The Annual 2012

School of Visual Arts

From Album to App

John F. Simon Jr.

MFA Computer Art Department faculty member and alumnus John F. Simon Jr. (MFA 1989 Computer Art) was among the artists who worked on Icelandic singer Björk’s Biophilia project. The new album was released as a suite of iPad and iPhone apps built around 10 songs; Simon’s contribution, the track “Mutual Core,” explores the movement of tectonic plates and the core of the earth as a lesson in musical chords. Simon also worked as the project’s software engineer and co-creative director.

In an interview with the SVA blog at the time of the album’s release, Simon explained:

When you download Biophilia, it is like getting a CD of music, plus the little booklet that comes with it. The apps are like the booklet that you sit and flip through as you listen to the album. Except in this case, the booklet is interactive and includes games and instruments that let you jam along in the style of each track. You get to participate in the music in ways that are as unique as each song.

Assessing Biophilia in Wired, technology writer Eliot Van Buskirk said:

When we first heard about Björk’s Biophilia, the first fully realized ‘app album’ ever released, we became a little bit obsessed with it, interviewing developers (including a 19-year-old wunderkind), reviewing the song apps and the like. . . .’Say what you will about the music, but nothing has come close to the way Biophilia re-imagined the album as something functional. It makes the static cardboard album art, whose loss has been so bemoaned over the years, look like, well, cardboard.

Reviewing Biophilia for the New York Times, video game critic Seth Shiesel wrote:

What I felt shining through the interactive elements of Biophilia was commitment from the people behind them, including Björk herself, to deliver something wholly creative. I could sense an artist who wanted to communicate a feeling, a vision, a passion, an idea— not just through sound and words but also through the modern tools available to the public.

So far, the digital music revolution has meant a shift in the way we buy and store music. But the actual modality of simply listening has remained the same. Instead, the real music revolution may just be beginning: a revolution that changes the substance and practice of loving music.

SVA’s John F. Simon Jr. Develops App for Björk’s New iPad Album ‘Biophilia’

Playing the New Björk Album, and Playing Along, with Apps

Björk: Biophilia