end of the day, what strikes me most about Biophilia is that it feels like something I’ve never done before. The old Proverb, that there is nothing new under the sun, somehow feels like it’s been misquoted now. I’ve had an experience I’ve never had before, especially not on a phone or tablet.
I’m at a loss for words, in some ways, because I’m not sure I could describe the app or the mini-games as “fun.” At least, not in the traditional sense. The best word for Biophilia is “experiential,” but that cuts it short because it doesn’t make it sound like the mandatory experience it really is. Biophilia is something entirely new and unique, and despite any minor quibbles I could find within the app, it’s something you have to experience if you have any interest in the potential of truly digital music.