Despite persistent claims to the contrary, the album isn't dead -- yet. Adele has sold more than 25 million copies of her second full-length recording, 21, since it was released in January 2011, while back in September, hoedown-loving folksters Mumford & Sons shifted some 600,000 units of their second record, Babel, in its first week.
In less mainstream circles -- especially amongst DIY indie and punk scenes -- vinyl has been making an impressive comeback, too. The figures, naturally, aren't quite so colossal, but, nevertheless, there's certainly a renewed sense of sustainability when it comes to independent record labels that would have shocked the soothsayers of yesteryear.
A new approach
Of course, the music business is a fickle and capricious beast, and one which has changed immensely as technology has advanced. iPods and iTunes irreversibly altered the musical landscape -- both in terms of artistic perspective and business models -- but it's only recently that artists have started truly adapting and responding to that technology by incorporating it into their art rather than using it as merely a vessel for distribution.
Since the iPad's launch, the possibilities for an artist have increased dramatically. One of the most high-profile instances of this was the launch of Björk's Biophilia project/album -- part of which was recorded on an iPad -- as a series (or sequence) of apps in October 2011.
Known for her idiosyncratic, experimental and inventive approach to music, it was perhaps little surprise to see the Icelandic artist pioneering this new approach. By fusing each of the 10 songs with a visual and interactive companion piece, Björk created an immersive, multimedia world that challenged the traditional notion of the album -- Biophilia isn't so much about listening to music as it is about experiencing and engaging with it.
The multifunctional apps consist of themes and games related to their songs, as well as a written score of said song, animations and essays. The app for the song 'Virus', for example, can be used in an instrumental mode in order for the listener to assume the role of musician and play/create music of their own. If you want to just listen to the song, it will visually recreate the life-cycle of a virus on screen while you do. The app for 'Sacrifice' contains samples from the song which you can combine as you type, while the 'Cosmogony' app diagrammatically superimposes the Big Bang theory with native American, Chinese and Australian aboriginal creation myths, simultaneously uniting and contrasting them.
It's complicated, intricate stuff, each app and its graphics and processes inextricably linked to the music. It's important to note, though, that the Biophilia app doesn't serve as a replacement of the traditional album, but as an extra way of listening to and engaging with it: a counterpart, not an alternative.
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