Here’s the current string, in all asynchronous argument —
Fellow music analysts,
To be honest, when a student in my anthropology of music class last year sent us a link to the ” Music Genome Project ” I had something of a knee-jerk reaction and even allowed myself to be a bit snarky. Probably because, to a culturalist, the term “genome” as applied to music seems quite misleading. Since then, I was able to listen to an interview with MGP founder Tim Westegren, which gave some insight into the project’s methodology. More recently, a Radio Open Source show on the effects of randomness in music selections (iPod’s shuffle feature as something of a “breakthrough”) also had Westergren on, talking about his project. Basically, they tag tracks for specific features and allow listener’s to connect those tracks through musical similarities instead of through genre labels. They do have a fairly extensive musical selection, possibly covering some of the musical ground many of us are working in.
To me, the MGP relates fairly directly to Alan Lomax’s work: the analytical method used by MGP resembles Cantometrics and MGP’s Pandora “radio station” seems somewhat related in concept to what I understand Lomax’s Global Jukebox Project to have been, almost twenty years ago. Have some of you looked into the Music Genome Project and its implications for our discipline? Westegren’s work clearly isn’t ethnographic and has no pretense of being ethnomusicological. Yet, we can probably relate to some of the ideas surrounding the project.
I actually work for Pandora.com. I am one of the Senior Analysts, and I also oversee our Rap and Electronic music areas. If anyone has any questions I’ll be happy to answer tham as candidly as possible.
Here’re a few links with info about Pandora – there’re plenty more interviews around on the web if you do a Google search:
Essentially what we do is to analyse a song based on several hundred musical categories – eveything from vocal register, to the amount of guitar distortion, to the use of sampled music, to the timbre of the drums. We then use the data from these analyses to drive a matching engine that creates playlists of similar music. When using the Pandora radio station you can interact with the matching engine (tell it YES music like this should play on this station, or NO music like this should not play on this station).
It is really an amazing product, and when a user gives the player some direction it is frightening how good the matches are. Also, Pandora is constantly changing which aspects of the song it is matching on so a listener still gets a pleasant amount of variety on their stations.
There are a couple of caveats all should know: Everyone at Pandora works our hardest to ensure there is no bias. We aren’t affiliated with any record label or whatever. We buy and accept QUALITY music of all types – Tho at this point our catalog is limited to: Pop (rock, R&B, blues, punk, etc.), Rap, Latin, Electronic, and Jazz. Classical is just getting it’s feet off the ground and may be going public this year.
Alex – you are correct there are some similarities with Lomax’s work, but I’ll leave it up to the scholars to flesh out this aspect of the discussion further.
I presented a paper at the 2006 SEM meetings on Pandora.com and the Music Genome Project, and have had stimulating dialogues with colleagues at NYU and Duke about this since. In my view, there is too much smoke-and-mirrors around the coding parameters used by Westergren’s company to make any substantial connection between cantometrics and the so-called musical genome. What are the parameters coded? Which ones seek to the describe the music, and which pertain to the sonic dimensions of sound recording as a medium through which we consume music? How do those parameters grapple with the subjectivity of the listeners who code them? How do the terms of the coding mediate between musical sound and the linguistic conventions of describing music and sound? What does it mean to engage in musical analysis as a means to sell a service to producers and consumers (Pandora) as opposed to engaging in academic analysis of musical structures and performances (Lomax)? Can one compare a marketing tool to disciplinary analysis? Can one compare a method geared toward delivering taste-based consumption to a method for (ostensibly) describing relationships among musical structure, culture, and society?
In any event, I think such comparisons miss the point of the Music Genome Project. There is a common appeal to scientific authority in both Westergren’s genomes metaphor (which is little more than a metaphor, if you look at the biological definition of genome) and Lomax’s work (regardless of what position you take with respect to it), but little more. Ultimately, what is of interest about the Music Genome Project are not any of its specific claims, but the way in which it participates in a debate about whether marketing music to consumers should be based on (ostensibly) scientific authority, or on populist definitions of what constitutes good music (as it exists in social networking sites like last.fm).
Associate Professor, Anthropology
Director, Media Studies
Director, Independent Program
Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY
most of us can imagine a singular situation in which we might resort to torture â€” to save a loved one from immediate, unspeakable harm perhaps. I can. In such a case, however, it is crucial that I do not elevate this desperate choice into a universal principle. In the unavoidable brutal urgency of the moment, I should simply do it. But it cannot become an acceptable standard; I must retain the proper sense of the horror of what I did. And when torture becomes just another in the list of counterterrorism techniques, all sense of horror is lost. [oomph mine]
the end of which resonates rather strongly, I think, with Paul Gilroy’s diagnosis of England’s postcolonial melancholia. Referring to the “pioneering social psychology” of German psychoanalysts Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich, Gilroy applies to “the British people” what we might also apply to the American —
[the Mitscherlichs] warn that melancholic reactions are prompted by “the loss of a fantasy of omnipotence” and suggest that the racial and national fantasies that imperial and colonial power required were, like those of the Aryan master race, predominantly narcissistic. From this perspective, before the British people can adjust to the horrors of their own modern history and start to build a new national identity from the debris of their broken narcissism, they will have to learn to appreciate the brutalities of colonial rule enacted in their name and to their benefit, to understand the damage it did to their political culture at home and abroad, and to consider the extent of their country’s complex investments in the ethnic absolutism that has sustained it. (99) [oomph mine]
Given my own pet peeve around encountering holidayaganda too well before — or at all directly after — one of our days of nationally ritualized good cheer, I’m sorry to leave that last post up so long. If you’re asking, “Did you have to let it linger?,” in a light brogue falsetto, well, yes, I did — it’s been grading time, you see. &my Excel-Fu is really not cutting it these days. F’real, I’m on some ol white belt form(ulae) —
But allow me to note that there are some conversations happening on a few posts (e.g., here and there), and — unless the Italian vi_@Gra-hockers get to be too much for me — I hope they can continue for a bit. (&indeed, I plan to weigh in again soon.)
Which reminds me to remind you, if u haven’t noticed, that we at w&w have added a “recent comments” thingy to the sidebar >> as well as a “linkthink” sxn >> which is essentially a del.icio.us feed, &thus will be one of the more active regions on this here site.
Sure, I traded a chance to see the Chicago River dyed green for a late-season Boston Nor’easter, but when your loved ones are back on the coast and your brutha’s offering to cook up a big boiled dinner, well, such trade-offs seem worth it.
But whether you’re in Chicago or Boston or some other outpost of Irishness (or even pseudo-Irishness), if you’re looking for a little soundtrack for your celebration of driving the snakes out, etc., allow me to reprise a little something I put together last year at this time —
wayne&wax, “doctorin’ the guinness” (9 min / 9 mb) | mpfree
On March 8-9, I’ll be participating in a Caribbean Music Seminar at Royal Holloway College (University of London). On the evening of the 8th, I’ll contribute to an open forum on Jamaican music. On the morning of the 9th, I’ll be delivering a paper about Jamaican culture, versioning, and the notion (and uses) of the “foreign.” Here are the details for the seminar on the 9th —
Music, Text and Politics in the Caribbean and its Diaspora
Institute for the Study of the Americas
35 Tavistock Square, Seminar Room 12
11 – 11.30 am: Opening remarks (Philip Bohlman, Sharon Meredith, Tina K. Ramnarine, Geoff Baker)
11.30 am – 1 pm: Session 1: Music and Text (Chair: Peter Patrick)
Elaine Richardson, Hiphop and Dancehall Intertextualities
Wayne Marshall, To Turn the Text Upside-Down: Versioning the Foreign in Jamaica
Timothy Rommen, â€œI Ain’t Askin’ Fa Muchâ€: Rake-n-Scrape as Social Text in the Bahamas
1 – 2 pm: Lunch
2 – 3.30 pm: Session 2: Performance and Liberatory Politics (Chair: Tina K. Ramnarine)
Conrad James, Music, Poetry and Black Liberatory Politics in Cuba
Lez Henry, What The Deejay Said: A Critique from the Street!
Sheldon Blackman, On Soca/Sokah: Ras Shorty I and his Legacy
3.30 – 4 pm: Tea/Coffee
4 – 5.15 pm: Session 3: Recording Projects and Ethnographic Film (Chair: Bill Schwarz)
John Cowley, Chants, Carnival Bands and Conflict: Territorial Topicality in Recordings of Creole Masquerade Music
Carlo Cubero, Filming Musical Places: The Making of MANGROVE MUSIC
5.30 – 6.15 pm: Concluding responses and discussion (Chair: Mikael Riley)
As I mentioned in the last post, I’m headed to London this week (tomorrow today actually!) to participate in a Caribbean music seminar at Royal Holloway College. I’m honored to have been invited to join in the proceedings, and I’m quite looking forward to the various papers, the broader conversation, and the feedback I hope to receive on some ideas I’ve been tossing around for a while (and from a group of sharp, Caribbean/ist interlocutors at that).
I’m calling my talk, “To Turn the Text Upside-Down: Versioning the Foreign in Jamaica,” but I should perhaps say “Upside-Up,” or “Rightside Up,” or “I-side-Up,” or something similarly more Rastafarian in spirit (the “upside-down” was spoken by Stuart Hall, incidentally), and I might as well add “Versioning Jamaica in the Foreign” — for how better to describe my own reggaecentric projects?
But here’s Hall elaborating on the idea of turning the Bible upside-down:
…Rastafarianism represented itself as a ‘return’. But what it ‘returned’ us to was ourselves. In doing so, it produced ‘Africa again’ — in the diaspora. Rastafarianism drew on many ‘lost sources’ from the past. But its relevance was grounded in the extraordinarily contemporary practice of reading the Bible through its subversive tradition, through its unorthodoxies, its apocrypha: by reading against the grain, upside-down, turning the text against itself. The ‘Babylon’ of which it spoke, where its people were still ‘suffering’, was not in Egypt but in Kingston — and later, as the name was syntagmatically extended to include the Metropolitan Police (…) Rastafarianism played a critical role in the modern movement that further translation, this strange doctrine and discourse ‘saved’ the young black souls of second-generation Caribbean migrants in British cities in the 1960s and 1970s, (…) it decolonized minds. [link]
Whether or not “upside-down” is the word, I find this a compelling reading of much Jamaican culture, which reinforces my sense that what Deborah Thomas calls “modern blackness” is a useful lens for making sense of (i.e., for versioning, yes) reggae’s relationship to, say, hip-hop. After discussing various texts that get turned upside-down inna JA (and the J’can diaspora) — the Bible, English, colonization, Westerns, r&b — I’ll turn in greater detail to the specific case of hip-hop and the (potentially) bexing questions it raises about who’s turning whom upside-down (and who cares). Or as Alexander Weheliye puts it, in reference to a broader context —
As a direct outcome of its growing sonic and visual presence hip-hop has come to define what it means to be black and “modern” within a global context and particularly in youth cultures. Because of hip-hop’s preeminence, Afro-diasporic youth populations habitually identify with or define themselves against hip-hop culture, creating identities suspended between the local and the global. (146)
With this sort of tension in the air, my main frame of reference will be, as it has been, directed toward and informed by a group which could fairly well be described by the passage above: the hip-hop generation of Jamaica — those who grew up on MTV and BET and Biggie and Tupac as much as with Stone Love and Irie and Beenie and Bounty; those for whom “playa-hatin” rolls off the tongue as easily as “badmind”; those for whom rap beats and flows offer a special kind of currency; and yet, those for whom adopting a Yankee style wholesale still seems anathema, unthinkable, or certainly conspicuous.
Few DJs of this generation would go so far as to say that a Jamaican who rapped was not “keeping it real,” so to speak. As another Kingston-based DJ, Raw-Raw, put it: “If someone lives in Jamaica and him wan’ rap like him born in Brooklyn, I have no comment on that beca’ — whatever you feel [is valid].” In other words, Raw-Raw would not want to tell a performer what is in or out of bounds regarding their mode of expression. [...] Other Kingston-based artists assented that such a stylistic strategy implies a serious trade-off but is a testament to hip-hop’s power. A singjay named Dami D equated the decision of a young Jamaican to write a rap song with “put[ting] away all pride.” At the same time, he attributed the phenomenon of Jamaican rappers to hip-hop’s ability to inspire people, or in his words: “That show, seh, that hip-hop, it dedeh for really uplift the youth dem.”
One thing that helps young Jamaicans to reconcile an embrace of hip-hop alongside (dancehall) reggae is an understanding of the intertwined genealogy of the two. When I asked him about the relationship between hip-hop and reggae, Wasp, a Kingston-based DJ and one of my primary collaborators, told me:
Rap, ‘pon a level now, come from reggae, seen? Dancehall now is a new ting weh come after rap, seen? So hip-hop get influence from reggae, but this what we a do now — what Dami D a do, Beenie Man a do, Bounty a do, y’know — a dancehall, and that come from rap.
Indeed, in our collaborations, Wasp frequently pushed me (or allowed me to lean, as I was wont to do) toward hip-hop. As I recounted it several years ago, revealing with the awk phrase “anti-jamaican” more about my own underlying assumptions than his —
just yesterday, as i built a riddim for a dj named wasp, i was struck by his anti-jamaican directions. he wanted the snares squarely on the 2 and 4 and the kicks avoiding any semblance of a 3+3+2. he didn’t want a dancehall sound. he wanted an “international sound.”
And yet, this was also the same guy who told me,
I just be a man weh stick to my culture, still. Our culture is like, reggae, dancehall, seen? From your yard, man, is either you have a choice between reggae and dancehall, you see me a say? [...] If a man live a yard and him a rap is like, me feel like him fi just go seh, bomb, and just know seh, yo, him fi go live in other heights, y’know?
Wasp in the studio
I don’t talk to Wasp as often as I’d like to, though I do get regular updates from my man Dami D, who told me recently that Wasp was blowing up (“Wass buss,” he said in that wonderfully economical JA way) and that he had a myspace page and all that (and, as it turns out, about 3 times more friends than i&i !). When I visited, I was quite stoked to hear Wasp absolutely killing the new Black Chiney joint, i.e., the Drumline riddim —
Wasp, “A Buss Di Place”
Not only has Wasp apparently scored himself a spot on the roster for the Drumline comp with his hissed whispered wordspill — man a buss di place, no doubt — apparently he’s doing dubs, too, so if you’re looking for a tight vocal, check the man.
I’m told that soon enough he’ll have a hot new mixtape out — Kingston kids know how to get the word out, knamean you see me? I first noted the embrace of the hip-hop style mixtape format (i.e., recording your own songs over hot beats, interlinked w/ skits, etc.) in Jamaica when I was there a couple years ago and was passed a tape representing Cassia Park to the world, over the hottest new dancehall riddims and hip-hop beats alike. One track featured Wasp rocking over the beat from the Game’s “Dreams,” introduced with a sample from a classic Twins of Twins bit —
note the long pull-up around a minute in
As I wrote at the time —
it’s clear that the hip-hop format for bus(t)ing new artists and new tracks has been fully embraced by the digital-denizens of kingston. paralleling young jamaican video artists’ use of found footage (the war in iraq being a particularly popular source of images to counterpose with the ghetto) and video game graphics, among other things, young mixtape makers are increasingly incorporating not simply the classic sounds of jamaican soundsystems (e.g., screaming selectors, big-ups from bigman-DJs, gunshots, and low-fi mixer effects) but everything from silly fruityloops sounds to the latest hip-hop beats to sizzla’s signature “HAAA!” or killa’s “CROSS…” to — the clear new favorite — clips from the twins of twins’ highly popular dancehall parodies.
— they just gotta get them jawns over to MixUnit or something.
Another recent recording by Wasp, which will likely land on the forthcoming mixtape as well, features fellow hip-hop gen DJ, Terro 3000, and offers yet another take on today’s hip-hop inflected Jamaican sound —
Wasp, ft. Terro, “Buss It Off”
if you listen to the end you’ll hear a lil unintended irony — this being a myspace rip — as an uninvited pop-up voice from the Western Union website comes into the mix; seemed appropriate, so i left it in
At this point, tho, I’ve got to catch some z’s so’s I can catch an early flight across the pond tomorrow. So me haffi jus leave it right here for now. If you’d like to read more along these lines, check the dissertation excerpt I have up on the “word” page. More soon come on that front, too. //
“It would seem evident that these two singers were friends of Diplo. The performance begins with a prayer for the repose of his soul and then the two singers exchange improvised decimas, ten paired couplets of eight syllables each. A powerful and moving eulogy and a wonderful example of the Puerto Rican Jibaro or mountain style.” – Robert Garfias