Everything Old Is Old Again

Like most 21st century music nuts, I downloaded the new version of iTunes earlier this week…as a technologically-minded citizen, I always get updates for my software, if only for the fixes to any bugs in the previous versions…any new features are a bonus, but I don’t usually take advantage of them…in this new version of iTunes, there is a feature called “Genius,” a term that Apple bandies about a lot these days…as anyone who has had to take their Apple product in for repairs to one of the Apple Stores knows, the tech support desk is generously named the “Genius Bar”…

Unlike the “Genius Bar,” the “Genius” feature has to potential to be useful (or, at the very least, mildly entertaining)…the way it works is a bit baffling, but it requires an account so it can connect you to the interwebs and to the habits of other iTunes listeners around the world…simply, it creates a playlist of selectable lengths of appropriate music (from your own library) to accompany a song that you select (also from your library)…here’s an example from my very own:

Selected song: Oingo Boingo – “You Really Got Me”

So, what does iTunes think goes well with a deep track from a moderately popular new wave band from the early ’80s?

Sparks – “I Wish I Looked A Little Better”
Devo – “That’s Good”
Thomas Dolby – “Europa And The Pirate Twins”
The Pretenders – “Bad Boys Get Spanked”

Okay, so it can tell that, if I am looking to make a mix or a DJ set of slightly obscure new wave stuff, this is what I might want to play…the neat part is that, if you pick a bigger band or a more popular track (like “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse), it will pair it with other contemporary artists of similar fame and success (like, say, “1 2 3 4” by Feist or Peter Bjorn And John‘s “Young Folks”)…sometimes, it will pair your song with a song by a different band that features some of the same members as the band you picked, like coupling Luna with Galaxie 500…the only thing I don’t really care for is how it will place songs by the exact same artist as the one I pick in the list (this usually happens further down in the list)…of course I know that Eddie Cochran sounds good alongside a song by Eddie Cochran!!…

For me, this might be a good way to plan out sets of music for my Y-Rock shows, or as a quick way to whip up a mixtape of a certain genre or era…then again, it might be taking the charm out of scrounging through my library in search of the perfect segue…incidentally, another of the new features tiles all of the artwork in my library, making it look like a bona-fide record collection…as the Gang Of Four said, “Two steps forward, six steps back”…

As much as I love technology, I fear that superfluous things like the “Genuis” feature, innocuous as they may seem, may slowly be phasing us out of the equation…naturally, technology is only as powerful as we make it, but how long will it be until iTunes can tell what mood we’re in and select what to play accordingly…the “Genius” feature get more efficient over time, so why not tap into people’s emotions to determine what they want to listen to?…

Maybe that’s why I like being in radio…sure, I can pick songs depending on how I’m feeling while I’m in the studio, but whoever is listening out in radioland is at the mercy of what I decide to play…if they aren’t feeling the same way I am, then the song choices I make might not make sense, or might not appear to be cohesive at all…but the magic is when the listener is on the same emotional level as the DJ, and that’s when I get messages from listeners saying that my picks are making their afternoons more enjoyable, or that they never thought a certain song would go well after another or that they just like the music and aren’t quite sure why…that’s a connection that, while technology serves as the vehicle for delivering the music as well as the messages praising it, is a purely human one that cannot be replicated by a machine…

It’s great to have iTunes…maybe version 8.1 will learn to mind its own business…


Lyric of the Time:
Is it true? I wonder,
Was that the famous daughter
Of the well-heeled revolving oh-so-fine?
While we were building caskets
For boys in leather jackets

~ by E. on September 13, 2008.

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