Audioscrobbler is a plugin for computer music players that aggregates the listening habits of people that use MP3 player software on their computer. Why is that a good thing? First, wait a minute, it does what? From their website:
Audioscrobbler builds a profile of your musical taste using a plugin for your media player (Winamp, iTunes, XMMS etc..). Plugins send the name of every song you play to the Audioscrobbler server, which updates your musical profile with the new song. Every person with a plugin has their own page on this site which shows their listening statistics. The system automatically matches you to people with a similar music taste, and generates personalised recommendations.
Audioscrobbler records your listening habits as shared data. Here's my recent listens, and notice the obvious badly tagged MP3's I've been listening to:
One slight problem, we had a little party and left a beautiful recording of Bonporti's Inventions playing over and over and that has skewed my listening results! Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra MP3's are Takemitsu and James Levine MP3's are Schoenberg, Berg or Webern. It appears composers are getting shafted in how the ID3 tags are being used.
Now, back to the original question. How is the tracking of listeners a good thing? What if the RIAA got a hold of this data!
For one, it helps you to find interesting music. By recording the diverse listening habits of hundreds of thousands of computer music listeners (people that use their computer to listen to music, right?) we can compare our listening habits to others and find strange pieces of music that we might be interested in.
For two, I can track my fans and see what they've been listening to. (Mostly my guitar music it seems).
Because of its dependency on the ID3 tagging system, of course, it's much harder for me to find another person who actually thinks the new Ligeti Hamburg Concerto is cool. That MP3 is most likely tagged by the orchestra name and the MP3 might not even have Gyorgy's name in it!. Well, that is a problem but one that can be overcome by his fans:
Unfortunately, for this article it appears that the Top Fans capability is broken. Needless to say, this site handles a ton of traffic and has been a bit flaky of late. They appear to finally be over that bandwidth hump though and are now letting in new members.
Big brother is o.k. it seems, if big brother is us watching us.
The discussions generated by ArtsJournal's Critical Conversation: Classical Music Critics on the Future of Music continue both online and offline. August 7, at the Aspen Music Festival, all critical participants (and no composers?) were publically engaged at a symposium. Gann's ongoing critique of contemporary music criticism seems to have finally been acknowledged although the outcome of this critique is likely to be business as usual, more continued coverage of the big names at the big venues and thats it.
Basically, today's critics need to wake up to the fact that their job no longer is merely going to a few concerts a week and writing a column. Today's musical environment is of magnificent diversity and requires critics with imagination, drive and a true curiosity for what is new. This implies, of course, a curiosity about the online music scene, a venue currently completely ignored.
Anne Midgette in today's New York Times reflects adequately about her problem. She expresses surprise about her friend having a Tan Dunn disk (and not the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon CD) while she had no interest in classical music and then goes on to speak specifically about the ongoing failures of her ilk. From her article -
We beat the drum about the need for more new work, trying to encourage it when it comes, pointing at every young face around us as evidence of the longed-for audience of the future. We hope to convince people like my friend, potential Tan Dun listeners, that there is something here for them. In essence, we're demanding of classical music that it be a living art.
But focusing as we do on the larger institutions, we're not necessarily keeping abreast of the latest trends in composition ourselves. Sure, there are many composers who write music for the orchestras, chamber ensembles and opera companies that we cover. But are they really the future of the field?
The history of music criticism is littered with people who were blind to the greatest things that were happening around them. We want to be better, smarter, more perceptive, so we seek to demonstrate our understanding, our foresight, our vision.
Ultimately, we're helpless. We never really know what's going to interest even the people we're closest to. The audience will blithely go about figuring out what it wants, or doesn't want, whatever we may want for it. And try as we might, cast our nets as wide as we will, there's a good chance that if a big idea does prove, 50 years hence, to have emerged from the morass of the early 21st century, the critics will probably have missed it.
This is a powerful admission, and one that hopefully will encourage all critics to stop merely covering the world of Adams, Reich, Boulez and Carter and to venture forth into all the possible niches of the real new music world, small clubs, online, micro-labels, et al.
Why is it that no young composers are able to make a splash? Is it purely that there is not enough $$$ to effectively promote a newcomer to the point of name recognition (given the insular nature of the community).
Or has modern medicine finally created the famous 'gerontocracy' predicted in science fiction and cyberpunk novels for years. A world where the very old aggregate so much wealth and power that they effectively control culture.
What would be the symptoms of such a culture neuroses? Is it possible that recent new music programming evinces a rejection of pluralism and the seeming re-acceptance of European high modernist culture is symptomatic of such a phenomenon?
Every year we see more spectralists, more Boulezian clones getting orchestral performances here in the US while the native composer speaking a native language (like Rzewski or James Drew) seems under-represented. Yes, I know John Adams is over-represented. I don't believe his case is representative because of his seeming brand name power. (He's now like John Williams is for mega-budget Spielberg-type movies. Have a contemporary tragedy, need an American composer? Get Adams on the blower. As proof - how many so-called Totalist composers were performed by major orchestras last year?).
In NYC it is easier to find a performance of a lesser Boulezian composer than it is a minimalist now. Do we need the French now to teach music because so many American composers have accepted the poison of pluralism?
Has the Carter/Boulez cabal reasserted itself through simple longevity? Color me not completely convinced, however, I'm seeing signs, including frustration in Europe with the control of the high modernist camp and the seeming death in NYC of the downtown scene (or at least its collapse into rock music mannerisms).
Lucas Gonze and other programmers have been working on opening up the Webjay system of listener created playlists of songs on the web with an API and now is producing example PhP scripts:
Try typing 'idealord' as the user and 'ContemporaryMusic2004' as the playlist to get a listing of one of my playlists.
What this opens up is going to be interesting because Webjay is essentially aggregating MP3 url's plus a semblance of curation, one of the missing ingredients in the discovery of interesting new music. MP3 blogging has become mainstream as evidenced by Warner Bros. recent attempt at co-option of a popular site - Music For Robots Sell Out. The numbers of legal (and quasi-legal) MP3's online now is vast. Systems for exploring them are needed which will encourage meta-commentary and curation to allow the great unknown musics available today to be heard. Recent discussions at ArtsJournal have exposed to many of us just how jaded and non-interested new music critics are about the web music scene. Tools are required to expose these new musics to interesting critics.
If I like X's playlists will I like all of the MP3's she has Webjayed? One ongoing capability within the Webjay system is the basing of playlists on others playlists. Typically diverse almost college radio-ish arrangements of materials abutting each other portend a difficult meta-curation process, but one rife with potential. Another interesting capability is the 'Play this page' system which automatically adds all MP3's of a given page to the Webjay system. In fact, one of the added benefits of using the Playthispage functionality is that you get immediate feedback about related playlists that duplicate the MP3's you've just scraped.
If we can use our imaginations, combination Webjay-powered blogs and portals hold the promise of a golden age of independent online music which is able to critically compete with the big boys.