Thursday, April 24, 2008

Casual Listening Extra 4-25-08

Casual Listening


April 25, 2008

Stump Pandora Contest: At the request of several readers, I tuned into Pandora this week. For those not in the know, Pandora is internet radio courtesy of the Music Genome Project. They’ve dissected what gives a song its characteristic sound, and what other songs that sound is related to. You enter the name of an artist or song, and it’ll create a radio station based on its analysis of your choice. I’ve been outrageously impressed at how good it is. Light years better than what I’ve seen on Rhapsody radio. I tried to give Pandora every curveball I could find. Rebirth Brass Band? All the N’awlins second line funk you can handle. Machito? Not just Latin, but a steady stream of mid-century Mambo. John Adams? A respectable assembly of contemporary classical minimalism and its derivatives. Even fine distinctions: Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” turned up Tori Amos and Tom Waits, but “This Flight Tonight” off the same album, gave Stephen Stills and Ani DiFranco.

I’ve only been able to stump it once, which leads me to the contest. If you can find something that stumps Pandora, I’ll make you the guest reviewer for Casual Listening for a week. If you succeed, you’ve earned the tastemaker’s seat for a world of music lovers.

Here are the rules.

1. Results must be replicable. It can’t just be something that stumps it once, you’ve got to find an artist or song that stumps Pandora consistently.

2. Results must be un-improvable. It doesn’t count if the artist stumps it, but entering a characteristic song by that artist doesn’t (example: I got Ladysmith Black Mambazo to confuse it, because it used some goofy new age album of theirs as source material. Afterward, I built a station on their song “Nomathemba,” I got all choral harmony from around the world, exactly what I was hoping to hear).

3. Multiple-song stations are fair game.

Hint 1 – You won’t stump it with an artist who plays a variety of styles. I built a Miles Davis station with “7 Steps to Heaven,” “So What,” “Summertime,” “Bitches Brew,” and “Mystery” that rotated 4-song blocks based on each. Pandora won that round.

Hint 2 – The one time I succeeded was with an artist or song whose signature characteristic isn’t musical.

You’ve got 2 weeks – deadline May 9th. E-mails to Good luck.


Chuck said...

I have mixed feelings about Pandora, honestly. It seems to work real well for certain things and less well for others. I've never been happy with my "Bob Dylan" station there, though I'm sure some combination of specific songs would yield the results I'm looking for...but it usually seems to peg him as just "classic rock."

But I won't nominate him as a stumper as the results are probably improvable.

How about Bobby Conn? For one thing, Pandora cannot tell the difference between music of a genre and an ironic version of same; it doesn't notice the subversiveness of the lyrics; and even as far as musical qualities, it doesn't get it-- just feeds me bland indie rock.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff -

Lucia from Pandora here. Thanks for your email. I just sent you a reply. :)

It's great to read that you're enjoying Pandora and have already discovered some of the intricacies of station-curation. Bravo!

Keep in touch,
Lucia, from Pandora