Thursday, September 14, 2006

Stumping the Machine

Remember back in the ‘90s when chessmaster Gary Kasparov tied with the IBM monster chess computer Big Blue in a series of high-profile matches? I read an interview with Kasparov in which he explained his approach to stumping the super machine. Since Big Blue could map out some ridiculously huge number of possible future moves and scenario, Kasparov concluded that only way he could beat the supercomputer was to inject some nonsensical noise into his playing. He messed with Big Blue’s silicon mind by randomly doing a few moves that made no sense.

I was reminded of Kasparov’s strategy while messing around with the radio site. If you’ve not used the streaming radio intelligent jukebox, you should. No matter how encyclopedic your knowledge is, the machine is likely to come up with some interesting recommendations. Pandora was featured in a recent NYT story. The company has a staff of music experts listening to and notating thousands of songs. The way it works is you type in your favorite groups or songs and the computer searches Pandora’s "music genome project" to come up with similar material. If you like Music Machine, the computer might play some similarly noisy psych garage, or it might veer toward some blues boogie rock.

So I tried to blow the mind of the machine by entering the Louvin Brothers, Duke Ellington and Blue Cheer, curious to see if the software would locate some sort of happy middle ground between the three of them, maybe I’d get some Bob Wills or some Kinky Friedman. I didn’t know. Though I did get turned on to the worthy Canadian band Bent Wind, I realized that the Pandora software isn’t operating on a Big Blue level of artificial intelligence. For the most part the selections alternate between obvious bluegrass, country gospel influenced stuff and jazz with a focus on big bands. It wasn’t as advanced as I hoped, but Pandora does point towards a future in which nerdy hipster geeks will subversively point the masses away from pedestrian tastes and toward more interesting and obscure choices. It’s like the musical equivalent of the way that Starbucks, Pottery Barn, Target and Old Navy have, in their own little ways, chipped away at what was once the gloriously bad popular tastes in this country.

But in the meantime, here’s to obscurantism. I don’t expect you’ll find any of these tracks on Pandora. You might even have a hard time finding them on Amazon. But don’t be confused, just because it’s hard to find doesn’t mean it’s good. Brush!? is like one of the rarest records around, I’m told. It took a few years just for the folks who released this one to track down the vinyl, which was originally released on some obscure Japanese label. It’s sloppy and lumpy Japanese prog kraut psych weirdness, with dabbling detours into raga, country rock and free jazz. It reminds me some of this track, "I’m Hiding My Nightengale" by Margareta Juvan and Can. I found this on what I assume to be a bootleg Kraut sampler I bought at Kim’s Underground 10 years ago or so. And, while we’re wallowing in the obscure, here’s some early 80s Brazilian post-punk from the sampler Nao Wave, which came out last year.

"Grey Hound Bus" - Brush!?

"I’m Hiding My Nightengale" -- Margareta Juvan and Can

"La Fora Pode Ate Morrer" - Ira!


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