There is an argument that technological innovations over the past 25 years have democratized music. Get yourself a laptop and some cheap (or free) software and you can make the kind of composition that would once have cost Pink Floyd a fortune. Music -- electronic music in particular -- is finally for the masses. But the net result has been a proliferation in the sheer amount of music now available.
Unsurprisingly, it isn't all good.
All of which has made the task of finding something you love that bit harder. The old answers -- riffling through your elder sibling's LP collection or tuning into pirate radio -- won't suffice. Record shops, after all, list alphabetically or by broad genre, not "X sounds like Y."
The Internet's potential is obvious. Amazon will tell you that "customers who bought this also bought..." and allows customers to create lists they can share. Apple's iTunes store has a "listeners also bought..." and a recommen-dation system that suggests "You bought X, you might like Y."
Web sites such as www.allmusic.com and www.Boomkat.com draw on the knowledge of a team of music writers to point users in the direction of things they might like, as well as offering sample clips.
Now, though, there are signs of more sophisticated attempts to recommend music based on individuals' unique tastes. While each has flaws, and the technology is in its infancy, the development could point the way to something wonderful.
Creating a stir online since its launch in August is Pandora (www.pandora.com), an offshoot of the Music Genome Project, set up in 2000 by a group of musicians and music technologists who wanted to create "the most comprehensive analysis of music ever."
Treating music choice as an objective science rather than a subjective artform, the team assembled a database of more than 70,000 songs by more than 10,000 artists and is used by Pandora to guide listeners to music they might like. You go to the site (you'll have to give it a US ZIP code, as the rules insist you must live in the US, but it can be fooled) and are invited to create a "radio station" by picking a tune or artist you like. The site then picks songs with similar musical qualities such as form of melody,
harmony and rhythm, instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics and so on. A simple thumbs up or down tells the program if the choices are right or wrong. (Two thumbs down for a particular artist banishes them from that "station." But you can create multiple stations, on different genres.) The results can veer wildly, though generally, the broader the range you enter, the more likely you will approve of the output.
"It's quite fun just putting it on when you're doing something else but I'm not sure I would use it as a music recommen-dation site yet," music writer John Mullen said. "It's a bit too random. And I really don't like its pretensions that it is offering some kind of universal truth about music.
"It just got it wrong for me too often. For example, I put in Nirvana and it was playing bands that would make Kurt Cobain turn in his grave. It's a bit crude. Often, bands that are similar on paper using their method aren't alike in reality. You could say Radiohead and Pink Floyd have similar musical `genes' but really they create incredibly different music."
Pandora is also flawed to the extent that users' personal stations, by definition, are narrowly defined.
"Pandora creates playlists of songs with similar musical characteristics -- it's not designed to make random jumps," chief executive Tim Westergreen said. "But what I think most excites customers is that it can truly help you discover
music that's similar to songs you already know and love, from artists you've never heard of."
Pandora's top-down approach to music recommen-dation is in stark contrast to rival Last.fm's bottom-up approach.
"The last radio station you will ever need," as it calls itself, uses an "audioscrobbler" program to collate information on the music that users play on their PC. It then builds up a musical profile that is used to match you to others with shared tastes, and so recommend songs and artists that others have but you don't.
"The recommen-dations work by finding music from users who are similar to you, who we call neighbors," said Last.fm founder, former Austrian radio DJ Martin Stiksel. "We then play you music they have listened to but which you don't have in your profile. So if you have 100 records, and 80 of them are the same, it's very likely you are going to be interested in those 20 that the other person has but which you don't.
"Pandora relies on a team of experts classifying the music, whereas with us it's the knowledge of the crowd, so to speak. [The crowds] know more about music, in our opinion, than a few experts."
This produces startlingly different outcomes, though each Web site makes its cash in the same way -- by linking listeners to online retailers. Last.fm, for example, brings up music people have in common, while Pandora brings up music that sounds alike. Tap in ambient pioneer Brian Eno in Pandora and the program plays obscure acts with similar sonic qualities. The same name in Last.fm throws up listeners who also had Talking Heads and Pixies records.
Encouragingly, most of the recomm-endation programs have one thing in common: decent sound quality from the streams. With Amazon continuing to provide poor quality clips for customers and iTunes only offering 30-second snatches, this has to be a good thing. Decent sound quality is also a feature of Artist Radio, Real Networks' recent venture into the music recommendation market. This limited offering builds a personal station based on the music of a fairly restricted and mainstream set of more than 200 possible artists. It's a weak alternative to the likes of Pandora and Last.fm, and doesn't allow users to skip a track they aren't enjoying.
Both Pandora and Last.fm also have another benefit: artists and labels can submit music -- providing a new way for acts to market themselves if they have been ignored by the major record labels.
And Stiksel argues that they also offer the potential to steer illegal downloaders into legal ways of accessing music. "We believe in streaming rather than downloading," he says.
While the recommendation sites may require fine tuning, he adds, they offer a fantastic way to navigate the ever-larger ocean of music. "In this day and age it's really difficult to find the music you like without having something like a music profile. Sites like this are going to become more and more crucial."
Otto von Bismarck once famously remarked that the “great European war will come out of some damn foolish thing in the Balkans.” We may have inched closer to that damn foolish thing in recent weeks. On Feb. 1, a new law came into effect in China, which codified Beijing’s claim that its well-armed Coast Guard could remove vessels in its waters “illegally” and use force against them if necessary. This is no more or less a “law” than any other law administrated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), since Beijing could use its Coast Guard to attack vessels from other
March 01 to March 07 There was only one Taiwanese department head in Taiwan’s first post-World War II provincial government: Sung Fei-ju (宋斐如), who served as deputy director of the department of education. Sung, who lived in China for over two decades, had close ties with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and was also allowed to start his own newspaper, the People’s News-Leader (人民導報). Aside from Sung, only a handful of Taiwanese held significant positions in the government, almost all of them banshan (半山, half mountain) like him. The term refers to those who moved
Taimali Township (太麻里) is about 15km south of Jhihben Township (知本) in Taitung County, a glorious ride along the electric blue Pacific coastline. Having spent several days scouting out the upper reaches of the Jhihben River gorge for possible camera trap locations for Formosan clouded leopards (Neofelis nebulosa), a friend and I decided to explore the next river drainage to the south. The Taimali River gorge is yet another remote and relatively unknown wilderness area of Taitung County that has likely never been properly surveyed for wildlife, and this is certainly the second place that I plan to search for
“Hey, what is 228 anyway?” My ears perked up when I overheard two young people sitting next to me discussing the upcoming holiday. I was eating a late dinner after spending all afternoon at the library researching and writing about some of the more obscure victims of the 228 Incident, the infamous anti-Chinese Nationalist Party uprising in 1947 that was brutally suppressed. “I have no idea,” the other replied. They proceeded to look it up online and appeared astonished at the new information, especially over the number of alleged victims. Virtually censored and seldom discussed until the late 1980s, it seems