Nobody expects people to install a separate app for each album they want to hear, at least until music players gain the ability to run or launch music apps from within a music library.
Still, a band like Radiohead, which people already know, stands a good chance of convincing people to install a dedicated app — and the group’s PolyFauna app for iOS or Android, released last week, is worth installing for fans of the band or anyone who wants to experience a new, ambitious, and interesting art form, on their portable telephones, for free. Why not?
It takes a bit to figure out what’s going on in the app, and we don’t want to spoil too much of the fun, but the basic idea is that you can look around in various directions — as in, you hold the phone out in front of you, and swivel it the right if you want to “look” to your right, which also propels you through weird, underwater-y, mountainous, and/or tree-filled worlds, between which you can travel by finding a vibrating red dot.
All the while, you can build dramatic shapes by drawing them with your finger on the screen, with different design effects based on how fast you drag your finger. You can take photos the whole time, although it’s not really clear where those are stored.
Here’s a screenshot we grabbed with iOS:
Use headphones for this — not only because it intensifies the effect of being “in” the app, but because you have to move around, and being connected to speakers can get in the way.
The music (extracted from sessions for the song “Bloom“) is sparse, but interesting — it can also be repetitive, cold, unpredictable, droney, flutey, dramatic, discordant, and melodic, with percussion that drops in and out. It holds one’s attention, and shifts gears when you enter a new world. You have to keep going, looking for those red dots, or avoiding them and just looking around. At one point, I “fell” into darkness, and then another world opened up. We’ll leave the rest for you to discover.
Radiohead collaborated with design hour Universal Everything, whose Matt Pyke recounted the app’s origin story to the NME:
I got an email from Thom Yorke a couple of years ago saying that he wanted to make an app that’s more of an abstract audio-visual thing rather than a traditional band app. I knew their music really well and designed record covers for Warp artists (Aphex Twin, Plaid, Boards Of Canada) and made music videos. We met up with him and Stanley Donwood and started talking about creating this atmospheric world where it’s not just a music video, it’s an exploded view and echo-fragmented version of ‘The King Of Limbs’ session. They went back into the studio with Nigel Godrich and pulled apart all of the sessions from the ‘Bloom’ track and turned them into these really long stems. As you move through the world you experience different echoes and memories of the track, you recognize fragments but in a really abstract, atmospheric way. We talked about how we’d use a non-linear way of creating an interactive world and how the music can be non-linear too. Each time any person uses the world they get a completely new journey through the environments and nature and sound too. There’s lots of hidden bits to be discovered.
We found the overall effect to be rather breathtaking, and well worth some of your spare time.