Music taste and crystal balls

Music scientists know you better than you know yourself (free registration required). Remember that as with all research there are limitations on what you can conclude from it, and that large scale analyses emphasize aggregate effects in populations, ignoring the elusiveness of agency, and ever-intractable/intangible actor-network theories, not to mention how the whole shebang is royally screwed by forces of commoditization and marketing so sophisticated we hardly see it anymore, and hardly care. What I mean in more respectful terms is that this sort of research often ignores the initiative of individuals and groups working within (and for that matter, outside) business and cultural structures in ways that make certain products happen and certain other ones die like dogs.

I wore a black fedora to a swing dance one night (several months ago), surrounded by Chinese-Canadian kids in sweatpants. There was no booze served. And had I the expertise, I would have joined that totally unwholesome Charleston circle near the front. Too much social mediation going on to quantify according to the framework arrived at in some study of what’s on people’s iTunes playlist-epitaphs, and in their crummy blog memoirs. Music lives in human environs, and is usually made to live through performance, and, dance. And it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) solely occupy a rarefied space between the earbuds – it occurs within the total social experience or social performance of the people doing it. Don’t tell me you can quantify the totality of the rain outside, the cut of a girl’s dress, the strange mixture of smells in the place, the nervousness of being among an unfamiliar crowd, and the limitations of a low-powered sound system in a big old hall…(etc., etc…)

But if what you’re interested in is “what are the kids listening to”, then I suppose such a tunnel vision view is all that’s required. See you at the next IASPM conference. Hopefully.

…and the angels are voyeurs

There’s an interesting (& refreshingly accessible) piece in Wired about music and public space. Not only is it a good read; it’s also written by one of my favorite undersung raconteurs, Momus! His livejournal is also, well…lively, so I’m linking (music geeks and dandified whatsits please take note).

His writing on this topic (more of it here) raises lots of interesting questions:

Songs are fascist immigrants, conquistadors who’ve come, inevitably, to slay indigenous sound wherever they find it.

Yes, quite. I don’t think I could have put it better than that. But maybe it is the influence of the surrounding culture of fascism/colonialism that endows the songs of here and now with that character? In other cultural ecologies, might songs more gently enter public spaces? Is the situation different (even if only slightly) in Japan, for example?

In Noise Jacques Attali calls the industrial/electronic 20th century an age of repetition, an era in the circulation of music that bears the seeds of its own destruction. He writes that the hyper-accumulation of commercial music will eventually overextend itself, people will recoil in horror, and the whole commercial music regime will then self-destruct. In our malaise over the ubiquity of song, are we maybe witnessing a slice of that moment of change?

Google, Panopticon, and Occupation-Specific Humour

A few weeks back, on the way home from the data center where my company rents rackspace I started going off on a ‘gee whiz’ rant with one of my coworkers. A bit of background – he’s a programmer who looks a bit like a younger, Chinese version of Bill Gates, he lives and breathes JAVA, his English is not perfect, and I’m … well, I can fake my way through a SQL query, but I usually have far more verbal diarrhea about human motivations or hair dye than the actual nuts and bolts inside this computer I’m typing at. It suffices to say we’re from different cultural niches (Anglo/Chinese, indie music-sociology type/data and code pro).

It started off where we both agreed that Google Earth is, well, cool. And then we talked a bit about how Google has done a surprising number of impressive things over the past year that may have very significant effects on our lives (Google Analytics, Google Scholar, all sorts of Google Maps mashups, Google Video, the Google API free-for-all, and so on).

Anyway, my gee whiz rant. I launch into one of my annoying ‘what’s coming’ monologues as I sometimes do (I can hear my partner groaning). I start talking about mashing up Google Video, Flickr, and Google Earth. And suddenly I’m describing this wild hypothetical website where users can look at a four-dimensional representation of a living, changing earth, from as many angles as there are video cameras positioned to capture them (or as there are 3D tweening and interpolation scripts to connect them all seamlessly). Users can rewind, playback, fast forward, zoom, pan, crane, tilt and have a bird’s eye view of any historical events that have been captured on video. As I’m weaving this tale of what could be, my coworker starts laughing a bit too hard, a bit uncontrollably, and at an increasing pitch.

I ask him, “yeah, wouldn’t that be hilarious?”. He calms down after a bit, and then, amid his remaining sputters of laughter, he blurts out, “Do you know how many servers you’d need to hold all that video?”, and then erupts again.

Then I saw the joke. This guy thinks in number of servers or clusters, number of lines of code. A Google Video Earth is not in and of itself a wild idea to him (though I think it’s hilarious, and if anyone ever pulls it off, I’ll be rolling in the aisles, half cracked up with maniacal glee, and half terrified of what’s next). But the mental image he built – of a cluster of servers the size of Earth itself – was the most ridiculous idea anyone ever suggested to him, whatever pedantic, human-centric app it was meant to run.

I suppose a fart joke would have been more immediate, universal, and efficient. But at least I made him laugh.

About Clicknoise

This weblog was started to document music, culture and network technologies in a world that’s increasingly noisy with change. From iPods to ringtones, from Cubase to AJAX, from Ableton Live to loopfaxes, and from reel-to-reel cacophony to the drone of a million clicks, silent in isolation, but deafening taken all together, this is Clicknoise. Welcome.

An “About Me” is coming soon. As I’m a bit of an unwilling crossover between indie music, academia, and the high tech industry (I wish I had nothing to do with the latter, but it pays the bills, and it can be intriguing at times in its own right), I can promise wild mood swings and possibly too many question marks.

But then again, google has replaced all the question marks in our conversations, hasn’t it?

Or would that be wikipedia?