Beyoncé and Kid Cudi have been getting a lot of attention recently for their “revolutionary” uses of digital media to secretly drop new albums, but there are some other musical artists out there taking exciting online innovation to a whole new level.
I’m talking about Polyfauna – a new app created as a collaboration between Radiohead and design agency Universal Everything – which genuinely pushes the boundaries of music, art, and technology, in a way that other bands and artists seem to have forgotten is even possible any more.
Make no mistake, this is not a guided or in any way orderly experience. Instead, upon loading the app you find yourself in a series of detailed and reactive abstract landscapes. Sometimes there are trees, sometimes it’s raining, and sometimes everything is blood red.
As you turn your device, your view of the landscape turns with you. Touch the screen, and you can squiggle shapes, which moments later become strange spiky creatures that swim through the environment around you.
Trees, rain, and tinges of blood red – this level had it all!
And then there’s the red dot. A big red dot flies through the environment, and each time it collides with “you” within the game the screen explodes into jagged red triangles and another variation of the landscape greets you.
I found myself lost within the app, intrigued by its irrationality and mesmerized by the misleading sense of progressing through “levels” each time the environment changed. It felt like a multi-layered dream, where each scenario bleeds into the next with no clear boundaries.
I found myself mesmerized by the spiky moon-cage in the sky.
The entire app is set to distorted abstractions of the Radiohead song “Bloom,” from their recent record The King of Limbs.
Unsurprisingly, Polyfauna has attracted comparisons to Björk’s app-experiment, Biophilia. However, while Biophilia tried to educate its users in science and music as they explored diagrams of celestial bodies, Polyfauna makes no such pretense. Its world is stark and abstract, with nothing to be learned but hours spent wandering in strange fascination of where the dot comes from and what it all really means. I have a sneaky suspicion that Radiohead are having a Gothic reaction to Björk’s Enlightenment-era app.
Even its name represents an odd collision of the Greek “poly” (= “many”) and Latin “fauna” (= “animals”) – there’s a feeling that’s it’s not supposed to make sense.
In their blog announcement, Thom Yorke said that Polyfauna was born out of an interest in “the imagined creatures of our subconscious.”
Yorke’s instructions for the app are equally refreshingly simple and frustratingly vague. (I’m sensing a metaphor for life somewhere here.)
Your screen is the window into an evolving world.
Move around to look around.
You can follow the red dot.
You can wear headphones.
The world of Polyfauna is almost Gothic in its desolation.
I’m excited. If Polyfauna gets enough downloads, if Radiohead get enough publicity from it, if even one major network features it, then maybe they’ll have started something, and we’ll get some more of that good ol’ artistic innovation going on.
In the mean time, go download it and have a go.