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The Future Of Digital Albums?

The Future Of Digital Albums?

The Future Of Digital Albums?

I preface this column by admitting that I made a decision not to consistently upgrade my iPhone hardware and iOS with every new annual iteration. For over a decade and a half, working in various interactive capacities, I craved—and because of my tech addiction would purchase and/or upgrade—the newest versions of hardware and software. As I’ve grown more aware and progressive in my views, I’ve become more determined to do my part in reducing landfill. It’s an ethical decision I made a couple of years back that I would only upgrade my phone 3G when it dies, or when a real professional need arises requiring the new iteration. I’ve learned to go zen whenever a friend or colleague showboats their fancy video-capable iPhone 4’s, believing I’m doing my part in reducing waste etc. So far I’ve remained calm and collected. I am a cool cucumber.

Of course I almost went batshit insane recently being without the latest iPhone, when I realized that my favourite contemporary composer Björk Guðmundsdóttir was ingeniously releasing really snazzy apps for iPhone 4 and 3GS and iPad 2, to accompany each song off her ambitious new album of music, Biophilia. Not 3G (although you can find several YouTubers posting video clips of their attempts to get the apps to work on a 3G, to no avail.) Thankfully, I have access to my network, and I had the opportunity to experience these apps firsthand.

I’ve been listening to Björk since she was a Sugarcube, from the moment they released their breakout single, Birthday, in 1987. No one else sounds like her. No one. She does, however, have a doppelganger back in my hometown of Sarnia. My elementary schoolmate Deirdre Fleming and Björk could be clones. It’s uncanny. But I digress.

Björk works with some wonderful interactive visualists on this project, which is no surprise; she has always collaborated with extraordinary talents. Who can forget Alexander McQueen’s incredible work on the Homogenic album cover from 1997?

The initial downloadable app is free, and, upon launch, is introduced by none other than David Attenborough. The app provides menu options and navigation in a cosmic environment, with all the songs listed. The first song is included for free. Each subsequent song applications are available to download for $1.99. The first single Crystalline comes with a Tron-like game, with an immersive maze environment. The player can collect crystals while travelling through celestial tunnels. Each song app will employ a sub-menu, including the song, an accompanying game, animations, essay, a karaoke variation of the musical score, and credits. Future apps are said to include an exploration of the relationship between biological virus and host, an opportunity to compose text and music concurrently, and a linear animation journeying through the microscopic and molecular world inside of us.

Quite galactic, organic and cellular, and one has to hand it to Björk and her collaborators for wanting to engage the listener in an innovative way. It does harken back to the intimacy one would experience with vinyl album packages of yesteryear.

This technological extension of experiential packaging, marketing and promotion will excite Björk’s longtime fans. More importantly though, it may draw in a generation of tech, mobile and app-savvy music lovers who have never been conditioned to buy their music—who might not otherwise purchase the album—to purchase this more fulsome package. Some are proclaiming this to be the future of digital album packaging, and the industry is watching to see how this plays out. Me, I just think it’s a fancy gimmick with lofty goals, and I don’t think it will catch on. Not that I don’t think it’s a great idea.

Meanwhile, I can’t wait for the iPhone 5. I’ve suffered long enough.

Michael Thorner tweets at @michaelthorner

This column originally appeared in IN Toronto Magazine, September 2011 issue.
Editor: Gordon Bowness