Music as Food :: Play Listen Repeat :: Vol. 45

Click here to listen to Balanced Diet Radio while you read
Picture 4.pngCompetitive Eating?
It’s hard to judge music, but I have to. It’s a necessary part of things for me. As those of you who have read my previous posts (here, here or here, for example) know, to be consistent when doing so may be impossible.
When I’m writing my own songs or making records, it’s at least possible to be definitive. I just have to do stuff that I believe in. Not easy, but possible. As Pandora’s music curator, though, it’s a whole different thing. I have to maintain a sense of aesthetics in general; a sense of musical quality that goes beyond my own opinions and tastes.
It’s a narrow path to walk.
On one side there is a kind of musical moralism which says: “this is good and that is bad; and therefore you should listen to this and not that.” On the other side is what you might call musical sociopathy, with its relativistic axiom: “there is no such thing as musical quality; everything is equally good.”
I don’t relate to either of those points of view at all, and I don’t want to.
Top Chef
Happily, though, I’ve found a strategy that is just imprecise enough to filter out esoteric pitfalls while allowing for some ideas to get through: I talk about music as if it’s food.


In my next post I’ll get into some of the specific ways I indulge in this intellectual costume party. Today it’s just about a mix tape and a general principle.
Food Groups and Pyramids
Some foods are high in sugar but probably won’t get you through a day in the mines. Other kinds of foods are not too tasty, but your internal organs really like them. And any kind of food is probably bad for you if it’s all you ever eat.
Is the same true for music? Picture 5.jpg
Lots of the time, if people get mad and say that popular music is bad music, they are really upset by how much of that music people are listening to. I mean, everyone likes a piece of candy now and then, right? But there’s candy and then there’s candy. If you have some every so often, lovely. But if candy is all that’s available, then some people might get sick of it (there’d be some happy kids though, at least while they still had teeth).
All Things in Moderation, Including Moderation
I bet we can all agree that, food-wise, a balanced diet is a good thing. This week’s theory is that the same thing holds for music.
Like any balanced diet, the one I’m serving up contains meats, vegetables, tv dinners, cakes, chocolate-covered insects, wine, fast food, gourmet experiments, regional cuisine, ripple, crumpets, juice, astronaut food, water, vitamins, chemicals, delicacies, gross reality show eating-challenge food, and of course, candy.
I’ll look forward to hearing how the station strikes you, and writing about it next time.
—Michael
(music curator)

Pandora

The Pandora Team http://www.pandora.com/

24 thoughts on “Music as Food :: Play Listen Repeat :: Vol. 45

  1. As a former music analyst, the surest way to avoid earburn (n.: the situation in which one’s ears have heard too much, experienced too much, simply done too much) was to hop to another style.
    Hence, a day might consist of:
    some modern R&B
    roots reggae
    norteno
    jazz
    heavy metal
    new age synthy soundscapes (ambient)
    hardcore punk
    contemporary country
    Without variety, music becomes mundane. This is why “Jack” radio, or eclectic-format radio, has proven so effective. People don’t want classic-rock repetition, or ’80s revivalism, or doo-wop-til-you-drop. People long for changes of pace.
    I look forward to hearing Balanced Diet Radio. I’m loading it right now.

  2. Just finished reading ‘In defense of food’ by Michael Pollan. this is a nice musical post script for me! Wondering now – how would whole music sound different than processed music, and is it intrinsically better for you? One thing for certain, humans are audio omnivores.

  3. i was on a Raw Food musical diet for a while — nothing but gritty home 4-track tapes, old blues records, acoustic recordings, etc. no synthesizers, very little production or studio gloss.
    as a keyboard player, it was crucial, as i was starting to feel like i played ‘technology’ rather than ‘an instrument.’

  4. I am creating a station like this, the idea of the station is to have (when i finish to add the seeds) every characteristic on pandora with the a not so big amount of songs added as a seed.
    The hard thing when creating that station is how I add some classical music and opera songs, some songs are impossible to add. Like Tosca, Opera: Presto! Su, Mario! by Giacomo Puccini ( http://www.pandora.com/music/song/antonio+pappano/act+3+presto+su+mario+chorus+of+royal+opera+house+covent+garden )
    The station: http://www.pandora.com/stations/7fd202b23ef91d959b14d9488bfe3b881a4394cc54d97b8b

  5. I’ve probably said this before, but also as a former analyst, my way to combat earburn was very simple: Go home, sit in silence for 30 minutes, and then I’d throw a slab of vinyl on our old mono console turntable, and preferably something super-earthy sounding, often The Basement Tapes or Mimi and Richard Farina or Odetta. Not to belittle content and diversity of media, but there was something about drawing “back” to recordings that sounded like people in a room, one microphone… no less being in mono, coming from one speaker. That’s the base of my food pyramid. I love reading your column, MZ!

  6. All I wanna say is that this website is the bomb. Thank you.
    Moderation is key. Explore the Middle Path. Equilibrium is optimal.

  7. I always listen to music when i am cooking. And the music i listen is not the same music when i doing other stuff, like studying, reading or walking.
    And what if someone like to eat only one type of food like fast food stuff. We have that with music too and sometimes is just (bad) taste or the people dont had education about food (music).

  8. @cables – thanks
    @kevin – you know I know what you mean – and there’s Homophily (i.e., love of the same) – the tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others. variety can be surprisingly hard to find…
    @Scentsy – most of us will, but that sugar stuff can be addictive…
    @Michael – nice – those are the exact kinds of questions I’m gonna get into next time -
    @Kevin – ah, but aren’t all instruments technology? some are just older. only the voice seems to fall into a different category. still, I know what you mean . for me, minor threat is raw vegetables
    @exdeath – thanks for the station link
    @nehemian (eric!) – I have so much great vinyl at home – my problem is making listening to it a habit – your description inspires…!
    @henning – all food is about music.
    @jason – cheers

  9. Interesting post. Love hearing someone who really wants to know what’s Really happening between the speakers and the brain. I think we music omnivores would be really surprised at ow many people actually get by on fast food all the time. Sometimes I meet people who just listen to the local pop station all the time, if they’re listening to music at all and it blows me away. My choice of music for a moment or a day is as integral as matching my clothes to the weather and occasion.
    I’ve been practically addicted to fast break-beats and 8-bit electronics lately, what sort of food is that?
    Oh and one other thing, we never eat food that just tastes miserable (at least not most of us) or hurts our mouth, but sometimes we listen to music that “hurts” for its artistic value… right? I just started thinking about hot sauce and really stinky cheese, so I’m not so sure anymore.

  10. first of all. you guys need a contact us section. if you have it then it’s damned hard to find. I know this doesn’t belong on the blog but there’s no where else to put it.
    seriously. when your login screen comes up, make the cursor auto start on the username box. it’ll take two seconds.

  11. this is quite a great idea. i really agree with this.
    As for my self i love eating very well and sometimes detest listening to music especially when i’m researching as i’m doing now on hemorrhoid treatment

  12. I’m going to go against the tide here and disagree with the food analogy. Our bodies require a variety of vitamins, minerals and food groups to remain healthy. I believe it’s completely possible for someone to listen to one style of music and have a completely “healthy” musical life (ie eating only candy and remaining healthy.)
    A lot of us would be utterly bored with such a musical “diet” but as long as the person listening is getting what they want out of their experience who am I to say it isn’t “healthy.”
    On that note I do like a fair amount of variety in my music but as others have said there are styles I’m completely happy without.
    My iPod has been the second greatest single musical tool since I started using it. I almost always listen on shuffle mode and love the way all of the music I love flows by my in random fashion. It’s really cool to have a sequence including Sonic Youth, a song from the Mary Poppins soundtrack, a surf guitar instrumental, the Lindsay Lohan song I love and then great noise from The Pixies all come together.
    Pandora is the greatest tool for me. I never would have guessed that I’d love a Lindsay Lohan song until it came up on one of my Pandora stations. I have a blind spot for most top 40 artists, but now I know I like music from a number of them in addition to the obscure bands I also continue to love. Pandora has provided me with a larger musical buffet from which to choose.

  13. Nice! I find the whole Pandora movement – yes, I said MOVEMENT, absolutely fascinating. I personally listen to a wide variety – I’m a very “mainstream” kinda guy but its not all I want to hear.
    Along with my staple of radio-friendly Alt Rock, some Electro indie and such, I like to throw in some Classical, Stadium Operatic Rock (Queen, Muse), Country, Oldies (Sam Cook, the king and tons of classic love songs), Blues and Spanish guitar!
    Pandora is SMART and such a cool tool.
    I’m in an unsigned band myself (Axium), and pending an approved submission people worldwide who want to hear the specific kind of music we make will have access to our music – and thats makes it a fantastic selling tool as well.

  14. Tony wrote:
    >> I’m going to go against the tide here and disagree with the food analogy. Our bodies require a variety of vitamins, minerals and food groups to remain healthy. I believe it’s completely possible for someone to listen to one style of music and have a completely “healthy” musical life (ie eating only candy and remaining healthy.)
    I see your point, Tony Toni Tone. Personally, I’m trying to avoid eating pork, beef and chicken, so Bacon isn’t generally in my desired food pyramid.
    But I think what MZ was getting at — correct me if I’m wrong, Michael — is that we need a variety of foodstuffs to keep our souls engaged. It’s up to YOU what variety entails. You may only love jazz, and that may be healthy for you to limit your food intake to just jazz… but if that’s the case, at least give yourself variety within that universe.
    If you limit yourself to Miles Davis, that’s not healthy. Explore some Ornette Coleman or Stan Getz, or even better, some of today’s young lions like Brad Mehldau or Joshua Redman. Dig?

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