Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Pandora's Box

I’ve been listening to after reading Terry Teachout’s ecstatic review of this web-radio service. Pandora chooses songs according to your own stated preferences. As in: I say I like Billie Holiday. Next thing I know, my personalized radio list is playing Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughn, and Ella. The whole thing’s impressive, a sophisticated step up from the recommending services of, say, Netflix or Amazon. Where I have a complaint, however, is in its new music selection.

Extrapolating from Billie Holiday is easy. The low-quality wannabes of that era have all been forgotten. Extrapolating from the new Scottish punk band Sons and Daughters is harder. Why? Because I’ve already selected Sons and Daughters out of a universe of newish punk bands that, to a great extent, I know I don’t like. Those other bands are similar, but not as good. Everyone else seems a little short on adrenaline after your hear Sons and Daughters. When I feel like Sons and Daughters, I’m not in the mood for lower-proof punk, or less witty lyrics, or less pounding rhythm, or different vocals.

The underlying problem seems to result from Pandora’s otherwise admirable research on the musical qualities of songs. Right now, it’s playing a good song by a newer artist I’ve never heard of: “Destinymanifesto” by Logh. The reason Pandora chose Logh’s nice little tune is that other artists I’ve chosen tend to music that has “mild rhythmic syncopation, mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation, and major key tonality.”

But it’s not simply a matter of musical qualities that determine my own musical preferences. It’s a matter of my own perception of music quality. Just because I like Iron and Wine doesn’t mean I’m interested in every mumbly, slow, poetic, acoustic, folky storyteller out there.

I concede that this is the process of discovery in a nutshell: You hear new things and choose among them. And I am certainly hearing more new stuff from Pandora than I expected to. Its predictive logic, however, seems a few notes short of a song.

Still, I give it a B+. (For comparison’s sake, I would give Amazon only a C.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The very best part of Pandora is to see what they find with, well, really bad artists. Give "Red Sovine" a try and you'll be propelled to the depths of places you really, really don't want to go.