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Whose taste is it?

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There’s something mystifying and mystical about the reception of music in our brains and, buy viagra online dare I say, cialis sale souls.  The need to dissect music – whether to reveal its core components, grasp its meaning, or delineate its effects on peoples and societies – is understandable and inevitable, but is there a cost?  Is something lost in translation?  Does it invite music to transform itself from form to function?

Pandora (the creator of a music analysis algorithm that purports to find music you should like based on your input) was recently featured on The New York Times Magazine.  Don’t get me wrong, I actually like Pandora, but doesn’t such an automated service remove the mystique of music and its effect on an individual or group?  Selecting the music one likes and dislikes is an intensely personal decision that shouldn’t necessarily come so easily – or else this might happen:

[A Pandora executive] likes to tell a story about a Pandora user who wrote in to complain that he started a station based on the music of Sarah McLachlan, and the service served up a Celine Dion song. “I wrote back and said, ‘Was the music just wrong?’ Because we sometimes have data errors,” he recounts. “He said, ‘Well, no, it was the right sort of thing — but it was Celine Dion.’ I said, ‘Well, was it the set, did it not flow in the set?’ He said, ‘No, it kind of worked — but it’s Celine Dion.’ We had a couple more back-and-forths, and finally his last e-mail to me was: ‘Oh, my God, I like Celine Dion.’ ”

The irony of Pandora is that its core function (provide an unbiased examination of the  musical elements that comprise a song) is fundamentally contrary to the very nature of the formation of musical taste – the human factor ought not be removed. This is not to claim that Pandora doesn’t “work” (it often does), but rather that process and intentions matter when determining or refining taste.  Is it simply an agnostic clearinghouse for music classified into highly fine-tuned genres, or is it an arbiter of taste based on an algorithm?  If the latter, then what happens to the connection between artist and fan?

What’s that you say…?  Oh, right, just shut up and put up some MP3s.

For what it’s worth, I submitted one of my favorite tracks from one of my favorite albums of the decade…

Rise Up with Fists!!, Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins (from Rabbit Fur Coat, 2006). (In my desert-island mix.)

…into Pandora and got…

A History of Lovers, Calexico & Iron and Wine (from Into the Reins, 2005).
Turpentine, Brandi Carlile (from The Story, 2007).

I do like these tracks and actually own both albums.  However, I was exposed to these songs and artists through an organic process that allowed me to understand their history and their place in the music continuum.  And they weren’t just songs served on a silver platter simply by stating a preference, they were songs that revealed themselves in the context of an album.

Posted in Desert Island Mix, Music Mind Map, Music and Life.