Dr. Walter Greason: […] “Hip hop—the only social force to create an equitable, participatory, democratic, and global system of politics and economics over the last three decades—will vanish into history under a fascist backlash, consume the soul of our generation with consumerism, or evolve to inspire greater intelligence, creativity, and faith among ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.
The crossroads we face is no less than the choice about the direction of our species and our planet. This essay hopes to open a conversation about the tools of culture hip hop may provide for our uplift and empowerment.” […]
If you happen to be someone who thinks all this 2.0 hub-bub about social tagging and meta-data is confusing, I’ve found the perfect domain for us to reverse engineer together.
In order to get us on the same page, why don’t you first hop on over to Musicovery—an online radio site with a unique interface (more like a glorified wireframe, but definitely rich in controls)—and play around for a bit. Just don’t forget to come back! I promise that we’ll have some fun and you might even learn some geeky information architecture stuff.
Welcome back. So how brilliant was that? Sure, the experience was lacking, but it’s functionality is pretty cool.
Discovering music based on my current mood fills a huge void in how I currently listen to music. Before discovering Musicovery, the closest I could come to replicating such a dynamic experience in iTunes was by creating a playlist for a specific genre and shuffling the playback.
Essentially, everything that Musicovery is doing is made possible by leveraging the relationships between meta-data applied to discrete information objects. So, are you up for digging further into the underpinnings of this puppy to figure out how it works and possibly come up with a few meta-data driven enhancements to the current user experience?
I’ll take your silence as a yes. Alright, let’s get to it then.
Old School, Structured Meta-Data
Deconstructing music as an information object is pretty straight-forward, as each song comes with standardized attributes that neatly fit into industry-wide delivery and marketing mechanisms, which were established well prior to the explosion of the dynamic nature of the web.
Okay, first, let’s list the most commonly exposed and explicit attributes of a song. My top six would be:
- Artist name
- Song Name
- Album name
- Release Date
- Track Length
Now, while the first five attributes are all explicitly defined—the artist’s name is the artist’s name, etc.—the sixth attribute (genre) is only explicit when viewed through the lens of the music industry’s nomenclature (a song that I consider to be hip-hop, someone else might call rap, while the music industry itself might label it as pop).
By managing the evolution and edification of genre nomenclature, the music industry uses these silos to market acts with a much greater degree of certainty in matching the expectations of the customer because the music industry is creating those very expectations themselves through this process.
So back to our deconstruction; let’s see how Musicovery is leveraging these primary attributes, if at all:
- Each song displays the artists name
- Album name isn’t exposed
- The controller interface allows the user to narrow results by decade or specific year based on the release date
- Track length isn’t exposed
- Genre is displayed prominently in the controller as the primary filter of returned songs
Two of the six most prominent song attributes aren’t being used, yet there’s a preponderance of controller functionality left to discuss.
Something else is going on.
Meta-Data In The Digital World
The aforementioned attributes of the song object have been around forever; they’re the core identifiers for a song and always will be. As I mentioned before, the music industry has become extremely efficient in managing the relationships between these attributes across an expanding universe of songs—it’s their lifeblood. This particular set of meta-data fit the strategy of the analog age of information—when meta-data was constrained to the physical dimensions of the record’s liner notes or the pages of an industry magazine.
Now, in the Information Age, there are truly no limits to the amount or types of meta-data that can be generated; the only limitation from a practical, business perspective would be in how these new attributes fit into the domain’s value equation.
Because the folks behind Musicovery have focused on creating a radio application that exposes music in particular ways other than shuffled programming or human dj’ing, it’s a solid bet that they’ve expanded upon their meta-data set.
The Nitty-Gritty Attribute Model
In order to return a song by clicking on a specific spot in the mood or dance interfaces, the quadrants need to be explicitly defined to hook up with corresponding attributes applied to songs in the Musicovery universe. So what type of attributes would we need to add to each song? Here’s one approach:
- Dark to Positive attribute scale (-5,-4,-3,-2,-1, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
- Calm to Energetic attribute scale (-5,-4,-3,-2,-1, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
The range could be much more refined than 11 data points—theoretically, it could be as refined as equating to the number of pixels that reside in the actual interface—but due to the current size of the song universe (it seems limited, as I get repeat results somewhat often) and the already subjective nature of assigning such attributes to songs, this degree of differentiation would probably suffice.
So while there are numerous choices one could make in the presentation, in order for a song to be accessible by any aspect of the Musicovery interface, each song object would simply need to have the following structured data applied to it:
- Artist name
- Song Name
- Release Date
- Dark to Positive attribute scale (-5,-4,-3,-2,-1, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
- Calm to Energetic attribute scale (-5,-4,-3,-2,-1, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
- A Billboard ranking (0,1) in order to display whether the song was a hit or not
Most of these data points could be data entry for a trained monkey, but the scaled meta-data is such a subjective determination that the resulting experience will vary from person to person.
Aside from scouring for authoritative talent like, say, Kennedy and pay her thousands upon thousands of dollars to “moodize” each song and then splash her grill on the interface to pimp the brand, what else could we do to improve the resulting experience?
If you know me at all, you know where I’m going with this.
Why have only one person or team from one domain determining mood attributes for all music, when the openness of the web has already proven models for empowering each user with the ability to add their own meta-data to the mix if they should chose to do so?
Open Up The Gates
Way back in the day, Launch.com (now Yahoo! Music) was the king of the internet radio scene. And while I dug being able to subscribe to other user’s services through their social network, my favorite feature, by far, was the ability to rate my music on a 0 to 100 scale, in increments of 1.
Sure, maybe 101 levels was over the top, but future playback of my favorite music was amazingly accurate. Now, what if Musicovery allowed this same type of two-way interaction?
Here’s an example scenario:
- I just clicked on the mood interface between the energetic and dark nomenclature. The first song that returned was Joe Cocker, With A Little Help From My Friends.
- Really? Dark and energetic? I don’t think so. But as it is, I can’t affect the centralized intelligence of Musicovery. I just have to take their recommendations at face value.
- Now, what if we were to add user input into the song interface?
Once we add our perspective on mood, the system could return the results to the information object and use the input in two ways.
- The meta-data could be lumped into all user feedback to present a more representative mood interface—the wisdom of the crowd if you will
- It could also be used to present personal mood results, from a toggle setting in the interface
If the song universe were large enough, we could add a similar rating control that Launch employed—beyond the current love or hate icons—so not only would our mood expectations be met, we’d hear our favorite songs more often as well.
Noam Chomsky once explained the driving force behind the war machine as one that won’t begin to slow down until corporate America realizes that the majority of its customers are against a particular conflict. For when advertisers adjust to the collective vibe of the people (in order to sell product), the message is brought home to politicians in ways they must take seriously in a state-capitalism system.
[…] The bewildered herd never gets properly tamed, so this is a constant battle. In the 1930s they arose again and were put down. In the 1960s there was another wave of dissidence. There was a name for that. It was called by the specialized class “the crisis of democracy.” Democracy was regarded as entering into a crisis in the 1960s. The crisis was that large segments of the population were becoming organized and active and trying to participate in the political arena.
Here we come back to these two conceptions of democracy. By the dictionary definition, that’s an advance in democracy. By the prevailing conception that’s a problem, a crisis that has to be overcome. The population has to be driven back to the apathy, obedience and passivity that is their proper state. We therefore have to do something to overcome the crisis. Efforts were made to achieve that. It hasn’t worked. The crisis of democracy is still alive and well, fortunately, but not very effective in changing policy. But it is effective in changing opinion, contrary to what a lot of people believe.
Great efforts were made after the 1960s to try to reverse and overcome this malady. It was called the “Vietnam Syndrome.” The Vietnam Syndrome, a term that began to come up around 1970, has actually been defined on occasion. The Reaganite intellectual Norman Podhoretz defined it as “the sickly inhibitions against the use of military force.” There were these sickly inhibitions against violence on the part of a large part of the public. People just didn’t understand why we should go around torturing people and killing people and carpet bombing them. It’s very dangerous for a population to be overcome by these sickly inhibitions, as Goebbels understood, because then there’s a limit on foreign adventures.
It’s necessary, as the Washington Post put it the other day, rather proudly, to “instill in people respect for the martial virtues.” That’s important. If you want to have a violent society that uses force around the world to achieve the ends of its own domestic elite, it’s necessary to have a proper appreciation of the martial virtues and none of these sickly inhibitions about using violence. So that’s the Vietnam Syndrome. It’s necessary to overcome that one. […]
Enter into the conversation: The Dixie Chicks.
These three women made plain what they felt was true in the run up to war in Iraq and now—three and a half years into this unjust war, their message is shared by a majority of Americans (65% want out of Iraq and more than 60% disapprove President Bush’s job).
So if you buy into the analysis that it’s necessary for a state-capitalism system to overcome such “sickly inhibitions about using violence” in order to flex all foreign policy options, then the actions of one of the last defenses in the current corporate line—the über-conglomerate NBC Universal—shouldn’t surprise you.
Here’s part of their rationale (with my emphasis):
[…] While the Weinstein Co. had shown NBC its ads, it had not inquired about buying commercial time, he said. Generally, when an ad is rejected, prospective advertisers return and work with the network on ways to make it acceptable—as was done with the Michael Moore film, ‘Fahrenheit 9/11,’ he said.
But NBC heard nothing more from makers of “Shut Up and Sing” until portions of what NBC executives thought were confidential business correspondence showed up in a news release, he said.
“There was no attempt to come back and have a conversation,” Wurtzel said. “There are times when some advertisers get more publicity for having their ad rejected.” […]
NBC’s positioning for making the trailer more acceptable is akin to the central theme of a documentary called Shut Up and Sing. Are they really surprised that the band walked away and went to the press? Ten years ago, such a tactical play by NBC could’ve crippled an independent film’s message due to lack of exposure, but not now, not in the information age. NBC can stick to their “standards” and play all the games they want, because as Chomsky so eloquently analyzed, the people are on it.
UPDATE: Lawrence Lessig speaks to a previous media denial encounter with NBC that fell into a similar “not very flattering to the president” category.
(via Baron over at TwangNation)
He was a revolutionary thinker and musician, an explorer of the mind, body and soul, forever changing our culture with his tripped out, yet beautiful fusion of jazzy, psychedelic guitar, lyrics and surround-sound amphitheater concerts.
Last September, I happened upon Michal Levy’s brilliant computer animation of the Coltrane classic, Giant Steps. After reading John Amato’s latest musical post on John Coltrane, I figured John and his audience would dig it. Thanks for the h/t, John.
Now, if you’re truly a political head, yet only a casual a fan of jazz, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the life work of Charles Mingus. The man lived life on the edge, spoke from the heart and translated his political perspective into complex compositions and straightforward lyrics that would make even the most polished, political pundit take notes.
…Mingus’ song titles are also fascinating because they are so suggestive—how does the Haitian revolution or the rise and decline of man (“Pithecanthropus Erectus“) sound? The titles make you think and pay attention to the music as it is played—this is what Mingus desired most as a performer.
Throughout his career he sought a conscientious audience working with him to bring meaning to the music. Reprinted within the liner notes of Blues & Politics is Mingus’ untitled prose poem about pledging allegiance to the American flag as well as the lyrics to “Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me”, “Don’t Let It Happen Here”, and “Freedom”. These pieces reflect Mingus’ concern with justice for all Americans across racial lines…
Japanese punk rock hit The Green Bean in downtown Greensboro, NC Wednesday night. That’s right, you heard me, I said Japanese punk rock! Both bands had a great sound, so very authentic and original.
The Spunks were sick—loud, funny and extremely tight. While the lead ripped on his own non-mastered Engrish, the drummer chimed in from all angles. They then sent us from laughing our asses off to banging heads like maniacs.
I gotta admit, Gito Gito Hustler sounded a bit like a Japanese version of the Chipmunks on crack, but as the set went on and their guitars and personalities took over (all the girls were crazy cute and punk), they grew on me quick. Such a great time!
Well, it took me until today to be able to write my goodbye to Austin. Man, that town and conference kicks some serious ass. Some of my favorite moments from this past week:
- Bruce Sterling‘s closing remarks on the state of the world. I’ve never been moved to tears by a public speaker before… I’ve a new favorite author.
- Running into Doc Searls after the Sterling presentation, and chatting with him for an hour about everything from our shared past in Jersey and Greensboro (my current residence) to our love of basketball to our vastly different experiences with the KKK (mine is through my brother’s documentary, you gotta ask Doc about his) and then hitting up a BBQ joint with Doc, Marc Canter, Nancy White and Jerry Michalski.
- Experiencing Kirby Dick’s This Film Is Not Yet Rated and Alan Berlinger’s Wide Awake at the greatest theatre experience I’ve ever come across, the Alamo Drafthouse.
- Adam Greenfield‘s ubiquitous computing presentation. (Adam is so very articulate and cultured, I can only hope that experience design is taken more seriously within the world of ubicomp than it is within the web) and Peter Morville‘s Ambient Findability presentation. Two very similar topics, yet two very different presentations.
- Finally meeting Tish Grier, Will Giese, Thomas Vander Wal, Peter Merholtz, Tara Hunt and Chris Messina in person after months of blogging, commenting, plazing and flickring each other (did I say flickring?). And yes, I can confirm without a doubt that missrogue and factoryjoe are the web 2.0 version of Bonnie and Clyde.
- Hitting up the town with Khoi, Chris, Ralph and Jeff. We were robbed of the SXSW Web Award for Best Green / Non-Profit site (mediamatters.org) damnit! So we drank more.
- I only ran into one former collegue/friend at the conference — Dan Saffer — but I think I made a handful of new ones along the way.
I had a blast. And I’m looking forward to next year already.
That’s right, I said powder blue. Saturday night, I caught the Grandmaster show at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, NC. I hadn’t experienced DJ Muggs live before, so I didn’t know what to expect from him other than some bumping bass and high pitched wails. I mean, basically, could he move the crowd in unexpected ways?
The answer? No, not really.
After getting us fired up with some Cypress Hill classics, he kinda came off a bit rehearsed and sluggish. His intro loop and beat for GZA to hit the stage with must’ve repeated itself fifty times, and it was a vocal sample, so whatever meta-context it held was lost after the first eight repetitions.
Now GZA… well, that’s a completely different story.
GZA rocked the show. He jumped from their new shit, back to his old shit, back to Wu shit. I mean, he got the crowd hyped so much, at times I felt like I was watching Geldof control the audience within the movie The Wall (without the fascism, of course). I know Wu is an iconic act, but these kids were younger than ten when Enter the Wu Tang – 36 Chambers dropped in ’93. I dug the vibe; I guess it just felt a bit surreal.
In between flexin’ his skills, GZA paused a few times to school the crowd on the meaning of Wu-Tang, the social importance of lyricism and the enormity of ODB (RIP)—his tribute acapella flow to ODB was amazing, as he stressed the realness of the man that so often got twisted in the glare of the media; his testimony brought the crowd to a respectful silence.
GZA brought it hard, but also brought a mature flow and presence to the stage, which was a perfect contrast to the young-buck style of Kaze (put on by 9th Wonder), the local kid that opened up for him. After rocking the mic with the flavor of a master lyricist—hitting topical, emotional and stylistic memes—Kaze brought his boys onstage with him, introducing them to the audience by telling us to picture them on his grandmother’s porch. They didn’t get on the mic, but backed him up with energy, shooting the crowd with their cell phone cameras, posing and basically, enjoying their fifteen minutes.
Kaze’s flow was tight, but he saved his best for a 2 minute acapella drop on the US occupation of Iraq, George Bush and the lessons of karma. The entire crowd went nuts for his words that cut like a knife through the bullshit propaganda of the times. Keep an eye out for this kid.
Coleman wasn’t on my radar before tonight, but leave it to Jonathan to introduce me to a hot act in the Jazz scene. This guy is dope. He’s currently playing a 1-1-2-2-2-1-1 then a 1-1-2-2-2-1-1-1-1 then a 1-1-2-2-2-1-1-1-1… 1-1 beat, getting his drummer up on cue to the progressive, deterioration of the riff. Man, this is a workshop. Sue Mingus runs a “workshop” with the B and C players of the Big Band and Orchestra, occationally practicing new compositions. I love you Sue, but that’s not a workshop. That’s income.
Steve just invited audience members to join him on stage and work out the riff. Now with two women on the mic and the drummer carrying the beat, he gets abstract off the beat — like a launch point of a ramp built in progressive takes.
Two boards added, a half peeled away, two and a half stiched on, pause for a second, add three and gone!…
Now an audience member is on the piano, riffing to the progressive beat, Coleman standing back, checking out the take… and the first woman on the mic scatting… add Coleman…
Coleman’s not only brilliant, he has the patience and explanatory skills of a seasoned teacher.
Alright, now he’s dropping the improv down an octive and slowing down the tempo, mixing up the original riff into more paused flashes of laddders. Live blogging a jazz show… if I could visually describe what I’m hearing, well, imagine it to be something like this.
I never watch SNL anymore, but man, am I glad caught it this past week. Sure, I would’ve stumbled across this gem on-line, but catching it on SNL brought me back to the glory days of Eddie Murphy’s White Man.
Thank you, Lonely Island guys, and thank you SNL for keeping your ear to the street and plucking talent from our culture of share and share alike.