Now We Are 29

I was sitting at my desk yesterday, iTunes loaded, headphones cranked to eleven to drown out the hum of the fluorescent lighting in the office. Eardrum shredding distorted guitar riffs and non-sensical lyrical waxing by depressed British teenagers I can stand – imperceptible, monotonic, 60Hz electrical humming, on the other hand, drives me completely bonkers. Whoever invented fluorescent lights should be put on trial for crimes against every student who has valiantly struggled to get any work done at the college library, forgoing the giddy pleasures of alcohol abuse and casual sex that give “higher education” its name, only to be stymied by the low Lucasian drone of these cheap lightsaber impersonators. The students get first dibs on the guy – followed shortly by all the mothers who warned us against the dangers of reading under poor lighting conditions.

Wait…where was I going with this? Oh yes, I was talking about loud music.

After having the entire spectrum of the pentatonic scale rammed into my cerebral cortex by Eric Clapton’s tribute to blues legend Robert Johnson, I decided forego any further insult to Mr. Johnson and switched to listening to Radiohead instead. It’s funny how the mind works, because I happened upon this little gem in my collection:

In a city of the future
It is difficult to concentrate
Meet the boss, meet the wife
Everybody’s happy
Everyone is made for life

In a city of the future
It is difficult to find a space
I’m too busy to see you
You’re too busy to wait

But I’m okay, how are you?
Thanks for asking, thanks for asking
But I’m okay, how are you?
I hope you’re okay too

Everyone one of those days
When the sky’s California blue
With a beautiful bombshell
I throw myself into my work
I’m too lazy, I’ve been kidding myself for so long

I’m okay, how are you?
Thanks for asking, thanks for asking
But I’m okay, how are you?
I hope you’re okay too

And then I bothered to check the track name. Oh irony of ironies – this song is from the Airbag/How Am I Driving? EP, and has a most appropriate name: Palo Alto.

Scotty! I Need Labels!

I’ve been tooling around with iTunes, trying get my digital music organized in preparation for something I’ll euphemistically call my tax refund. Though I have to agree with general consensus that the iTunes interfaces kicks extreme backside, I still think there’s room for improvement.

Every band known to mankind has uttered the phrase “well, it’s really hard to categorize what we do” and lived to regret it. Fantasies of originality notwithstanding, no band is impervious to being peg-holed; sooner or later, everyone gets stuck into a category, even if they’re stuck there in solitude. The problem is that making this category meaningful requires some variety of Star-Trekian pseudo-category, existing in the subspace that exists between and intersects with other categories.

Last I checked, Gene Roddenberry wasn’t a part of the iTunes dev team.

If such a facility existed in iTunes, it’d allow you to do really neat stuff. Right now, half my music is labeled pretty generically: Rock. But what if I could mix categories to better reflect the style of music? At a basic level, you should at least be able to assign multiple categories to a song, but why stop there? A more sophisticated system would allow you to say something like “this song is 20% rock and 80% punk”. Or better yet, you could take it to extremes, narrowing categories to comparisons to other bands – “this song is 20% Radiohead, 30% Alan Parsons Project, and 50% Pink Floyd”. At any time, you could queue up music to suit your current taste.

Still not enough?

Then what about augmenting Smart Playlists to generate playlists not only on static song data, such as song name, year or category, but also allow Smart Playlists to talk to other data sources? For example, wouldn’t it be cool to be able to tell iTunes to “queue up only songs that contain the names of cities in California or relate to California”, using MapPoint as a data source? This is something that might have been appropriate for my drive down to Silicon Valley. Or “queue up songs based on my current location?” Imagine iTunes being smart enough to queue up “Walking in Memphis” when you’re…walking in Memphis! Or “Walking on Sunshine” when your iPod detects you’re feeling especially happy? Talk about a soundtrack for life!

The final step would be to make the leap to tying iTunes to your life completely. We all have songs that trigger memories of particular times in our lives – if projects like My Life Bits succeed in allowing people to capture all digital assets the generate during their lifetime, wouldn’t it make sense to capture what music you were listening to at a certain point in your life? Instant reminiscence!

Yeah, it’d be cool. But instead, here I sit, using single categories and dumb Smart Playlists like a sucker.