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An Exclusive Look Inside Radiohead's Audiovisual App, PolyFauna

Including an interview with Matt Pyke of Universal Everything, the studio that helped bring PolyFauna to life.

Though Radiohead's last album, King Of Limbs, came out almost exactly three years ago, that doesn't mean anyone is done exploring the group's ever-intricate music. Just ask this chef in Detroit, who recently created a ten-course meal inspired by the ten tracks on Radiohead's 2000 classic, Kid A

Last week, digital art/design group Universal Everything released PolyFauna, an elaborate, lush touchscreen environment created in collaboration with Radiohead, Nigel Godrich, and Stanley Donwood (known for working with the band on other interesting projects). The audiovisual experiment was released as a free app, and includes sounds and imagery from the King Of Limbs track, "Bloom."

PolyFauna is set to a lunar calendar, and the mesmeric world it contains allows users to explore a unique set of patterned designs, environments, and interactive experiences each time its launched. As you move, the gradient-filled atmospheres move as well. Holding your phone or tablet at different angles spotlights different fragments of this world, and touching the screen itself catalyzes digital life, birthing skeletal creatures that float off into the PolyFauna skies. 

This is not your basic app, though. PolyFauna is an evolution of one artwork ("Bloom"), extended into a new medium in a manner that allows users to experience the Radiohead song in an innumerable variety of new ways--a different opportunity to have an intimate, personal experience with an mp3. 

The Creators Project spoke with Matt Pyke, founder and creative director of Universal Everything, about the geodesic world of PolyFauna, and how his collaboration with these multi-faceted artists came to fruition. Below the interview, re-visit our documentary on Pyke and his studio, including some of his other digitally-immersive creations. 

The Creators Project: I was hoping for a basic breakdown of PolyFauna. Does the app react to where you’re viewing/where you’re moving, essentially yielding infinite digital environments?

Matt Pyke: We have built a vast map, consisting of various zones--seasons, colors, terrain, plants, trees and species. The music is emitting from various points on the map, taking a different route leads to a different soundtrack. The life is grown procedurally, never repeating itself. Users can draw spines onto the screen, spawning new creatures into the environment, floating off into the wild. 

How did this app come to be? Did Radiohead reach out to UE or was it something you pitched them?

I received an email out of the blue from Thom, after he’d seen our artworks for our Super-Computer-Romantics show at La Gaite Lyrique, and our work for Warp Records (warp.netbleep.com, various sleeves).

How did Stanley Donwood, Nigel Godrich and the rest of the band collaborate on this project?

We met with Stanley and Thom first, and talked about building this 360º immersive world, based upon Stanley’s sketchbooks full of pen and ink life forms. Then we met back and forth between their studio in Oxford and ours in Sheffield, sharing prototypes with the band and discussing non-linear musical structures with Nigel.

Does PolyFauna have any goals to inspire a certain reaction or feeling in its users? I read that this is a chance to interact "with the imagined creatures of our subconscious.” Maybe you could expand on that?

We saw it as a chance to live inside the music, a synesthetic audio-visual experience, with life grown from the mathematical rules which occur in nature. This became an atmospheric, fragmented memory of the track "Bloom" from King of Limbs.

I think PolyFauna is special because it allows music fans to re-experience “Bloom” in an endless variety of unique ways. Do you imagine this as the future of music ephemera--infinite opportunities to explore a song that was originally 5 minutes? Major extensions of one art format into another?

I love the idea of exploding a piece of music into a non-linear format, how every user gets a unique experience, and how every journey through the music is subtly different. The potential of digital music feels ripe for these possibilities beyond the same 5 minutes for everyone.

Can you describe the inspiration for the world/environment in PolyFauna? It’s like a gradient, geodesic forest of sorts.

It's an augmented version of the real world aligning to your horizon, and the position of the sun and moon. It's devoid of man-made, urban forms--I’m originally a landscape painter by training, so working with the palette of colors, atmosphere, and weather in digital form brings it back full circle for me.

I love how simple touch gestures get evolved into lush animations within PolyFauna. Can you talk a little bit about why a tactile element was important for this project? When a fusion of physicality and digitalism yields art, my mind is always blown.

I didn’t want a purely passive, observational journey through the landscape. It's vital that the user brings life into the world--an empowering godlike feeling of creation.

How do you imagine the future of personalized/multi-layered experiences with a single song? How will artists use technology to creatively engage with their fans outside of just the music?

Now that record sleeves are reduced to a thumbnail, and music videos are so fleeting, new forms of creating a visual world for a band are needed. Bands will start creating engaging, ever-changing interactive spaces for their music and fans to live within.

Are there any music-meets-tech experiments you'd like test out?

The convergence of a fan’s mobile and stadium visuals.

As the creator of this app, where is your favorite environment to sit and play it?

In the dark, on a swivel chair.

Are there any hidden easter eggs of bonuses in PolyFauna we should keep digging around for?

Only the code will know that!

For more on Matt Pyke and Universal Everything, take a look at our documentary on the digital studio below: 


Images courtesy of Universal Everything

@zachsokol