Tuesday, February 21, 2006

In which Pandora has no Bachs

Pandora is a website that creates online radio stations according to your input. You suggest an artist or a song and starting from there Pandora's software picks a continuous stream of similar music. It decides what is "similar" by referring to data from the Music Genome Project

While I'm naturally suspicious of any effort to co-opt scientific buzzwords as artistic buzzwords, the MGP is a considerable undertaking. Apparently a panel of experts (possibly Wagnerian genomes or unemployed music school graduates) have been listening to a huge number of pieces and rating them for many different musical qualities. For example two pieces that both have "electronica roots, tonal harmonies, melodic part writing, a simple high-hat part, a slow moving bass line and trippy soundscapes" would be assumed to fit together well. (You must suspend your disbelief on that one, I think.)

You can rate each piece the program selects for you in two ways "like it" or "not". If you like it, those particular strands of musical DNA will be given greater preference; if you don't like it the piece disappears from that station for good. Give thumbs down on the same artist or band twice and they disappear forever. It becomes a dead end in intelligently designed musical evolution.

My first attempts at using Pandora struck squarely on its fundamental exceptions - neither world nor classical music is included.

The first thing I typed in was "Karnak" (see my post about Karnak here). Pandora never heard of Karnak. Never having heard of Karnak, I suppose, is better than what happened on Last.fm - a site with another music-suggestion scheme. Last.fm couldn't differentiate between the Brazilian Karnak and an Italian death-metal band called Karnak. (Their album is called Melodies of Sperm Composed.) That was the last time I tried last.fm.

Then I gave Pandora the word "Bach" The only thing it could find was some very non-baroque music called "B.A.C.H." by Dierdre - two songs later I was listening to Bjork.

I typed in "John Cage" and the first song was by Esquivel, the master of 50's Space Age Bachelor Pad Music. That is a combination that merits further research.

I was more successful with "Big Bad Voodoo Daddy" - and with a few thumbs up and down I had a steady stream of classic swing.

Even more successful were the seed words "Frank Zappa". After I explained that I did NOT want to listen to Peter Frampton, Chicago or the Grateful Dead, Pandora started giving me tracks by bands I'd never heard of and many of those were very interesting. Based only on single tracks I actually purchased three albums. My reaction to those groups, More Dogs, Combustible Edison and the Lonesome Organist, will have to wait for a future posting.

I made successful stations starting with the Gotan Project (electronica meets tango, highly recommended) and Henry Flynt (imagine a country fiddler playing Violin Phase). If you go to Pandora you can click on "share", type in my email address (docker1 at ix dot netcom dot com) and actually access my stations. It'll be much more fun for you, however, to start your own.

Music Reviews

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

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