Pandora’s Box

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pandora_radio.jpgI really want to love Pandora Radio. It's such a seductive concept: type in the name of your favorite artist or song and she'll analyze it using the Music Gnome Project. Her sophisticated algorithms will create a customized radio station that plays only songs you're sure to love as well. Just as the original Pandora introduced the world to the joys of avarice, contempt, rage and despair, Pandora Radio promises to unleash a whole new world of sonic possibility.

But there's a problem: that algorithm ain't got no soul.

See, I love Robyn Hitchcock. There's a haunting sincerity to his lyrics and a surreal elegance to his sound. But when I tell Pandora about it, she assumes I just have a hard-on for "acoustic arrangements," "minor key tonality" and "mild vocal sonority" (whatever that is). Her assumptions about Gimme Indie Rock by Sebadoh are similarly reductionist. I remember that song cutting through the "alt-rock" noise of the '90s and speaking directly to my 16-year-old self's search for something new, dropping only the hippest names from the '80's underground rock scene. And the song's structure is masochistically addicting. Lou Barlow lulls you to sleep until Eric Gaffney blows out your eardrums, then it's back to bed again. But Pandora dismisses my attachment to this song as typical of some one who digs "a mix of acoustic and electric guitars," "rhythmic syncopation" and "subtle vocal harmonies." So my customized Robyn Hitchcock station and my customized Gimme Indie rock station are both more than a little disappointing. As is my Ike Reilly Assassination station. After all, I like him because T.J. Jagadowoski does, not for any musical reasons.

Pandora don't know me. All her algorithms know are musical signatures that tie different works together. She'll play you different songs that "sound like" the one you like. But a band or a song really speaks to you because it stands apart from the other music that it "sounds like." Afterall, as some pompous prick has surely said, a pop song becomes a great song only when it uses the idiom of a particular genre to transcend that genre.  Pandora is unable to transcend genre, however, and that means that while she insists that she's opening up your mind, she's really only limiting the options.

pandora_myth.jpegAs the internet steadily takes over our lives, individual choices become that much more precious, and it's that individuality that is the promise of Pandora.  Shit, pretty soon people'll have facebook pages before they're even born, with friends and groups pre-chosen by their parents.  Sure, you can customize it with your "interests," and aren't you fucking grateful for that?  Wake up!  The uniformity of the sites to which we belong, on which we increasingly depend is terrifying, the right to "Pimp Your Profile" notwithstanding.   Even Google, once the pot-smoking slacker of corporate America, has cut its hair, put on a suit and wants to eat your brains!  In this rapidly conforming world, we've got to fight if we want to maintin an indentity, and I was praying that Pandora could be the Trinity to my Neo.  I wanted her to hold me in her arms, run her fingers through my hair and wisper in my ear that it's gonna be alright.  I want her to fuck me senseless while we watch the world burn.  And in that fucking I want her to take me to a whole new level of sonic awareness, to unplug me and awaken me to the endless possibility what. can. be.But don't let her seduce you.   As much as I want to love her, to have her expand my horizons, we all know who she answers to. That cunning little slut. Pandora don't open up a whole new world of possibilities. She just gives you a box to put "your favorite music" in.

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy "Vanilla is Delicious."

Mike Lebovitz is a Steve's Word Preferred Contributor. He is a writer by trade and an accomplished improv comedy actor. He is also incredibly sexy.

1 Comment

  • 1

    Este es un muy buen artículo. He intentado una vez Pandora. No funcionó muy bien, porque yo todavía uso dial-up de servicios de Internet. En Mexico, se ve, algunas zonas son un poco menos por la banda ancha. No hay importa.

    Yo accedido a Pandora, y escribió, "Vicente Fernández". Él es mi favorita de mariachi, por ahora, usted ve."Me sorprendió ver a Pandora recomendar a alguien completamente fuera de lo común. Paul Stanley! Sabes, yo ni siquiera había un indicio de que Paul Stanley hizo la música de mariachi! Por lo tanto, poked alrededor y comprobó que, en realidad, Pandora ni siquiera tiene una maldita idea de que es Vicente Fernández. Supongo que sólo asumió que era un amigo que trató de copiar KISS.

    Tonto el culo de Pandora. No tengo ninguna maldita idea.

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