In the past Bjork has entertained and mesmerized audiences world-wide with her beauty, talent, and very creative fashion styles. Now she has added a new dimension to her music which is motivated and energized by science.
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this article With Answer Key.
Excerpt: Björk: I was always a bit of a nerd, By D. Robson, Scientific News, CultureLab
Björk is at it again. Ever eclectic, her latest album is inspired by science and there’s a suite of apps through which to experience it. David Robson met the Icelandic singer to find out more, and enjoyed a sweet music lesson to boot.
…We are together to talk about Biophilia, Björk’s new album and suite of smartphone apps that will combine science-themed songs with computer games that aim to teach music theory to the uninitiated, like me. “Music education’s not as hard as people make it out to be, but it’s been put on this pedestal for a chosen few,” she says. It is for this reason that, like a modern-day Maria von Trapp, Björk is giving me an impromptu music lesson.
It’s not quite what I’d expected from the avant-garde pop singer, who has been a polarising presence in music for the last 20 years. She’s sold more than 20 million copies of her six studio albums, garnering numerous awards and fans as diverse as Madonna, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and the classical composer John Tavener. But she’s attracted critics too, who baulk at her unconventional vocals and idiosyncratic lyrics.
Biophilia, her most experimental project to date, looks set to divide opinion yet further. Its name – inspired by neurologist Oliver Sacks’s book Musicophilia – evokes humankind’s empathy with nature, which Björk has borne out with songs about genetics, crystallisation, plate tectonics and dark matter. The accompanying apps will be released in place of music videos, while the live shows have so far included a recorded voice-over by British naturalist David Attenborough, a live Tesla coil and four “gravity harps” suspended on 3-metre pendulums.
Science and nature aren’t typical fodder for a pop singer, but Björk assures me that they have been life-long interests for her: “I was always a bit of a nerd.” As a child in Iceland watching TV at her grandparents’ house, she was captivated by the BBC’s natural history programmes. “I just thought David Attenborough was everything,” she says. …But why write an album about science? For one thing, she says, it offered a gentle departure from the confrontational nature of her previous album. “Volta, for me, was about pointing your finger and criticising things and asking for justice.
Natural phenomenon can also offer some fitting visual metaphors to translate the music theory, she says. The jagged shape of lightning for instance, mirrors the rise and fall of pitch in arpeggios… She put this to use in a track called Thunderbolt, which uses a bass line of arpeggios recorded from a discharging Tesla coil…
Crystalline, the album’s first single, has a similar story. Hearing it, I just felt like someone had a chisel and was chopping into crystals, it was so relentless, she says. And emotionally, it had to be about anxiety, because it has that relentlessness…
Many of the songs came about unconventionally – they were written on music software that responds to a touch screen and a Nintendo video game controller with a joystick…The result is one of the most innovative albums this year – another curve ball from an artist who continues to push the boundaries of the pop song…
Well, it works for me, she says, but is keen to point out that there will be many other possible solutions too. But you’d be surprised how the people at Apple, and Android – and whatever other systems – are all gagging for us to comment and collaborate with them.
Whether the album will convince Björk’s critics is anyone’s guess, though Biophilia’s debut shows, at the Manchester International Festival in July in the UK, met with almost universal acclaim from the music press. Björk, at least, feels that the project has been blessed with good omens…continue
Read this article to enjoy Bjork at her best. Also, read the questions fans tweeted for Bjork and her responses to them.
Lesson: The joining of Pop Culture Music, Science and Technology
Level: Intermediate -Advanced
Materials: article excerpt, vocabulary questions for comprehension and discussion, video
Objectives: Students will discuss how songs from a pop culture artist can be combined with science and technology to produce a different genre of music. Students will practice reading , speaking, writing and listening skills.
I. Pre-Reading Tasks
A. Prediction: Read the titles (of both this post and of the original article) survey the photos, to see if you and your group members can predict what the article will be about.
B. *Stimulate background knowledge: With your group members, brainstorm to build a list of all of the words you can think of connected to the terms: Pop culture, science, music and technology.
II. While Reading Tasks
A. Vocabulary: Word Inference
Guess the meanings of the words in bold, and use a dictionary or thesaurus for assistance.
- Ever eclectic, her latest album is inspired by science…
- …her latest album is inspired by science and there’s a suite of apps through which to experience it.
- …with computer games that aim to teach music theory to the uninitiated, like me.
- …it’s been put on this pedestal for a chosen few…
- …like a modern-day Maria von Trapp, Björk is giving me an impromptu music lesson.
- It’s not quite what I’d expected from the avant-garde pop singer..
- …her six studio albums, garnering numerous awards and fans…
- …she’s attracted critics too, who baulk at her unconventional vocals and idiosyncratic lyrics.
- Its name – inspired by neurologist Oliver Sacks’s book…
- …evokes humankind’s empathy with nature…
- …Björk has borne out with songs about genetics, crystallization, plate tectonics and dark matter.
- …it offered a gentle departure from the confrontational nature of her previous album.
- Volta, for me, was about pointing your finger and criticizing things…
- Natural phenomenon can also offer some fitting visual metaphors to translate the music theory…
- The jagged shape of lightning mirrors the rise and fall of pitch in arpeggios.
- The result is one of the most innovative albums this year
- another curve ball from an artist who continues to push the boundaries of the pop song.
Note: the spelling of the following words have been changed from the British version viewed in the article, to the American version. Polarizing,Crystallization, criticizing
B. Reading for Comprehension-True / False
If an idea is true, write (T) if it is false, write (F), and provide the correct answer from the article.
- Björk is from Iceland.
- Björk’s music is very traditional.
- Her new album was inspired by science.
- Björk’s new album is called Biology.
- Björk’s new album has smartphone apps.
- She is described as the usual type of pop singer.
- According to Bjork, music education can be challenging to learn.
- The name of her album was inspired by Oliver Stone.
- During her live shows, there is a voice-over by British naturalist David Attenborough.
- When she was a child, her favorite programs were BBC’s natural history.
- Bjork’s previous album Volta was a calming and gentle.
- The songs from the album Biophilia were written on music software, with a Nintendo video game controller.
- The debut show at the Manchester International Festival met with disapproval from the music press.
- Björk, at least, feels that the project has been blessed with good omens.
- Post Reading Tasks
III. Post Reading Tasks
A. Reading Comprehension Check
Have learners use the WH-question format to discuss or to write about the article. They have the option of answering the standard WH & How questions (see below) or the graphic organizer from Oasis Education.
Education Oasis Organizers
- Who or what was this article about?
- When did the event, action, occur?
- Where did the event, action, occur?
- Why did the event, action, occur?
- How did the event, action, occur?
B. Photo Activity for Speaking or Writing
Use the above photos. Bjork is known for changing both her styles and even her physical appearance dramatically. Study the photos, then answer the following questions in paragraph format.
- In your opinion, is she beautiful? Try to describe what it is that you find attractive (or unattractive) about her.
- Why do you think she changes her appearances for most of her performances?
- Describe some of her outfits and explain why you like or don’t like the particular look.
- Do you think you’d like her person as a friend? Why or why not?
C. Essay Writing
Choose one of the people mentioned in the article and write an essay about their lives. For example:
Maria von Trapp
IV. Listening Activity
A. Listening Comprehension (Fill-ins)
Title: Bjork Biophillia app intro narrated by David Attenborough
Directions: Listen and choose the correct word or phrase to complete the sentences.
1. Welcome to Biophilia, the love for nature in all her___
2. Where she plays on our senses with___
a. colors and forms
b. music and lyrics
c. sound and rhythm
3. Sound harness by human beings delivered with generosity and emotion is what we call__
4. And just as we use music to express parts of us that would otherwise be hidden, so too can we use___to make visible much of nature’s invisible world.
5. In Biophilia you will experience how the three come together,___.
a. trees, music, wind.
b. nature, music , technology.
c. technology, nature, sound.
6. ___the cosmos lying at your finger tips.
7. Discover the different ___as they’re introduced into the constellations…
a. song apps
b. technological devices
8. Remember that you are a ___between the universal and the microscopic.
a. sound wave
9. The unseen forces that stir the depths of your innermost being, and nature who__ you and all there is.
10. We’re on the brink of a ___that will reunite humans with nature…
2. Video: Tulsa Coil Demonstration (Just for fun)
This is a video of one of the devices Bjork uses in her show. It’s called a Tulsa Coil. Dr Zeus demonstrates how he uses two of them.
Questions for Discussion
1. Would you like to learn how to do this? Explain why or why not.
2. Think of two questions you would ask Dr. Zeus if you met him.