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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.
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.
This week’s station: “Harvest Time“.
The smell of the changing leaves, the first drops of rain, the crisp cool air, the sweaters, the dying leaves that were once such resplendent colors, and the anticipation of the coming snow, autumn represents a time of change, freshness, and a shift in the seasons. Also, some of the best, most ingrained memories of our lives come from the next few months: the memories of summer, the gathering in of families, and of harvest.
Whether it’s the changing of foliage or whatever nostalgic association you may have with this time of year, this mixtape of songs (old and new) hopes to create the perfect channel for you to indulge all these feelings and to enjoy throughout the season. Celebrate the turning of the season with “Harvest Time“. Enjoy!!
— Michelle S.
(assistant music curator)
(photograph by David Paul Ohmer)
…Meanwhile, in 2027: 5ally runs her forefinger up the embedded metal grid on back of her ear, turning up her music and drowning out the annoying yammering of her parents trying to tell her to pay attention…
You’re soaking in it!
Music is streaming around you right now in the air. Music is, after all, something that we can encode into small pieces and send out riding on any sort of wave (AM, FM, Wi-Fi, Photons, whatever… gravity?) to something that can reconstruct those bits into movement of the air pressure near your ears – your ears will perceive the music.
We’ve already come a long way: only a few hundred years ago somebody would have to physically play an instrument near you for you to hear it… People started a system of writing music on paper, the first encoding: a piece of music could be sent to another location and then played, albeit still by a person with an instrument. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that someday got the bright idea to record the actual changes in air pressure that were being produced by the player. Then they could use their recording to change the air pressure in another location and the sound would be reproduced.
Dust — it’s everywhere!
First I clean it up and then pow! — a week later I’m cleaning all over again. Yeah I’m a neat-freak, so what?!?
Luckily for the the Dust Brothers, their music was just as prevalent throughout the 1990s. They started with several hits for Tone Loc and Young MC that featured heavy sampled drums, gritty electric riffs, and simple to the point raps. However, they really made their name with the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique — a meticulously through-composed work that ranks as one of the best produced albums of all time.
There’s nothing like getting a raucous scare from music. Unless it’s doubled with a good scare in a movie. For me it really hasn’t gotten much creepier than The Shining‘s opening scene. And it all starts with the incredibly sinister music of the brilliant Wendy Carlos. An otherwise lovely scenic drive through the mountains is made ominous with Wendy’s creeeeepy score, instantly foretelling the nightmare that will descend in the next few hours. This post is about scary music in drama, all of which can be heard on the jarring classical mixtape “Haunt Your House“, created by Russell Johnson and me here at Pandora …
From Weird to Creepy: Switched From Bach
Analog synth sounds are famous for being weird, so it’s barely a skip over to ‘creepy’ for them. Wendy Carlos had already created a smorgasbord of curious Moog synth sounds on her landmark, genre-bending album Switched-on Bach. Apparently back in ’68, classical had to be Mooged in order to really sell: An all-Moog Bach album, it was the first classical LP to go platinum. Bach’s style is often dominated by counterpoint: the compositional technique of having 2 or more melodic lines going at once. If instruments were voices, a Bach fugue would sound like 2-5 people blabbering away at the same time. So hearing a gaggle of funky Moog sounds executing a contrapuntal Bach piece makes for some very entertaining, often silly musical conversations. She also Mooged Beethoven in A Clockwork Orange.
From there it was just a hop over to full-blown creepland:
When I think about my connection with music, I think about three impulses: the impulse to discover, the impulse to buy, and the impulse to share. Here at Pandora we’ve had the discover and buy bits covered for some time, but it’s been frustrating to use Pandora to share the music you’re encountering with your friends. You could send an email or embed a widget on MySpace, but in the age of Twitter and Facebook our offering has been pretty spartan. That all changed tonight.
With our new release we’ve added a sharing toolbar above the player so you’re always just a click away from sharing a song or a station with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. The first time you share on one of these networks, you’ll have to go through a series of pages that will connect your Pandora account with your Twitter or Facebook account. After that, it’s a just a simple click to share. When you post songs to Facebook your friends will be able to listen to samples right in their news feed. On Twitter we’ll post a shortened link to a page featuring just the song or station you shared.
This release also brings our station gifting feature to the foreground for the first time. Click the little present icon in the sharing toolbar and we’ll take you to a page where you can create an entirely new station to “give” to a friend. We’ll send it along to them in a fancy email, kind of like an electronic greeting card — or maybe more precisely, like a modern version of the mixtape.
Have fun playing with these new sharing features. Can’t wait to see what you discover…
PS: want to see what other people are finding and posting to Twitter? Try using this Twitter search link.
Just in time for All Hallow’s Eve, our resident Scare Queen (and senior classical music analyst) Michelle Alexander looks at some of the scariest music ever written, ranging from the ominous organ music of Bach and Beethoven’s stormy symphonic pieces through Liszt’s violent piano hammering and then into the creeping atonality of 20th Century composers like George Crumb and Gyorgy Ligeti. She thrusts her hands into the muck of musical fright and dredges up the dissonance and challenged expectations that make for aural horror. (9 mins.)
For the full story, check out the musical samples and a mixtape made especially for trick-or-treaters.
The Best Music EVER
In the comments to my previous post, a commenter wrote (in a long and very well-reasoned comment) that the craft of popular music from Tin Pan Alley and the American songbook “remains unquestionably the model to which all future song writing must be compared.”
Believe it or not, this made me think about punk rock. Here’s how.
Let’s Not Talk About Forever
The idea that any kind of song writing will ever be “unquestionably the model to which all future song writing must be compared” is hyperbolic. Forever is a long time, and to say that people in 200 years, or 2,000 years, or 12,000 years will look ONLY to Tin Pan Alley for the ultimate in song writing standards is at best impossible to confirm.
At worst, it projects our beliefs onto the people of the future, presuming that they will not only understand everything better than we do, but that they will select what we value and confirm its ultimate superiority. In other words, it’s a fantasy.