Opening Pandora’s Music box

I’ve been meaning to experiment with Pandora Radio for a while, and finally got to it today. It’s based on something called the “Music Genome Project” that categorizes music by how it expresses a large number of “genes” — traits that describe features like song structure, instrumentation, genre influences, and so forth. According to Wikipedia these are used to construct a vector, and similarity between tunes is measured by a simple distance function. You give Pandora a seed artist; it then apparently random-walks you through tunes and artists similar to that artist’s style.

Dang…it works pretty well. I seeded it with “Liquid Tension Experiment”, a John Petrucci side project that has produced one of my favorite albums of all time, Liquid Tension II. I’m now on about the twentieth track it’s chosen for me and it hasn’t picked a dud yet. Artists: Jadia, Citriniti, Vinnie Moore, Joe Satriani, Dream Theater, Flower Kings, Arena, Stuart Hamm, Jordan Rudess, Brand X, Annihilator, Derek Sherinian, Crime in Choir, Firewind, Greg Howe, Planet X. If you’ve never heard of these groups…I’m not a bit surprised. I only knew of about half of them myself — which is wonderful. My tastes are pretty recherché; they center in a poorly mapped no-man’s land between prog-rock, metal, and jazz. Finding more stuff I really like has not been easy in the past.

But even more interesting is that if you ask Pandora why it chose a track for you, it will list the genes that were critical for its selection. Here are some that repeatedly show up for me: demanding instrumental part writing, great musicianship, intricate melodic structure, hard rock roots, jazz influences, instrumental arrangement, minor key tonality, variable tempo and time signatures, chromatic harmonic structure, electric guitar solo, mixed electric/acoustic instrumentation.

Yup, they’ve got my tastes nailed with pinpoint accuracy. Which is especially interesting since I’m not completely at home in any of the genres that border on the stuff I like. I want more intelligence than metal usually offers, less obsessive self-regard than jazz is prone to, and more adrenal vigor than prog bands usually deliver. By analyzing music to the level of “genes”, much finer-grained than genres, Pandora is able to represent this pretty well.

The only thing missing is that I’d like to be able to tweak my preference vector directly rather than by approving/disapproving tracks. I’d like to be able to tell it that I’m also interested in world-music influences and anything with polyrhythms in it, and to turn my preferences for “instrumental arrangement” and “demanding instrumental part writing” up to max. Oh yeah!

But even without that, I’m sold. Pandora is a special boon for people like me whose tastes don’t fit the music industry’s marketing categories well. I’ll cheerfully listen to their commercials, because the payoff is that they discover stuff for me very, very effectively.

64 thoughts on “Opening Pandora’s Music box

  1. I’ve been listening to Pandora Radio on my Droid since I got it at Christmas. I’ve ditched Sirius Satellite Radio. It’s a much better system.

  2. Yeah, Pandora is awesome. I miss it – stupid “laws”, saying foreigners can’t have it :(

  3. Did you use the “Add Variety” button? It’s available on the website, I’m not sure about the various Pandora mobile applications. It’s used to add a second (or third, fourth, etc) artist or song. It’s still less direct than what you’re requesting, but you should be able to get some music you wouldn’t have heard just waiting for the random walk to reach it.

  4. Stupid socialist Canadian government won’t let me listen. Must be because they can’t guarantee x% CANCON (Canadian Content).

  5. I tried Pandora but it was pretty useless for me. All it did was finding music that sounded similar to what I already knew about. Boring. What I want to find is music that is different, but that people who share my likes and dislikes also like. My taste is not a single vector in a big vector space, such that if I find the perfect song I can listen to it over and over again. I like many different styles and they don’t all sound similar. I need variation, and I also know that there are big areas of the music space that I would enjoy if I found them but I’d get stuck in another local optimum if I just tried following the gradient from something I already know about. I know it because I have found new islands like that in the past, usually by being told about them by people who I already knew shared my tastes.

    Unfortunately I’m not aware of any service that can really find new music for me, so I’m stuck using these services to listen to music similar to what I tell them about and using the extremely inefficient old-school way of talking to friends to find truly new music. Last.fm seems to be doing a much better job than Pandora at finding new music, but it’s still far from good. Or maybe I’m just not using it right.

  6. I have no idea what you’re talking about….but I’m devilishly curious….

  7. >Did you use the “Add Variety” button?

    Yes. I added Jordan Rudess and Planet X. Come to think of it, I should probably add Marc Bonilla.

    That button might also be the solution to “Another Eric’s” issue with trying to get it to recommend a wider range of music. Especially if he seeded a couple of stations with tracks in very different styles, then mutated from there.

  8. Nice. I hadn’t heard of it before. I typed in “Pink Floyd” and the first song that played was “Wish you were here” (the live version from Delicate Sound of Thunder) And then I got Led Zepplin’s Hey Hey, What Can I Do followed by The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Not bad. No groups I haven’t heard of yet, though, but then my tastes are very diverse. I’ll create some more stations later.

  9. That sounds like it would be a good way to listen to the various renditions of “Pants on the Ground.”

  10. S Clarke: It’s actually not Canada’s fault, it’s a copyright/royalties/licensing(I’m not sure of the exact details) issue. It’s prohibited in every country but the US>

  11. It’s quite good at picking enjoyable tunes in a genre. For a challenge, try to teach it to play Christian music or Christmas music. It gets it right most, but not all of the time. Here’s where the ability to edit your desired genome with must have / must not have traits would be great. I also tried using it to find out what happened to the musical influence of the Beatles. Nobody ever seems to say they were inspired by the Beatles. Surely they have musical heirs. But alas, IIRC, it turned up no new Beatle like music, just stuff from the seventies.

    Yours,
    Tom

  12. Some good musical moments stay with me -

    the very moment I heard the first notes to Nirvana’s Nevermind – that album fit the time perfectly;

    hearing Edie Brickell’s audacious r’s and vowels in What I Am on the radio at Follett’s bookstore in Champaign IL;

    the moment in 1977 that I realized, while listening to Hey Jude on the radio, that I could go to a store and OMG BUY BEATLES ALBUMS!!1! (I soon owned their complete discography);

    and the moment a few months ago when Pandora played an Over the Rhine tune on my Aimee Mann station. I now own Over the Rhine’s complete discography.

    And moments ago I discovered Katie Todd’s exquisite vowels on my OTR station. I heart pandora.

  13. No go with my initial seed of Siouxie and the Banshees’ Underground (which is sui generis), but with Yoko Kanno’s Lithium Flower Kencf0618 Radio was off and running. My musical tastes are very catholic, so it’ll be fun listening to the seeds grow. Refinement is rejection; let a thousand flowers bloom!

  14. Used to listen to Pandora a lot when I was still allowed too. Unfortunately now it’s US only :-( And I would be even willing to pay for the service. When will the music industry finally wake up.

  15. The xkcd.com/668 is true. Funnest thing to do is at parties start a new one up, see how crazy it gets.

    I just made a Liquid Tension Experiment station, awesome stuff, thanks.

  16. There is also the matter of experimentation, do you stop liking and disliking songs after a certain point? I find that if it gets in a good ‘groove’ of music, and you just let it go it stays there. It will eventually get repetitive.

  17. Lucky you. I tried Pandora for a while. I even donated. But, alas, when I entered my favorite band, Pandora returned the worst junk not musically, thematically, culturally, or any other way related to what I wanted to hear. Then it stopped letting me say “no.” I had to listen or quit. I quit.

  18. >For a challenge, try to teach it to play Christian music or Christmas music.

    Yeah, that’d be tough unless there were specific genes for both. It would have to know things about the content of vocals.

    I think “Beatles influence” might be doable, though. If I were composing a genetic signature I’d start with catchy melodic hooks, tight harmony, mixed electric and acoustic instrumentation, male vocalist. And refine from there.

  19. >I just made a Liquid Tension Experiment station, awesome stuff, thanks.

    From the reactions here I think it’s the case that some seeds and gene clusters are more productive than others under their similarity metric, and I seem to have picked one that’s at the good end of the distribution. I wonder why that is? I have a tentative guess that it’s because the stuff I like is complex and has lots of structure, so there are lots of traits sticking out of it.

    There may also be a selection bias. The classification system was almost certainly designed by musicians and is certainly applied by musicians, so the traits it’s going to represent most effectively will be those that are foreground for people with analytical musical ears. And that describes me; a lot of the stuff I like could be truthfully tagged “only musicians listen to this”.

    BTW, I renamed my Liquid-Tension-Experiment-seeded station “Intricate Fire”.

  20. >I find that if it gets in a good ‘groove’ of music, and you just let it go it stays there. It will eventually get repetitive.

    Could happen. Not an issue so far with my seed.

    Here’s one thing I’ve learned while doing research about the new bands it’s turning up for me: the least inaccurate way to cram my tastes into current marketing categories. It seems that if it were required to pick just one trendy label for me, it would be “progressive-metal fan”.

    I didn’t know that before.

  21. >the very moment I heard the first notes to Nirvana’s Nevermind – that album fit the time perfectly

    Yeah, I’ve had moments like that.

    1977 – I hear the title track of Steely Dan’s Aja for the first time, and it’s perfect. So perfect that I realize one of my favorite bands is finished. Done. Over. Nothing left for them to say.

    1983 – I’m listening to Live Aid open. Mark Knopfler plays the first riff of Money for Nothing for the very first time ever, and by the time he’s 24 bars into it I know I’m listening to a timeless classic.

    1999 – Tool’s Lateralus utterly blows me away. It’s another they-can-never-be-this-good-again album. The combination of massive-guitars-of-doom with intricate layers of complexity is awesome.

  22. One tip, especially if your tastes are eclectic. Don’t put drastically different artists as seeds on the same station. It doesn’t handle it well. Create multiple stations and listen on the QuickMix. Also, the subscription is well worth it for higher quality, fewer commercials, and less “Are you still listening” interruptions.

    There’s a lot of warts on the algorithms, but for an 80/20 effort, it’s damn good.

  23. My musical tastes are extremely eclectic, so I just put in a whole pile of tracks, artists and bands from my semi-infinite CD piles; I’m not concerned about hedonistic adaptation at this point, although that too shall be interesting to explore once I get past the the initial kid-in-a-candy-store phase. I’ll parse it later for certain moods, but as you say, for an 80/20 effort it’s damn good. Pareto would be pleased!

    In a sense Pandora serves up serendipitous smörgÃ¥sbord of your musical axes. I can see this business model going far; it’s Internet radio done right.

  24. Thing is, whenever somebody assembles a pile of data like that, I know it will be abused some day. This is especially true of “category” oriented data… See also “phrenology” :)

  25. Seeding a station with the names of artists is an easy way to get started on Pandora, but it’s not always precise. Most bands have a fair amount of variation in their music, and you’ll like some of their songs more than others. Listen for a while, giving the thumbs-up to the songs you especially like, and thumbs-down to any that you actually dislike. Then delete the artist from your station. You ratings of specific songs will remain, and give Pandora a more accurate picture of what you really want to hear.

    You can also seed a station with specific songs, rather than the artist’s entire body of work. This is especially useful if there are bands that only produced a few songs you like. For example, I am not a fan of Eurythmics (their typical music puts me to sleep), but they did one utterly atypical song (“Would I Lie To You”) that I really, really like. So I just told Pandora about that one.

  26. Er, could perhaps someone recommend a good and reliable proxy with which I can try it out from Europe? It’s a big 404 from here and I suspect it is due to legal, and not to technical, reasons. (2 years ago it worked, but it wasn’t too interesting back then.) I can google up and find a thousand and one proxy candidates but a good and reliable one is not easy to find.

  27. I am having one remaining problem with Pandora. Trying to use certain interface functions gives me a message that says “We think your popup blocker has blocked our website”. I’m using AdBlock+ under Firefox 3.5 (Linux) and have not been able to figure out how to beat AdBlock+ into unblocking pandora.com.

    I’ve tried various things as exception rules without success. Anyone got a working recipe?

  28. esr, Firefox’s popup blocker is separate from AdBlock+. Edit > Preferences > Content > “Block popup windows” Exceptions…

    ESR says: Aha. That’s the magic I was missing. Thanks.

  29. > esr, Firefox’s popup blocker is separate from AdBlock+. Edit > Preferences > Content > “Block popup windows” Exceptions…

    I’m somewhat surprised this isn’t built-in functionality with the browser considering its sheer utility. Is it being held back from integration for some sort of political reason or am I just going insane because the team has spent most of their time making browser skins explicitly designed to clash with your OS’s interface?

    > The only thing missing is that I’d like to be able to tweak my preference vector directly rather than by approving/disapproving tracks. I’d like to be able to tell it that I’m also interested in world-music influences and anything with polyrhythms in it, and to turn my preferences for “instrumental arrangement” and “demanding instrumental part writing” up to max. Oh yeah!

    Sounds sort of like the Mars Volta. A bit of an odd band; they can delve into twelve-minute instrumental jams, and then turn around and write a single which actually gets radio airplay. A caveat is that they can get a little droney on occasion.

    Progressive metal was actually pretty in vogue around the younger forums circa the mid 2000s; it was where I first heard of most of those bands. For better or worse, they’ve moved on to shoegazy ‘Miss Piggy squealing in Icelandic’ territory.

  30. I’ve found my Pandora subscription to be well worth the price; in addition to stopping ads, it comes with a lovely desktop player (Pandora One) that promises not to crash even if your browser does. :-)

  31. Dan, streaming media over tor? Not even going to come close to working.

    Really? Ah well….just a thought…I’ve played streaming flv video just fine…

  32. Glad you found it, esr! My “chet baker channel” has been delivering music to code by for some time now and the plethora of “new to me” music is wonderful.

    Scratch an itch proposals in 3……2…..1……

    (:

    Cordially,

    t.

  33. More evidence that the seed matters a lot:

    My wife Cathy tried “Dire Straits” as a seed and got a lot of generic late-’70s to mid-’80s pop music — a pretty diffuse collection that sounded like any random afternoon on a classic-rock station.

    Then she tried “Lateralus” and a sequence of metal, grunge and rap-metal: lots of Tool (of course), System of a Down, Lynkyn Park, Alice in Chains. That collection seemed a lot tighter and more unified.

  34. interesting parallels between our tastes, ESR. (annihilator! i didn’t know jeff waters was still in circulation!) is this the right forum for recommending some heavy stuff from my playlists that might be in your wheelhouse?

    i personally shared your reaction about tool, but it was when i first heard “sober,” and i still think i was right about that one. also, despite the brilliance of “aja,” i think “gaucho” was a worthy follow-up, especially in how the lyrics capture los angeles circa 1980 through becker and fagen’s eyes.

  35. On a similar note, you can also look at http://www.liveplasma.com/
    It is not a radio station but it makes and attempt to group bands by type, genre and popularity. Input a band and it will create a matrix of similar sounding artists. You can discover some interesting if obscure artists that way.

  36. I wonder what would Pandora pick for me if I seeded it with J.S.Bach.

    Unfortunately, can’t do it from ye olde continent.

  37. >interesting parallels between our tastes, ESR. (annihilator! i didn’t know jeff waters was still in circulation!) is this the right forum for recommending some heavy stuff from my playlists that might be in your wheelhouse?

    Go right ahead.

    >i personally shared your reaction about tool, but it was when i first heard “sober,” and i still think i was right about that one.

    Yeah, I thought “Sober” was pretty impressive too. But for whatever reason, I didn’t try to find out more about the band until “Schism” started to get airplay, at which point I put the two together and figured out I should get my lunch hooks on a copy of Lateralus. Alas, 10,000 Days was pretty disappointing — but I was braced for that.

    >despite the brilliance of “aja,” i think “gaucho” was a worthy follow-up

    But that’s the thing: “follow-up” was all it was, and all it could be. Yes, the lyrics were clever, but we all knew pretty much exactly what to expect.

  38. I just bought the Pandora One upgrade. $36 per year is silly cheap for getting the 40-hour-a-month limit lifted. Or to put it another way, it’s $3 a month for unlimited music in the styles I choose.

    Playing now: Stu Hamm’s “Kings of Sleep”. Um, just changed to Vinnie Moore’s “The Shrapnel Years” collection.

  39. I was mildly surprised at one result…I consider Molly Hatchett’s “Flirtin’ With Disaster” the quintessential southern rock tune. Okkay, fine, I seeded a station with just that one tune – and got lots of metal that didn’t fit what I was looking for.

  40. >I was mildly surprised at one result…I consider Molly Hatchett’s “Flirtin’ With Disaster” the quintessential southern rock tune. Okkay, fine, I seeded a station with just that one tune – and got lots of metal that didn’t fit what I was looking for.

    Speaking as someone with a musician’s ear, I think that’s not an entirely crazy response. Yeah, the vocals on that tune are southern-rock, but the instrumentation and arrangement leans towards pop-metal. I’d suggest adding some more seeds to pull your station in a more traditional direction.

    Now playing on Pandora::Intricate Fire: “Agrionia” from Tony McAlpine’s self-titled album.

  41. I named my Pandora station “Intricate Fire”. Googling for the phrase, the only solid hit I found was this poem.

    The combination of hard-science imagery and ecstatic mysticism reads like something I might have written in my occasional role as a poet. Even the fact that the author went for a traditional prosodic form rather than free verse reminds me of me, I’m determinedly retro that way. I’m amused.

    Now playing on Pandora::Intricate Fire: “Rabbit Soup” from The Best of Blues Saraceno

  42. you asked for it …

    * a wilhelm scream: quintet from new bedford, mass., is often classed as punk, but is way too technically intricate — prog metalcore is probably more apt. the production is also a bit too slick for what i think of as punk, but i guess that’s the 21st century for you.

    * the postman syndrome: high school mates from north jersey playing post-metal, which AFAICT is the new-school way of saying “prog with distortion.” no longer extant, but a couple of their best songs have been uploaded audio-only to youtube. they split up into day without dawn and east of the wall, but they’ve mostly reformed as biclops; i like none of the three as much as the original group, but all can be found via indie label forgotten empire records.

    * are you into heavy fusion? i’m thinking tony williams lifetime (the short-lived allan holdsworth incarnation, not the one with mclaughlin) and billy cobham’s album “spectrum.” if so, and noting your planet X reference, you might also like “heavy machinery,” an album featuring holdsworth with anders and jens johansson; the latter two were the drummer and keyboardist in yngwie malmsteen’s rising force band.

    * i see you mentioned several instrumental soloists — satriani, hamm, vinnie moore. if you haven’t already, check out marty friedman, cacophony (friedman’s collaboration with now-ALS-stricken jason becker), tony macalpine and the solo work of steve morse, who substitutes a middle-american sensibility for the roughly neoclassical bent of the others. i like all of them better than satriani, who aside from one exemplary album (“flying in a blue dream”) strikes me as a better teacher than composer.

    * refused, a swedish metalcore band, broke up in 1998 after releasing an album called “the shape of punk to come.” being an attempt to add components of several other wide-ranging genres into the band’s basic crushing sound, it’s unique and difficult to describe. their earlier stuff is good wall-of-raging-sound stuff, but somewhat more conventional.

    * “human” by death is IMHO the finest album the death-metal genre has ever produced, and it thus stands alone as a recommendation. but that album’s quality is in part due to the guest presence of two members of cynic, a florida band that blends death metal with proggy, fusiony elements and lyrics focusing on hindu philosophy, of all things. cynic has only produced two full-length albums since its inception in 1987 and is not everyone’s cup of tea, but i think they’d be worth a listen.

  43. … and i just saw above that pandora pulled some macalpine for you. remarkable.

  44. >are you into heavy fusion?

    Oh, yeah. “Spectrum” is one of the handful of albums that did the most to form my tastes back in the early 1970s. I’ll check out “Heavy Machinery”.

    >see you mentioned several instrumental soloists — satriani, hamm, vinnie moore. if you haven’t already, check out marty friedman, cacophony (friedman’s collaboration with now-ALS-stricken jason becker), tony macalpine and the solo work of steve morse

    I already knew of all these guys except Vinnie Moore, and have a lot of their albums. Interesting that you consider “Flying in a Blue Dream” exemplary; I think it’s one of Satriani’s most uneven, with several brilliant tracks but one or two that are cringe-worthily awful. I think “Surfing with the Alien” and “Crystal Planet” are more consistently good. I’ve written a more detailed appreciation of Satriani that you might find interesting.

    Now playing on Pandora::Intricate Fire: Yngwe Malmsteen’s “Black Star” from The Yngwe Malmsteen Collection

  45. your review is on target. in my mind, it’s not that “flying” lacks cringe-worthy tracks; it’s that it includes several of his most brilliant compositions, including the five-song suite that ends the album, and it’s constructed in such a way that it winds up being his best album overall — great beginning, great in the middle, great at the end, a few duds in between.

    his other albums may be more consistently good, but nothing more — i’ve never felt that any of them rise above the level of “good.” there’s also the fact that, being a local product, he’s treated with some reverence despite the fact that i don’t think he’s all that. yes, he’s a hot player with a reputation as a fine teacher (though i think he’s been surpassed by a couple of his students), but outside of “flying” and a couple of tracks off other albums, his taste as a composer has never really captured me.

    (for some reason, one of the local rock stations LOVES to play “always with me, always with you,” which i can’t stand — the insipid drum-machine hand-clap drives me nuts, and it’s about half the song that, say, “crushing day” is.)

    i noticed in the wiccans vs. tea partiers thread that you reference a michael angelo song coming up on pandora. angelo had a minor reputation in the early ’90s for a gimmick involving a four-necked guitar arranged in an X-shape upon which he’d do some pretty fancy one-hand tapping. along with a few shredder friends, i saw him perform in a clinic at a local guitar shop — not because i liked him (i kinda thought of him as a tasteless note-blower) but more for the spectacle. during the Q-and-A, someone asked him for some advice on improving one’s musicianship in general, and being an aspiring bebopper, i was amused that his reply boiled down to “learn some jazz. it’ll make everything you play more interesting.”

  46. Eric, can you translate “tasteless note-blower” to something a hacker will understand? That seemed like an interesting comment, and it’s one I’d love to get the full impact of.

  47. >Eric, can you translate “tasteless note-blower” to something a hacker will understand?

    It means someone who’s so caught up in the technical wizardry of being able to produce 32nd-note arpeggios for minutes at a time that they’ve forgotten to ask themselves whether it produces anything actually interesting or musically rewarding. This trap lies in wait for all electric guitarists above a certain skill level; they tend to get caught up in “I’m faster than the other guy so my penis is larger” sort of arms races with each other, and musicality suffers. One side-effect is that these note-blower guitarists all sound pretty much alike.

    The really good ones pass through the note-blower stage and come out the other side with a mature understanding of when not to exercise all their technique. They develop more individually differentiated styles, more aesthetic restraint, and re-focus on playing something musically interesting. Even so, they’ll sometimes slip back into note-blowing. Because they can.

  48. Oh. Like the kind of hacker who uses every obscure language feature he can get his hands on, whether or not it’s really appropriate or necessary to the task at hand. Got it.,

  49. > It means someone who’s so caught up in the technical wizardry of being able to produce 32nd-note arpeggios for minutes at a time that they’ve forgotten to ask themselves whether it produces anything actually interesting or musically rewarding.

    Sounds like watching someone solve a Rubic’s cube really fast. Sure it’s cool once in a while but no one would watch someone do it a little differently every three to five minutes the way we listen to music.

    Yours,
    Tom

  50. very, very well put, ESR — you sound like someone who’s known shredders well. i don’t know if i made clear that the end result of my story was an increased respect for angelo as a player (he proceeded to sling out a bunch of really tasty, swingin’ licks) and as a guy (he told anyone interested in learning more to write to him at his home address so he could send out a packet of basic jazz instruction material).

    bear in mind that “blowin’” can be used in context either as a compliment (“man, that guy is really blowin’ tonight!”) or an insult (“he plays really fast!” “yeah, but he’s just blowin’.”).

    i was trying to think of people who would qualify as blowers in the negative sense, and i sort of arrived at the conclusion ESR alludes to above — because it’s something you go through during your formative years, it’s hard to identify any pro recording artists who really fit the bill. a lot of people toss the accusation at yngwie malmsteen, but i don’t think it’s justified. it’s not limited to guitarists, either — a six-stringer i know accuses branford marsalis of filling in between his melodic parts with “a bunch of finger exercises,” but i think that one’s off-base as well.

  51. >very, very well put, ESR — you sound like someone who’s known shredders well.

    Not personally, no – but when I listen to music, I listen. Intensely. Analytically. I’m a musician myself, and I believe that with a little training in the equipment and mechanics, I’d make a pretty capable studio engineer or even record producer. It’s how my brain works.

    >it’s hard to identify any pro recording artists who really fit the bill

    Hard to identify any who falls into the trap all the time, yes, but you can grade them by how often they backslide. Marc Bonilla, Andy Timmons, and Eric Johnson, for example, essentially never fail this way. Satriani rarely does but I catch him at it occasionally. Marty Friedman, on the other hand, does it often enough that I find him hard to listen to. Malmsteen, too. Jason Becker is a really odd mix: too much note-blowing, but punctuated by moments of such brilliance and stunning originality that they make me ache. Buckethead is a really mixed bag that way, too.

    I think breadth of musical background is some help in avoiding the trap; the guys with jazz and blues chops seem to me to slip less often than the pure metalheads. Oddly, classical training doesn’t seem to help as much. And the shredder movement within metal actually dragged a few players into note-blowing who’d escaped it before.

  52. I tried Pandora out some years ago and found that my tastes were too obscure and their library too limited for them to have anything of interest to me. You just got me to give them another try and they’ve improved a lot. They now seem to have more Renaissance and traditional Celtic music available than I’ll ever be able to sort through.

  53. >If you get a reputation as a liar, you can find a new group easily enough. The slut can become a virgin by moving a couple of towns over.

    But when the liar moves, he still takes his attachment to lying as a coping strategy with him. When the slut moves, likewise. These behaviors are quite likely to persist and get them in the same trouble again. Social mobility relieves very little of the pressure on you if – as is the case with moral failings – you take your problems with you when you go.

    Also consider that one of the effects of the Internet is to make it more difficult to escape their past embarrassments. I think we may be returning to something more like the fishbowl that was life in small communities.

  54. thank goodness. i thought you were calling yngwie malmsteen a slut.

    heh, marty friedman … i caught a show at a club here in town a couple of years ago, must’ve been around 2002, a triple bill of guitarists sold as “come see what they’re doing now.” the opener was former and current testament axeman alex skolnick, who had dropped out of his respected, signed, touring metal band to spend a decade studying jazz at a school in new york. he led his traditional guitar trio through a series of hard-rock and heavy metal covers — aerosmith, ozzy, scorpions, sabbath — interpreted as jazz standards. interesting and original.

    the middle act was chris poland, who had been an early member of both megadeth and a founder of damn the machine. he was part of an engaging, aggressive fusion trio — another one i’d recommend, ESR — called ohm. (the drummer, notably, was kofi baker, son of cream drummer ginger baker.) interesting and original.

    the closing act was marty friedman, who was exceedingly frustrating to watch because he was playing the same old shit he’d been playing 15 years earlier — i swear he threw out half the tracks from his 1988 solo album, “dragon’s kiss.” nice musical growth there, marty. i’ve been down on him ever since.

    i’d love for you to name a way in which buckethead isn’t a mixed bag.

  55. >i’d love for you to name a way in which buckethead isn’t a mixed bag.

    Heh. Can’t think of a one.

  56. ESR, I’d strongly suggest you get your hands on the Gentle Hearts Tour DVD based on your musical taste. Greg Howe on guitar, the drummer from funkadelic, and a couple japanese guys I hadn’t heard of on bass and keys.

    I’m telling you man, its amazing. Best fusion I’ve ever heard, personally. Check it out on youtube and see if you don’t think its worth a buy.

  57. I know from experience that Pandora seems to indicate that Indie music is similar to the Beatles, as I’ve come across them on an Indie seeded station. I tried to set up a comedy station once, but that failed. The irony is that I went on to try to establish an alternative station, and it morphed into comedy stylings. So, it seems counter-intuitive, but maybe you should try to approach the category of music you want from another direction.

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