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“All Sounds are Created Equal”
That’s a phrase I used to like to throw around. The idea is that all sounds are ultimately ripples in the atmosphere, changes in air pressure that our ears can decode; and as such the waves that radiate through the air carrying a Beethoven symphony are no different from the ones that radiate out from a car accident.
That’s true, I think; but it’s not the whole truth, because each wave is perfectly unique as well. No two can be identical. And it is precisely because of this that it’s been possible for us to connect different meanings to these waves. Words, car horns, music, and so on would be indistinguishable if all sounds were the same.
These two truths seem to coexist as a kind of double helix, with one strand standing for the unity of all sounds and the other standing for the uniqueness of each. Sound is comprised of both.
Most of us only call certain sounds music. If a hammer falls off of a table, say, most people would not define the resulting clatter as music. But, happily, there are some of us who would hear music in that falling hammer, and it is the music made by these people that is the subject of this post. The station I’ve been working on this week, named “Ovals,” is the soundtrack. Listen.
When we set out building Pandora four years ago we knew that our work wouldn’t be done until we’d found a great way to unlock the service from the PC. Just over a year ago the iPhone let us take the first compelling step in that direction and the year since has been filled with a bunch of mobile product launches from Pandora.
I’m delighted to announce that today we’re finally ready to extend the Pandora experience to Android. As of today Pandora is available directly from Pandora at www.pandora.com/android as well as in the Android Market.
I’m really excited about how Pandora for Android turned out. You listen to all the Pandora stations that you’ve been listening to on the web and the application is deeply integrated with many of the core Android features too. You can control playback from a home screen widget, “deep tap” any artist or song in the standard Android music player and jump into Pandora to discover other similar artists, make a smart folder to get quick access to your stations from the home screen, buy tracks you discover from the Amazon MP3 application, use your Android address book to share stations with your friends, and of course listen in the background while you’re doing other things on the phone.
Pandora runs on both the myTouch and the G1 today and I’m also excited to announce that we’re working with Sprint to ensure that Pandora works flawlessly on the HTC Hero when it becomes available next month.
This one has been a long time in coming; thanks so much for your patience. Hope it was worth the wait and that you enjoy taking Pandora with you as much as we enjoyed building it.
[Song Samples Contain Explicit Lyrics]
Well, not extreme in the angry, offensive or scatological sense. Rather, extreme in the idea of two opposites of the same measure. Fat — skinny, tall — short… Except the extremes I’m interested in involve the speed of rapping/rap delivery. The speed of a rap has a profound impact on the feel and style of a particular track. Double-time rapping over a laid back funk groove can sound visceral and uplifting – no matter how banal or evil the lyrics; meanwhile, a slow, laid back rhyme can be hypnotic and pull you even deeper into the sound and vibe of the music.
Let’s start with the fast stuff. While East Coast rappers are often known for complex rhyme schemes, West Coast cats love their slang (foshizzle, flambostulatin, yadadamean), and Southerners play to the strength of their unique accent and culture, the Midwest is undeniably the home of quick rappers. This track by Do or Die is a good example. One of the most popular fast rappers got his start on a Do or Die track — Twista. His style and delivery made him a popular guest rapper in the 90s, and this track really shows off his abilities. I can’t forget my hometown of Kansas City and our local hero Tech N9ne. His track Midwest Choppers exemplifies fast rapping. If you listen closely to the production you’ll also hear the heavy influences of Southern and West Coast producers in the Midwest sound. Here are some other tracks with notably fast raps: Blackalicious – Alphabet Aerobics, Sleep – Introduction, Busta Rhymes – Break Ya Neck, Beatropolis & Shing02 – Embrace, DJ Vadim – Kill Kill Kill.
I’d be remiss to skip the UK when discussing fast rappers. The worlds of grime, dubstep and garage have their own share of fire spitters. While they may not be focused on quickness alone, their rhythmic intensity and ability to flit between double and single-time is notable. Check out this track by Dizzee Rascal or these tracks by Plastician and The Bug for good examples. But they’re not the fastest MCs in the UK. This is the territory of drum & bass MCs like Skibadee, Eksman, and Shabba D who pioneered a double-time, consonant heavy delivery that fits perfectly with the fast tempos of drum & bass. This track featuring Skibbadee, Shabba D, MC Det and MC Fearless showcases a bit of their style. The UK Rap/Electronic scene is evolving at breakneck speed and is well documented online with videos of great MC battles and performances by all the cats I mentioned.
Now in terms of slow rapping, the title undoubtedly goes to Houston for their Screwed & Chopped sound. This is a method of remixing rap music pioneered by Houston artist DJ Screw. Screw took cassette tapes, dramatically slowed them down, and added tons of reverb, delay, scratching and sound effects. Here is an original DJ Screw production. It’s immediately recognizable by the ridiculously slow tempo and freakishly deep vocals. However, the rapping speed is based on studio effects — so perhaps this title should be accompanied by an asterisk…? Check out these other super-slow Screwed & Chopped tracks by artists OG Ron C, Big Pokey & Lil Keke, and the Screwed Up Click. Stay tuned for more on the Houston sound in a future post – there’s much more to cover from this city!
The mainstream rapper with the slowest natural flow is probably Young Jeezy. His style is deliberate, simple and strikingly sssslllloooowwwww. Jeezy is able to pull it off without sounding too boring — probably due to the depth and uniqueness of his voice and the fast subdivisions of his beats. Check out his track Standing Ovation for a good example. Here are a few other notably slow rap tracks 30 Rocks by 8 Ball & MJG and You’re Everything by Bun B.
Is there somebody I missed? Yeah I know I didn’t include the Guinness World Record holders — as theirs is more of a technical feat whose purpose is speed, not music. But is there anyone else? Perhaps there’s a Screwed & Chopped scene in Tuvan, or a crazy fast rapper living in the Australian Outback? Let me know!
PS – speaking of Australian rap – this track by Diplo makes me smile!
Chris Horgan [Senior Music Analyst]
I’m pleased to announce that we’ve released version 2.0 of the Pandora One desktop app. You’ve been telling us that the desktop app is one of your favorite features of Pandora One and it’s great to have the chance to begin the process of refining that experience.
With this release we’ve tried to keep the interface very simple while adding several of the most-requested features:
* You can now view your song history. Just click on the album art to reveal arrows to navigate through the last hour of your playlist. Thumb up (or down) or buy any song that played in the last hour.
* We’ve added a progress bar. Want to know how much is left to play of the current track? Just click the album art to reveal the time elapsed and remaining for the current track.
* Windows users can hover over the system tray icon to see the name of the currently playing artist and song.
* The app remembers where you placed it on your desktop and how loud you like your music. The next time you start it, it’s right where you left it.
* Song transitions have been sped up so you don’t need to wait long for a thumbs down to get rid of the current song.
Our goal is to continue to improve Pandora One over time. Hope you enjoy this first little step in that evolution.
Pianist Bill Mays returns to lead us step by step through a recent composition of his called “Fantasy, Movement One.” He shows us the motifs and elements as they progress, calls out where improvisation led the players away from the printed notes, and introduces us to the tones of the other musicians on the session, who are Alisa Horn on cello and Marvin Stamm on trumpet and flugelhorn. (9 mins.)
Mike Seeger’s Old Time Music
The music that we’re speaking of is a cultural resource that we’ve built up over thousands of years… Before we had radio and phonographs… The music from these earlier, old times endured through the generations because of its rich and varied sounds and lyrics and because it filled the needs of the people, who, after all, created it for themselves. – Mike Seeger
As many of you probably know, Mike Seeger died on August 7. I’ve been listening to some of his work and thought it would be cool to have some company, so I’ve made a station called Mike Seeger’s Old Time Dream, based on our collections of Mike Seeger’s music as well as our collection of the New Lost City Ramblers, the group that he founded and played with for more than 50 years.
Mike Seeger was a key participant and leader in the “old time music” movement, and if you’re not familiar with this music, you’re on the threshold of a very cool discovery. Even if you ultimately decide you don’t particularly like it (doubtful, I bet), old time music’s acoustic instrumentation, rough performances, and old shared songs preserve a powerful way of making music (and perhaps of living).
Old time music lets us hear the sound of music as it must have been before recordings were common. Back when performances would have been more idiosyncratic, less standardized, and would have come out in the same ways of speaking and being that the people used in everyday life.
It also takes old, unattributed songs as a main part of its repertoire. These days, assuming someone wanted to write those kinds of songs, modern copyright laws might make sharing them difficult, at least in their recorded form. But songs that were shared freely in the ongoing, practical use and performance of the songs by people in their homes would live on, as the traditional repertoire has for so long.
Mike Seeger’s Old Time Dream, indeed.
There is so much to hear and ask about this music, but I’ll beg off here and let Mike Seeger do the real work. Looking forward to hearing comments, and thanks for reading and listening!
Listeners often wonder why Pandora doesn’t play news or sports or talk radio programming. Here, Tim Westergren answers that question and asks for a few new ones.<!– –>
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Some of the Best Music Expresses Nothing at All
I’ve been listening to a lot of J. S. Bach lately, as well as bits of Thomas Tallis, Josquin, and similar pre-Classical Era composers. Often as I listen to these pieces of music, I find myself thinking: this music expresses nothing.
The power of a piece like this may well be that it can’t be broken down into any kind of meaning other than the meaning that it seems to have as we hear it unfold. Perhaps that helps to explain why, even as it has no message, it still seems to express information that seems both deep and somehow true as well.
In any case, I have become addicted to the experience of listening to these pieces and searching for the meaning in them. I never find anything I can really point to, but that’s meaningful in and of itself, just like the experience, say, of looking at a tree might be. What do I make of a tree? What does it express? Everything and nothing, I suppose.
I’ve made a station for you. It’s called “Inexpressible Radio.” Take a listen and ask yourself: what is this music saying? If it says nothing, then why does it also seem to make so much sense?
6 things I bet you will notice:
1. The pieces are beautiful.
2. The pieces are extraordinary things for a person to have conceived and written.
3. The pieces are evidence that the people who lived centuries ago may not have been all that different from us.
4. The pieces that have no words (especially the solo piano pieces) are the ones that seem most abstract. They seem to be full of a kind of meaning as you are listening to them, but once they are done, there seems to be no takeaway message.
5. The choral pieces seem more expressive than the solo piano pieces do.
6. Listening to these pieces of music is a really great way to spend some time!
I hope you enjoy and find some new music, and I’ll look forward to your comments.
Pianist Bill Mays has had an illustrious career mixing jazz improvisation with classical composition, and his albums in the third-stream movement have helped move the genre forward. Here Pandora’s Steve Ginsberg and I talk with Mays about the relationship between classical and jazz, and about Mays’ history with both, starting with the night he heard Miles Davis live in the late 1950s. The music in this piece is provided by the Inventions Trio, featuring Marvin Stamm on trumpet and flugelhorn, Alisa Horn on cello, and Mays on piano. (10 mins.)
Over the last year and a half substantial changes were made to the Pandora listening experience. While we’re constantly improving the playlist algorithm, analyzing new music, etc., it’s rare for Pandora to make such a huge change to the music genome as was completed on our Electronic Music genome. In the last 18 months, not only did we greatly expand the size and quality of our electronic catalog, but we also upgraded the analysis process — reanalyzing over 42,000 tracks along the way.
The analysis upgrade consisted of three steps. The first was enabling the music genome to more accurately catalog the subtleties and compositional techniques of Electronic Music. We did this by recognizing new genes ranging from arpeggiated synthesizers to build-ups and breakdowns. With these new genes in hand there was a nasty problem: none of our previously analyzed tracks contained data for them. The only solution was to go back and reanalyze them. Yes, all 42,000 of them!
This second step in the upgrade process involved a team of music analysts working for over three months. If the average track length was four minutes, that’s over 2,700 hours of music reanalyzed!!! Yes, our ears and brains were quite sore when all was said and done, but we haven’t stopped. Our Electronic Music collection currently contains over 66,000 analyzed tracks.
Anyway, the third and final step in the upgrade was making sense of this new data by adjusting the importance of each gene and how it interacts with its neighbors. This process can best be described as taste testing. We had the basic formula down, but to achieve that seemingly elusive, most delicious blend, took many late nights and countless tweaks. A little heavier on the synth effects and a tad less vocal vibrato, a pinch more harmony and a touch less backbeat…
With the Dance Genome now having more dexterity to analyze the electronic soundscape, and the ability to generate more specialized playlists, it was time to populate our collection. The primary aim here was to get a good sampling of everything being spun by DJs in clubs, bumped at backyard BBQs, played in retail locations, or geeked out on headphones — the whole spectrum of Electronic music. With the DJ/Electronic music boutiques and music megastores having migrated to the Internet, to places such as iTunes, Amazon, Beatport, Traxsource, Juno, Stompy, Turntable Lab, DJ Hut (to name just a few… the list could go on), this process was actually quite efficient (and enjoyable!). In our effort to maintain a collection that is deep and diverse, the digital only online boutiques have been essential. Once hard-to-find singles, remixes, unmixed DJ-friendly compilations, instrumental versions of Hip Hop albums, and out of print classics are a few clicks away. Although, at times, I do miss the good ole days of waking up at noon and thumbing through massive stacks of records at Amoeba, Housewares, Primal, or Tweekin’ for a small stack of nuggets… that’s a topic for another time.
Today we are pleased to introduce some fruits of this labor, a new lineup of Electronic/Dance genre stations. They are as follows:
Drum & Bass
Liquid Drum & Bass
Turntablism & Beat Science
Bmore, Bass & Baile
We hope you enjoy listening to these stations as much as we enjoyed curating them. Over the next few months we’ll be making adjustments and fine tuning them a bit. So if you have any feedback, now is the time. Whether it’s on a particular genre station or one of your own stations, please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts.
Chris Horgan [senior music analyst]
Michael Addicott [dance collection manager]
BTW — This happens to be the first post in a new blog series on Pandora — On the One. Headed by our dynamic duo of Mike Addicott and Chris Horgan, On the One focuses on the worlds of Dance, Electronic, and Rap music. You can expect posts ranging from the newest rhythms and production styles to musical roots and discussions of underground classics. Let the music play!