Visiting Dignitaries

In Which We Resist Asking Björk to Play Scrabble

The singer hopes her album app, Biophilia, will teach kids music and science through summer programs at the New York Public Library and the Children's Museum of Manhattan.
bjork biophilia In Which We Resist Asking Björk to Play Scrabble

Björk at the New York Public Library. (Photo: Twitter.com/mgiraldo)

Betabeat couldn’t stop staring at Björk’s belly button. The singer was wearing a coral houndstooth suit over a black lace bra, with pumpkin pants, purple tights and a necklace made of thin coral pieces that looked like crab legs. She was clutching a to-go cup of hot tea as we sat in the Trustees room of the New York Public Library with two other journalists, a radio reporter and a Daily News intern, in an awkward mini-press conference. Björk wore a bulbous multi-colored wig pinned with bobby pins into a twisty spiral.

We told her we liked her speech at the Webby Awards: “A-E-I-O-U.” She laughed. “Sound,” she said.

We resisted the urge to hug her.

Björk, who lives in Brooklyn Heights—until Friday, that is, when she’s planning an unspecified move—was at the library to talk to an audience of middle- and high-schoolers about her 2011 album, Biophilia, an interactive experience on the iPad. The app will be integrated into a summer program for kids at the library. After that, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan will host a Biophilia workshop series. Songs on the app correlate to scientific and musical concepts. One song, Thunderbolt, aims to teach kids about lightning and arpeggios.

We asked Björk, a self-described technophobe, what apps she’s using. “Right now I’m doing a lot of Scrabble,” she said. Up close, the singer has a facial tic; she winks and scrunches the right side of her cheek, and licks her lips with her tongue, all the way around, in a circle.

“I got obsessed with Scrabble about a month ago,” she said. “It sort of started in Buenos Aires because I had to save my voice. James, my assistant, he kind of tried to spike things up for me in my silence.” The singer is in the habit of swapping out similar-sounding English words—she also “hackled” through 20 years of computer programming. “So he got a projector and started projecting on the nearest buildings straight from the iPad, so we had like, 15-foot Scrabble. It was sort of like terrorism.” She giggled. “Like territorial Scrabble!”

Betabeat had attempted to elicit questions for the singer/electronic musician on Twitter, without much success. “Ask her if she wants to hang out,” one friend said. “Wear black swan wings & start keening the Dies Irae at her. She’ll get it,” offered Betabeat contributor Steve Huff. “Did she notice me in that concert in 1998?” asked Betabeat senior reporter Nitasha Tiku. “Second question: Why is she so beautiful?”

During the talk, the kids seemed not to realize whose presence they were in—save perhaps for the little girl who snapped a picture with her iPhone. The youngsters’ attention wandered from the odd little woman onstage to the iPads that were being passed out. The cluster of middle schoolers sitting next to Betabeat pinched and pulled a tesla coil, then zipped back to the constellation on the home screen.

“Technology has caught up with technophobic people like me, because you can do this touchy-feely stuff,” Björk was saying on stage. She recalled her music teachers in Iceland trying to explain counterpoint to her. “It was like fantasy,” she said. In Biophilia, counterpoint is illustrated with a pendulum.

Although Björk has been working with the library for a few months, she’d only been there once before to look around. “I love books, they’re like the best ever,” she said.

Back in the trustees room, an assistant asked if we might be finished soon. Björk  seemed to be growing bored, as she had started humming musical scales.

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com