The singer's shows at the Manchester international festival will be accompanied by 'companion apps'. Is this the future?
It has been announced that Bj�rk has chosen this year's Manchester international festival to unveil what a suitably breathless press release describes as her "most ambitious and exciting work to date". In six shows across June and July, everyone's favourite Icelander will premiere a multimedia project called Biophilia. Apparently it's all to do with the universe and the planets and atomic structure and whatnot. It all sounds a bit like Professor Brian Cox the Musical (in a good way).
But for all its talk of the show's "bespoke gamelan-celeste hybrid", "bespoke digitally-controlled pipe organ" and (presumably not bespoke) "30-foot pendulum that harnesses the Earth's gravitational pull to create musical patterns", what the press release seems most excited about is the "companion apps" which, we're told, will be arriving in the iTunes store soon. More than one of them, too, from the sound of it. It doesn't say what the apps will actually do, but it doesn't need to, because you don't get much more cutting edge than apps. Apps are cool.
A lot of them are also a bit rubbish. According to a study by software company Localytics published in February, 26% of all mobile phone apps are only ever opened once. That fate surely awaits many of the musicians' apps which are fast becoming an essential part of any big act's campaign.
Artist-related apps usually fall into three categories. First, the fan-rinsing money spinner (the truly appalling Robbie Williams Racing game springs to mind). Second, the box-ticking rehash of content you'd find on the artist's website via your mobile browser. And third, the genuinely clever/interesting/innovative app which you think is great when you download it, but very quickly forget about.
Notable examples of that last category include the xx's app, which allows you to recreate a concert on a table with a different member playing on each of three iPhones; the I Am T-Pain app, which lets you add your digitally-corrected warble to one of the R&B singer's tunes; and The Streets' Mike Scanner app, which offered free gifts if you scanned particular barcodes. All three of those were genuinely diverting ideas, very well realised.
But even putting aside the fact that only a small proportion of the acts' fanbases ? those with the right kind of phones ? can access them, none have the impact and longevity of a great piece of music or even a good video. In other words, it's hard to think of a musician's app which has had true artistic value in its own right. The implication of today's announcement seems to be that Bj�rk's apps will achieve that ? and it would be great if they did (although you do wonder why she'll need several apps, rather than just one with all the content).
Either way, musician-related apps are only going to get more ubiquitous. Not just because they still seem to lend an act an air of cutting-edge cool, but because - at a time when many listeners simply can't comprehend why you'd pay for music - people will happily shell out a few quid for an app. And if there's actually money to be made from something, the music industry simply can't afford not to throw its weight behind it.