Monday, January 16, 2006

Cool new technology for music fans, and my recent absence.

So I've been neglecting my blog again. My bad. The reason for my recent spate of benign neglect is that I've been going through one of my periodic phases of not being interested in anything except music. This happens on a fairly regular basis, and it's one of the reasons why I make a lousy activist. The reality is, I eat, sleep, and breathe music. When I'm writing fiction I always have a song or an album in my head that goes along with the mood of what I'm writing. I'm a music junkie, in that I actually use music as a mood-altering substance the same way other people use booze or dope. I like to think that my way is healthier, for my body if not for my bank account.
(Right now I'm listening to The Charlatans - The Only One I Know, by the way. It's good upbeat blogging music. See what I mean?)
Given my music addiction I was very interested to hear about a new online application called Pandora that claims to be able to analyse music by its components, which it refers to as "DNA", and use that information to make recommendations. This is an intriguing idea. Most people give up listening to a lot of music once they leave college, and according to the people behind Pandora the most frequent reason given is that they can't find any new music to listen to once they aren't immersed in a culture where other people are giving them suggestions any more. This has not been an issue for me, as I go out of my way to seek out new music all the time, but it would seem to offer a potential cure for the music blah's for the general listener. I was interested to see how well the engine works and if it would make suggestions that would actually work for me, so I checked it out.
The way it works is that you enter the name of an artist, album or song and it creates a "radio station" that plays music that shares the "DNA" of the artist or song you chose - in other words it searches for music with strong structural similarities. It also tells you what the "DNA signatures" of the artist/song you entered are.
(Now we're on to Ministry - Stigmata. MUCH faster, kind of industrial meets speed metal, but with a catchy, hooky chorus.)
I cannot praise this tool highly enough. Even for a music geek like me it brought up stuff that I liked and would probably never have found otherwise, so I can only imagine how much of a revelation it might be for those who don't do as much active exploration as I do.
(Now I'm listening to Dir En Grey - Increase Blue. Metal, more or less, with yet another catchy chorus - I seem to be particularly fond of bands who can take heavy stuff and make it catchy. Also worth noting the rather kinky lyrical edge to both of the last 2.)
I entered a bunch of different stuff into Pandora, and apparently there are some distinct patterns to the music I like. This is particularly interesting in light of the fact that I deliberately entered a number of artists who would not typically be considered as belonging to the same genre or musical movement. There may well be something to this DNA idea.
(Now I'm listening to The Manic Street Preachers - From Despair to Where. Much less heavy and more melodic, with complex harmonies and gloomy but darkly ironic lyrics, and strings in the background. Weird but it works.)
Apparently I really like mild syncopation, complex vocal harmonies, a mix of electric and acoustic elements, prominent guitars, and complex instrumentation.
(Now listening to Kaggra - Yousai. This one is much less "rock" and much wierder than the last few songs but, now that I think about it, it does indeed have syncopated beats, complex harmonies and instrumentation - this song must be a bitch to play live - and a mixture of electric and acoustic elements.)
I feel like a kid with a new toy. If you're at all interested in music this is way too much fun not to share. Check it out - I'm curious to see how well it does at predicting what other people will like.


FoolishOwl said...

When there was an Internet, but before there was a Web, so around '93 or so, I remember reading about some online application in which you'd rate how much you liked various bands and musicians, and it would compare your likes and dislikes to other respondents, and recommend new music to you. So I typed in my preference for the Smiths and the Cure, and it recommended Beethoven.

From what I could make out, it recommended Beethoven to everyone.

Anyway, I think there've been several more attempts at the concept -- Amazon uses such a thing, for instance -- and I'm guessing Pandora's a refinement of that.

Arwen said...

John (my partner) has been playing with Pandora too. He said that it did some artists better than others - didn't feel like it did as well with obscure stuff, but otherwise he thought it was very cool.

Cassandra Says said...

Brian - the technology seems to have improved. It didn't recommend Beethoven, although I have heard that entering Metallica can give you some classical music matches depending on which song/album you enter. Oddly enough that makes perfect sense to me.
FYI, it's not at all like the Amazon technology. Amazon's engine is based on what users who buy the same things you do have also bought (I have a friend who works for Amazon, and their engine is pretty unsophisticated).
Arwen - the major weakness at this point is the fact that it doesn't recognise a lot of non-mainstream artists. It's also kind of illogical which artists it does recognise and which it doesn't. Why does it recognise the New York Dolls but not Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, for example? That doesn't make any sense to me.