17 October 2008

Bands with Split Personalities: Goo Goo Dolls & Spinal Tap

I'm still sick and stupid, so I'm going to leave you with more homework. These are songs that I used to test Pandora's track selection and I'll be pointing back to them later.

Goo Goo Dolls

Early Goo: "Know My Name"

Late Goo: "Stay With You"

Spinal Tap

Early Tap: "Give Me Some Money" and "(Listen to the) Flower People"

Late Tap; "Hell Hole" and "Big Bottom"

15 October 2008

Punt while coughing: Solomon Burke

I have many fine notes on Pandora, but a fever stands between them and you. I now know I can't simplify multi-dimensional data analysis with a temp above 100F.

Don't be sad—I'll leave you with a special song to keep you company, "You're The Kind of Trouble" by Solomon Burke, from his album Nashville. This is one of the songs I've used in my Pandora-poking, so it's not completely a space filler.

14 October 2008

Yet another fan video of yet another earworm, this time from Josh Turner

I'm sick and not up to much thinking. Last night, I plain passed out before I had a chance to put a piece together for you.

I've been blackboxing Pandora, trying to figure out how they decide which artists are similar to the seeds for a station. That is going slowly, but I have been able to work out that their basic unit is a block of 4 songs. I'm still looking for a good band with two distinct and different personalities, but being sick and stupid has put that effort on the shelf for a few days. I'm having some fun now listening to the station seeded with "John C. Reilly" who has done only the Dewey Cox soundtrack. That was designed to have as many different genres as possible, so I am quite interested to see if the station hits all of them.

In the meantime, I am going to share my current earworm with you. A friend of mine has been listening to this Josh Turner song obsessively for the last couple of weeks and now it's stuck in my head. Here is yet another fan video.

The scenes are from Doctor Who and the video probably makes a lot more sense if you know that the two actors are both the Doctor. (Trust me, changing actors is a Doctor Who thing.) I like the official original video very well, but that has "Embedding disabled by request".

At least it's not "Hey There Delilah" again.

12 October 2008

Another great television theme and two of its children

A friend reminded me of three more great television theme/title songs that you can identify immediately from the next room. I still put Doctor Who first, but these are defintitely on a short list. And they are all related.

Peter Gunn

Original Version

Henry Mancini wrote an instant classic, that ended up branding a whole genre: crime and espionage drama. He did later themes for other series, and he did the Pink Panther theme, too, but that went from movies into TV, not the other way around.

Gratuitous Bettie Page Spanking Video Version

How can you skip a chance to put in Bettie, ropes, and spanking?

A Remarkable Cover

This song has been covered so many times, it's a career to look for the perfect example. This one will have to do.

Mission Impossible

Original Version

Lalo Schifrin original, and one of the many themes taking the cue from Mancini's Peter Gunn theme.

Mission Impossible movie

Remix of the original version by Adam Clayton & Larry Mullen Jr. This clip is a fanvid, something that I plan to talk about soon.

Mission Impossible 2

See how litle of the original is required for you to recognize it.

Law and Order

Original Series

Mike Post's instant classic, again in the Peter Gunn family tree.

L&O: Criminal Intent

His slightly different spin on the same theme.


I think that the branding is pretty well established by now.

11 October 2008

The Best TV Theme of All Time (So Far)

Today, I heard a bit of a snip of a piece of music coming from the next room and I new immediately what someone in there was watching. It is the song that has called kids of all ages in to the telly for 45 years and going strong.



45 years and still doing its magic. Just now as I was choosing which YouTube clips to embed, I had two young fans who are supposed to be asleep run in to see which episode I was watching.

Doctor Who
on BBC.co.uk

09 October 2008

Pandora's DNA

Pandora is an application that sits above yet another ginormous database of music information. (Are you noticing a pattern here?) It uses this database to generate lists of songs to play as stations for users.

So, what about this database? It is from the Music Genome Project, which brought together geeky music experts to find a way to describe music in numbers, in a way that would let have tracks that sound similar to each other have close-together numerical descriptions. (My non-Amber mathematician hat keeps trying to get technical, but I am beating it down. So far.)

To do this, they first developed lists of genes, things or qualities that a track might have to some degree. For example, in the category of genes "Strings", they have the genes Background String Section, Bowed Strings, Melodic String Accompaniment, Melodic String Section, Solo Strings, String Ensemble, String Section, String Section Beds, Subtle Use of Strings, Use of a String Ensemble, and Use of Strings. Human expert listeners give each track a score for each gene that applies to its genre. Rock and pop have 150 genes, rap has 350, jazz has 400, etc. That list of values, the score for each gene, is the track's genotype. That goes into the ginormous database with the usual track information like artist and title.

To give you an idea, here are some of those genotypes presented in words, just hitting the highlights. These are taken from the Pandora "Why was this song selected?" feature.

  1. Features electric rock instrumentation, a subtle use of vocal harmony, repetitive melodic phrasing, extensive vamping, and major key tonality. (U2, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For")

  2. Features hard rock roots, groove based composition, minor key tonality, dirty electric guitar riffs. (Tool, "Sober")

  3. Features hard rock roots, folk influences, mild rhythmic syncopation, repetitive melodic phrasing, and extensive vamping. (Jerry Cantrell, "Anger Rising")

Within the gene system, the distance between two tracks can be calculated mathematically. If they set their system up right, that would correspond almost exactly to how similar they would sound to a listener. (Or to a group of listeners, averaged out.) You can also use math to describe different subgenres or do all sorts of other cool fun stuff, for values of "cool" and "fun" that only really hardcore geeks would understand.

This certainly has my geek propeller hat spinning. I keep wondering things like which gene set did they apply to Linkin Park and Body Count? Does their system let you measure the distance between a rap track and a rock track? Have they explored the data for clusters that cross standard genre labels? How do different recordings of the same song compare? I would love to get my hands on their data and start playing with it.

I can't, directly. But I can play with Pandora. And I have been. Reports on the cool fun will follow.

08 October 2008

Plug of the week: The Last Goodnight

This is the song that's been playing in my head all day. It's a good thing I like it. Here is a nice live performance:

The official video of The Hit is available in all the usual places, but with embedding disabled.

I really like The Last Goodnight. They aren't bleeding edge at all. They are less funky than Maroon 5, less suicidal than Blue October, less quirky than New Radicals, but well within that corner of the musical landscape. They have their own voice, though, sentimental but realistic, biting self-observation but not self-hate.

The "Pictures of You" hook has probably just about gotten control of your brain.

I like their songwriting and execution very well. If I were writing a review, I would run down all the tracks and explain how they fit into the story of a destructive and addictive relationship, but I'm not, so I won't. I would like to give a shout to their keyboards. In a field of bands with strong keyboards well forward in the arrangements, theirs resonate with me the most. Maybe it's just that they have more of them. They credit a pianist and keyboardist and make good use of both.

Here's another example, "Poison Kiss":

I liked the music when I bought the album, but I'm listening to it a lot more than I expected. I definitely think they are worth checking out.

Pictures of you, pictures of me, pictures of me, hung up on your wall for all the world to see...

The Last Goodnight
on Amazon.com

07 October 2008

I guess I can't make up my mind

Last May, I calculated my musical eclecticity using Anthony Liekens's How eclectic is your musical style? tool. I just ran it again, and I am proud to say that my tastes have broadened!

Eclectic Score

Take your top 20 artists. For each of these artists, collect the top 5 similar artists. The resulting number of unique artists is your eclectic score. If the score is small (extreme = 5) your musical preferences are very limited, and if it is large (larger than 80, extreme = 100), then you have an eclectic musical preference. You can compute your own score at http://anthony.liekens.net/pub/scripts/last.fm/eclectic.php

My eclectic score is currently


The 98 related artists for my profile are 3 Doors Down (2), Adema, Alex Chilton, Ari Hest, Aventura, Badfinger, Better Than Ezra, Black Light Burns, Boys Like Girls, Breaking Benjamin, Brian May, Chris Bell, Churchills, Circle of Dust, Coldplay, Creed, Criss Angel, Crossbreed, Crossfade, DLG, Deadsy, Deep Purple, Disturbed, Dope (2), Dwight Yoakam, Emergency Broadcast System, Emmylou Harris, Fireman Joe, Flowbots, Fountains of Wayne, Franz Ferdinand, Freddie Mercury, Fuel, Gavin DeGraw, Godhead, Godsmack, Graham Colton Band, Guy Clark, Halo33, Hawthorne Heights, Ill NiƱo, India, Jakalope, Jason Falkner, Jellyfish, Jerry Rivera, Jesse Malin, Josh Kelley, Josh Ritter, KMFDM, Kara's Flowers, Kasabian, Live, Lostprophets, Lyle Lovett, Marilyn Manson, Matchbox Twenty, Matt Nathanson, Matt Wertz, Ministry, Modwheelmood, Mushroomhead, Narc, Oleander, Placebo, Queen + Paul Rodgers, Radiohead, Rob Thomas, Roger Taylor, Rosanne Cash, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, SOiL, SecondaryCell, Senses Fail, Shinedown, Slipknot, Sloan, Spineshank, Stabbing Westward, Static-X, Story of the Year, Submersed, Teenage Fanclub, The All-American Rejects, The Calling, The Fullerenes, The Love Machine, The Mayfield Four, The Posies, The Soft Disaster, Todd Rundgren, Tonic, Trapt, Victor Manuelle, Whiskeytown, Wilco, Zeromancer, edwardshor

Super-Eclectic Score

Take your top 50 artists. For each of these artists, collect the top 20 similar artists (where the artist itself is the #1 most similar). The resulting number of unique artists is your super-eclectic score. You can compute your own score at http://anthony.liekens.net/pub/scripts/last.fm/supereclectic.php

My super-eclectic score is currently


The most similar artists for my profile are Smile Empty Soul (4), Puddle of Mudd (4), Tantric (4), The All-American Rejects (4), Orgy (4), Deadstar Assembly (4), Stabbing Westward (4), Fuel (4), Theory of a Deadman (4), Toby Keith (3)

06 October 2008

First you find the haystack

I have talked a bit about recommender systems before. These are the subject of many mathematical models and you can get a lot of very dense articles about the subject if you want to know everything. I'm going to give a very high-level oversimplified version here.

There are two basic types of recommender systems, collaborative filtering ("This is what people like you prefer.") and content-based filtering ("If you like that, you should try this."). There is no pure recommender system, but generally Last.fm is a collaborative filtering system and Pandora is a content-based filtering system. Pandora relies on the large music genome database to identify music similar to music you tell it you like. Last.fm uses a large database of playing histories to identify people who listen to the same bands in similar ways as you, then recommends music from their play histories. On the gripping hand, Amazon.com mixes the Last.fm approach with a standard package of web shopping preference identification and recommendations, because they also track what you look at but don't listen to (and how long you look at each one, and how you follow a trail of links around, etc.)

In practice, any system in use is a hybrid. Pandora passes you individual tracks from bands that tend to have similar tracks to the ones you name, then refines that with your own feedback. They also offer you access to the stations other people have developed, so you can use a band name to find someone who has similar tastes to you, and then see what else they listen to. Last.fm will play you a station of recommendations based on similar users, but they also have user track tagging that you can use to get recommendations. That tagging is both content-based and collaborative. PayPlay.fm uses your Last.fm profile and their own content-based and collaborative data to make recommendations (and in my experience better than any of the others). And PandoraFM and similar bridge the Pandora and Last.fm systems, hybridizing the hybrids. Amazon is probably telling someone "You bought a dish drainer and gardening tools, so we recommend you try Hoobastank and Jack Johnson." I have no idea how the YouTube related videos feature works (matching substrings in titles, with some other content-based stuff on top of that. Hybridized with the user favorites and channels collaborative filtering, I'd guess), but it is busy doing something that leads you all around the videoverse.

That all looks like quite a tangle of possibilities, but there is a layer of preference/recommendation above all that. To use any of these systems, you have to choose to use it. Right at the start, you have made a big filter of who "people like me" are. SmartPunk users are probably not quite the same crowd as Soundflavor users. Youtube music hunters on safari are different from Pandora fanatic hackers. And how did you find out about the system you choose, anyway? Your face-to-face friends are involved in that filtering layer, as well.

What is sad, of course, is that I am such a geek that I have not only used all these recommender systems (and more), I have worried out how they work under the hood (at this high level). In the future, look for more on these systems and on music in social networking sites. I am also thinking about bellwethers, so you will probably be reading about them, too. And the nature and impact and money trail of the super ginormous databases that sit under all these systems.

05 October 2008

Special tidbit

Since I spent most of the day thrashing around fixing a computer problem, I'll leave you with a video with a performance I really like. I think I've mentioned how much I like Keith Urban's "Stupid Boy". This is a live performance by Sarah Buxton, who wrote the song.

I like this version a lot better than the prettified version on her MySpace. This one has bite. I hope her studio learns to let her be herself.

04 October 2008

Let the coolness stream

Hoooooray. I got Pandora working. It never would play in my Firefox, but I got it going in Chrome. Then I couldn't get it to stop, which is a problem. After I rebooted, I got Pandora working in Internet Explorer just fine.

I'm willing to blame my system and not Pandora, since I have started getting messages complaining that there is something wrong with msdmo.dll. That is a whole off-topic thing to solve.

What is even more cool is that I found a web utility that mashes Pandora and Last.fm. PandoraFM is great so far. It runs Pandora in a frame and passes the Pandora play data into the Last.fm scrobbling system. It also give you access to Last.fm tagging and similar functions for the tracks as they play. PLUS, it will take your Last.fm stations and feed them into Pandora to play. It probably does other things, too, but I've only been using it today.

As I've mentioned before, scrobbling is a hard addiction. Whenever I play music that isn't getting scrobbled, the data loss nags at me. I'm apparently not the only one, since there are plenty of other apps around that let you scrobble Panora.

Oooh, Paul Oakenfold just came up. How have I missed that?. Must go click approval.

Pandora FM

03 October 2008

I'd love to open Pandora's Boxes

I am feeling like the stupidest person on the planet.

This whole mad endeavor started with me declaring radio morbid and starting out to look for new ways to find new music. I keep finding new cool stuff and there's no end in sight.

I've read a lot recently about how the RIAA's greed is going to kill Pandora, or maybe not if negotiations go well. This will, apparently, destroy the single best place to find new music ever in the history of the galaxy. (I am going to write more about the money trail soon after I figure it out well enough to explain it.)

I thought I better try out Pandora while I still could, so I headed over. I had set up an account there a while ago, but never did anything else. For a miracle, the password was where it was supposed to be, so I logged in and waited for the great new music to start showing up.

Hah. Of course, I had to do something to make the music appear. I'm sure Pandora has wonderful documentation, but it seemed to me that there should be some obvious entry point and voila, I see a giant box that says "type in the name of your favorite artist, song, composer and we'll create a radio station featuring that music and more like it." That would be the jumping in point.

I decided to try Hoobastank. Type it in and "CLICK HERE TO PLAY", check. Explanation box that says we're going to play an example, click here to close this box, very nice. Many fine labels and control buttons, nice.

And then crickets. The play/pause button changed, but nothing else happened. There is no sound, no blinkenlight, no messages. Nothing.

I thrashed around a bit, but I have only succeeded in getting different songs not to play. Am I missing a button? Is Pandora down? Pandora doesn't play nice with Firefox? Is my computer screwed up? I'm at a loss and frustrated.

My report to date on Pandora: It has pretty boxes.


02 October 2008

Plug of the Week: Soundtrack of Shelter

Shelter is a movie about a gay romance. I like it a lot. If you like romances and are not gay-smooch-phobic, rent it and watch it. It's good and the rental won't cost you much and why not?

I like the movie, but I love the soundtrack. I rented the movie more than once because I had the music playing in my head. When I realized that, I bought the soundtrack album, which went into heavy rotation on my iPod. I thought I was so over "guy with his guitar singing soulfully" music, but it turned out I was just over what I had been hearing.

The Shelter music is from several artists, Shane Mack has four songs on the album, and they set the tone for the whole work. Here's a sample. (The video is a nice picture of the movie, but doesn't illustrate the song very well. I didn't get to make it and they didn't ask my opinion.)

Not all the song are strictly guy with guitar, but they do stay toward that corner of the landscape. Matthew Popieluch has two tracks. I particularly like "Darkness Descends", which I also heard a snip of in a Best Buy commercial. (That drove me crazy because my brain insisted that I knew the song and yet refused to reveal which one it was.)

Darkness Descends - Matthew Popieluch

Dance Yourself to Death has the most-different track, "Teenage Romanticide", which I don't like as much as it seems like I ought to. I really like "No One's Home" from Brett Cookingham & Matt Pavolaitis, which I wouldn't have expected to. Funny old world.

There are two tracks that were written for the movie by J. Peter Robinson. One of them, "Zach Conflicted" blows me away every time I hear it.

Zach Conflicted - J. Peter Robinson

That one is by far my favorite on the album.

A lot of soundtrack albums really don't work standing along as albums, but if you had this one and didn't know it was from a movie you might not notice. It is a very good compilation. You can easily listen to it straight through, and I think it shows off the different artists very well. I like the Shane Mack songs, but when I sorted the album by artist and got his four in a row, it was too much of too similar. Those same four songs programmed with the others sound brilliant. Someone did some great working putting this music together.

The story of how the music got programmed must be interesting. The movie itself was taken from script to screen in an astonishingly short time, so I have to give major props to the Musical Supervisor Brian Goldman. It looks, from some online poking around, that a lot of the music was taken from stuff that had been coming into a new music division of the here! network. Still, to put together diverse music that supports the movie so well AND that works completely on its own terms as an album, in that short time window, is a stunning accomplishment (in my opinion). I hope that some day I can talk to him about how they did it. (If I do, you will be sure to read about it.)

Shelter Soundtrack
on Amazon.com

01 October 2008

I mean it. No, this time I really do.

I am a major introvert and my stint on the phone bank really burned me out. For a long time after that finished, I could hardly stand to listen to music, much less think about it. I am relieved to report that I am rested and ready to get spinning again. I've been listening to a lot of music the last couple of weeks, although I haven't gotten anything new. Now it's a new month and (exciting for government geeks) the start of a new fiscal year, and that has shook me loose and gotten me moving.

The reason that I have been listening again, but not writing again was because my exploration of ways to find new music dropped me into a massive time suck. I'll write that story later in the week after I clear out some things I've been holding on to. Look for ongoing excitement starting tomorrow!

For now, I will leave you with a video of a song that I don't like much. A friend of mine has played it so often that I now think of him whenever I hear it and so it makes me smile. In fact, it makes me feel something very much like happy. That's the power of music.

See ya tomorrow!