Recommended Reading on Music Streaming and Data Mining (Robert Prey)

‘Musica Analytica: The Datafication of Listening’
by Robert Prey

If you know me, you probably find it as no surprise that Knoxville has made me prouder in the last 72 hours than it has in the three years I’ve lived here. I would expect some form of solidarity in uncertain times, but I never imagined it would be quite like this. Not to minimize the efforts of the millions who marched around the country and world today, but I know you didn’t come to this site to read my thoughts on those issues (not directly, anyway… plus, if you are anywhere near a device capable of accessing the internet, you’re probably fairly caught up by this point). I just wanted to include that preface to acknowledge the gravity of the times before changing tracks to sharing a great recent chapter on… [ready?] streaming music.

On one of many great tracks from his latest album, Jeff Rosenstock (ex-Bomb the Music Industry!) sings

Born as a data mine for targeted marketing,
and no one will listen up
until you become a hashtag or a meme
but hate’s not a fad that dies with its virality.
They want you to be a ghost
when they rob you of your hope,
but you’ve got power when they’re not expecting anything.

Rosenstock is (finally) well-known (enough) for his iconoclastic approach to making, marketing and selling music, so him singing about frustration over the squandered potential of social media is nothing surprising. But that first line is particularly biting, especially since few people in the developed world exist outside of that matrix, and the ones who were too old to embrace social media have been dying out. Tell me the idea of being a “data mine” from birth doesn’t make you shiver at least a little bit. But, here we are.

Anyway, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and others have undergone heady analysis from social scientists and independent marketing firms. This chapter by Richard Prey in the new book Networked Music Cultures (link up above, citation down below) presents a new window into the data mining that’s become inextricable from streaming music listening. I’m not too familiar with Prey’s work, but he begins the chapter with an anecdote about Theodor Adorno, whose name you cannot have a single philosophical discussion about music, film, or television without mentioning at some point.

He goes onto pick apart how Spotify and Pandora manicure their profiles on users, which includes both individual listeners and businesses. So many shops, doctors’ offices, and eateries have actually dumped commercial radio in favor of Spotify and Pandora that it’s strange that Clearchannel and other corporate interests that have ruined consolidated radio haven’t mounted a more visible campaign against them (then again, I could be overlooking something).

If I had more time to flesh out my thoughts, I would provide a more comprehensive list of everything I dislike about streaming music. Aside from their tacit devaluing of music, their abject disregard for audio quality, and an even more insidious brainwashing of consumers into guilt-tripping other consumers for actually spending money on music (that sociological “Apple effect” is the worst one for me, honestly), Prey’s chapter provides a great overview of how Spotify, Pandora, and similar services integrate something as enjoyable as listening to (and discovering, on occasion) music into the data mining superstructure. How prescient Adorno’s rantings about “the culture industry” were. Enjoy the chapter and feel free to pass it along when someone looks at you funny and asks you why you don’t use Spotify.

Also, I’m aware of the irony of me posting this on various formats of social media in order to decry it, so don’t bother pointing that out.

Prey, R. (2016). Musica Analytica: The Datafication of Listening.In Nowak, R., & Whelan, A. (Eds.) Networked Music Cultures (pp. 31-48).Palgrave Macmillan UK.

 

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Did Alexis de Tocqueville Predict the Internet?

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Did Alexis de Tocqueville anticipate the internet in 1835?

Long answer, “no” with a “but.” Short answer, “yes” with an “if you think about the internet more conceptually and we’re talking about the metaphysical and social dynamics rather than literal mechanics, sure.”

Anyway, I was looking for some quotable quotes in the late-70’s abridged edition of Democracy in America, which I recently purchased in my favorite bookstore on the planet (Capitol Hill Books), landed on this, and thought “wow, that’s pretty much where we are today.”

The artisan readily understands these passions, for he himself partakes in them: in an aristocracy, he would seek to sell his worksmanship at a high price to the few; he now conceives that the more expeditious way of getting rich is to sell them at a low price to all (p. 170).
In America, parties do not write books to combat each other’s opinions, but pamphlets, which are circulated for a day with incredible rapidity, and then expire.
In the midst of all these obscure productions of the human brain appear the more remarkable works of a small number of authors, whose names are, or ought to be, known to Europeans (p. 173).
Who said we ever needed the internet to have internet culture?
Seriously, if you’re ever in DC, visit Capitol Hill Books before doing anything else at all. Well, maybe get hydrated first because it’s a sauna there, but then visit this store. It will make you love books even more than you already thought you did, and the gentrification/development going on in Eastern Market is making me worried, and all those museums and monuments up the street aren’t going anywhere.

AAG 2015 in Chicago!

I’m extremely excited to announce here that I’ll be attending and presenting at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Chicago this week. After a brief visit to see some friends and some colleagues in Wisconsin (Madison and Milwaukee are so much fun), we’ll be heading down to the Windy City this afternoon.

The Blackhawks hadn't just scored. This picture was taken during warm-ups when they announced that the AAG was coming to town.

The Blackhawks hadn’t just scored. This picture was taken during warm-ups when they announced that the AAG was coming to town.

Here are the conference activities in which I’ll be participating, in sequential order:

1. PAPER SESSION

I’ll be presenting my paper “The Flâneur and Flânerie in Geographic Thought” in a special ‘Space and Place’ session with my friend RJ Rowley at the helm. Pasting my abstract below, from the AAG website. 

Tuesday, April 21st, 8am
Burnham, Hyatt, West Tower, Silver Level

“…the ambivalence of the stranger thus represented the ambivalence of the modern world…” (Jacques Derrida, quoted by David B. Clarke in The Cinematic City).
The flâneur, a common literary and theoretical term for the apocryphal urban wanderer, has long been a commonly held analogue in sociological thought. Normally (un)settled in Paris and influenced heavily by the work of Charles Baudelaire as well as post-modernist thinkers like Jacques Derrida as ‘the hero of modernism,’ the flâneur has appeared relatively infrequently in the geographic literature. This seems to be contradictory, as the character is well suited to frame the dialogue over the interaction between individuals and the urban landscape.  In light of the emphasis on interaction and detachment with the city in the concourse of twentieth century thought, this paper examines and rethinks the flâneur and flânerie through contrasting lenses of humanism, modernism, and feminism/postmodernism. While the flâneur may be essentially a “literary gloss” (according to Rob Shields, 1994), the idea of the character and conversations around him illustrate various (sometimes contradictory) perspectives on the changing role and position of the Western urban citizen over the past two centuries.

2. GEOSLAM

I will also be participating in the first-ever GEOSLAM (which is exactly what you think it is). I’ll be doing a reading talking about my obsession with punk rock and Gainesville, Florida. This will be
Tuesday, April 21st from 12:40 PM
2:20 PM at
Skyway 260, Hyatt, East Tower, Blue Level.

A word from the organizers: “Drawing on Ruth Behar’s The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology that Breaks Your Heart, this year’s theme is “vulnerable geographies.” Through these pieces, we want to explore the ways in which we are emotionally drawn to the places and people of our research.”

No more spoilers on this one. And last, but not least…

3. SAVE THE CLOCKTOWER

It’s AAG 2015, meaning it’s time for some discussion on everyone favorite time-travel film franchise, “Back to the Future!” I’m very excited to finally have all of the contributors to Save the Clocktower (RJ Rowley, Chris Dando, Richard Waugh, Greg Pagett, Lydia Hou, Julian Barr, Ashley Allen, Stacie Townsend, and more) in one room to introduce their chapters and discuss the overall contributions that Marty McFly, Doc Brown, and their fictional town of Hill Valley still have to contribute to geography. This will help formulate an introduction to the book in honor of the film’s 30th anniversary as well as Doc, Marty, and Jennifers’ impending arrival this October. Our panel will be closing out the conference on…

Saturday, 4/25/2015, from 4:00 PM – 5:40 PM in
Skyway 282, Hyatt, East Tower, Blue Level

If you aren’t following the Clocktower 2015 project on Facebook or Twitter, here are your links. If you’re in town on Saturday, don’t miss it.
Looking forward to a great week! See you shortly, Chicago.

Iain Chambers on Music, Literature, and Nostalgia

Quote

Music as a language (like all language) maintains this tension through its communal use and individuation. Its ready accessibility compared to other, more formally institutionalised [sic], languages such as literature, historiography and the visual arts, permits a ubiquitous and unexpected punctuation of the scripts we are expected to follow. Music, in its anonymous consumption and innumerable moments of articulation – from the desert ceremony and forest clearing to the bar, street corner, subway exit, and modern consecration in the recording studio – perhaps provides an altogether more extensive and irrepressible configuration of a language that sings time and being while recording memory. If music provides a home for nostalgia, it also offers a point of return for what becomes a new point of departure.

– Iain Chambers, in The Cinematic City (edited by David B. Clarke), p. 237.

Dr. Chambers, I don’t always understand what you write, but when it hits, it HITS.

Back in Knoxville

I had these highly ambitious plans to check in while on a road trip through the South recently. You can probably guess how well that turned out. 

That being said, I’m back in Knoxville for a little while now, and I’ve got some classic moments to share in re-photography and maybe other introspection on life on the road in 2014 if time permits. Stay tuned.

Pensacola, FL.

Pensacola, FL.

Alex James on Music (or, why it doesn’t hurt to judge people based on their avocations)

Quote

   The earliest tonal instruments were made from reindeer toe bones. They’re closer to a whistle than a flute to look at, but they are technically flutes because you blow across the hole, rather than down it… It didn’t look like much, I must be honest. It didn’t sound great either but those crusty little bones were where it all started. A primitive musical instrument made by a primitive scientist.
Twenty thousand years later, anyone sitting down at a piano is sitting on top of a huge mountain of accumulated knowledge. When you hold even the cheapest guitar, you’re wielding a very sophisticated tool. The twelve-tone scale is a triumph of scientific understanding. It’s such a perfect structure that it’s rarely questioned or even understood by the people who use it. All musicians know how to tune up their instruments, but very few have any idea what they are actually doing as they tune. Musicians rarely have any more of an inkling of what music is than an electrician knows what electricity is.
All the really tricky business of the evolution of music has taken place, and it’s not important to know everything. It’s just important to know what sounds good. All anyone needs is one little idea. It can even be someone else’s idea. All you’ve got to be able to do is pick the good ones. There are no rules that can’t be broken in music-making. Confidence is all-important. Things that are completely wrong can sound new and interesting if they are done with conviction.

via the artist’s twitter

– Alex James, pp. 158-9 in his autobiography bit of a blur (London: Abacus, 2008). I’ve always been interested in the non-musical passions of musicians, and James is perhaps one of the prime examples of proof that a truly brilliant brain cannot be shut down by mountains of cocaine, booze, and women. Over the course of his towering rock stardom, he became a Visiting Scientist at one of England’s top research facilities, a recreational pilot (following drummer Dave Rowntree down that path and terrifying Damon Albarn in the process), documentary (about cocaine) host, and a devoted maker of fine cheeses. And somehow (probably by not being English), I missed out on this football anthem he ground out in 1998 with comedian Keith Allen (Lily’s dad) and everything-person Damien Hirst. Also, I just did some light googling to find that image, and I discovered via his twitter that he and Jamie Oliver are throwing a three-day food festival at his farm in the Cotswolds. Bizarre.

via the anti-emo empire

It’s no coincidence that the rock stars that history remembers the most kindly are the ones who were never content to be doing solely what their “role” in the public eye commanded. I recently went internet-rolling on the late Dead Milkmen bassist Dave “Blood” Schulthise as this past March 10 was the tenth anniversary of his suicide and my friends/colleagues Scott, Jose and I had a rare opportunity to catch The Dead Milkmen right after the AAG Conference in Tampa. Some say he was the band’s controlling force and secret weapon. I wouldn’t disagree, but either way he was definitely one hell of a bass player. The Dead Milkmen were (and still are) some of the finest satirists of the past three decades, and the more I read about Dave Blood, the more I understand how his way of looking at the world influenced their art. If you have a few minutes, check out this wonderful interview that Mark Prindle did with Blood the year before he died. He finally had the opportunity to explain the deep love he developed for Serbia relatively late in his life, and how it gave his life new meaning after the Dead Milkmen broke up, he had to stop playing, and he no longer had music.

These are the things I think about while I should be focusing on getting all my end-of-semester work off of my plate. That being said, I do apologize for the recent lack of updates. I’ll be back soon to talk about some projects I have coming up for the summer. It’s going to be a busy one.