It’s not every day that Radiohead releases a free smart-phone app, but when they do, it’s downloaded over a million times. Writing on the Radiohead website, Thom Yorke announced that the band has released an app called PolyFauna, an experimental collaboration between Radiohead and design studio Universal Everything. Yorke states that the app was “…born out of The King of Limbs sessions and using the imagery and the sounds from the song ‘Bloom’.”
In their description of Radiohead’s PolyFauna, developers Universal Everything describe the app as being able to invite users into an “…immersive, expansive world of primitive life, weather, sunsets, mountains, and forests.”
Users navigate through this world by tilting and turning the app, and using two finger gestures to rotate their viewpoint (holding one finger down on the screen and using the other to move through the view). The app has no instructions on how to interact with it, something the developers hoped would add to the users’ sense of discovery and satisfaction.
Single-finger gestures create new creatures that are born and evolve while moving through the landscape. One of these creatures is shown in the picture below. These evolving creatures were inspired by artist and scientist Karl Sims’ work in computational life-forms.
If you want to move on from the landscape that you’re currently in, then you simply follow the floating red dot, and are transported to a new landscape accompanied by variations in the playing music.
The variations of the song “Bloom” (from Radiohead’s 2011 album The King of Limbs) provides a soundtrack for exploration that is hauntingly beautiful in its aesthetics. The variations in the song are an appropriate backdrop to the evolving creatures floating about in various ethereal, dream-like landscapes. These landscapes were inspired by the paintings of J.M.W. Turner and Peter Doig.
PolyFauna is one of the few music-based apps I have come across where the intent is for the user to experience an interactive work of art, rather than for users to perform or compose themselves. It is quite easy to get lost in the dream-like world that the app creates.
Given the technical capabilities of smart-phones, it is not surprising that musicians such as Radiohead are using them to create interactive art. This area of engineering and artistic practice certainly has room in which to grow, and it will be interesting to watch this application area develop further.