Screw You, Genome

I once posted on Facebook that my goal in life is to so frustrate the music genome project that it grabs itself by the seat of its pants and starts jumping up and down, harder and harder, until it finally leaves earth’s orbit.

Actually, as a predictor of what music someone is likely to enjoy, there’s nothing wrong with genome theory. But it goes only so far. I was raised to use my ears as a fierce individualist. I resent any implication that I should hand over the care and feeding of my musical tastes to a database, even if it does have more than a million entries and 450 categories.

Wiser, I think, to consider the genome project as a funnel that could save you some time on the way to discovering new things that please and extend you. But you must always be ready to flamboyantly throw away the funnel and let things spill all over the place.child_headphones

It was a happy fact of my childhood that my parents had a lot of recorded music around, and I was absolutely unrestricted in my access to it. From old, rigid 78s of Stokowski conducting Beethoven to the latest Simon & Garfunkel, it was all there. I listened to everything from Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite to the movie soundtrack of My Fair Lady to the Beatles. And very often, this was not listening-while-doing-something-else. It was active, completely involved listening. I’m convinced that this partially explains my outsize ability to pick up single instruments in an ensemble. I spent so much time doing it for fun as a kid.

Of course, there were no video games in those days, and I didn’t watch a lot of TV. I lived in a cold-weather climate, so a lot of my evenings were spent under headphones. Add a musical education to this, and you have a lifelong gift.

There’s so much out there, and so little time, that the genome project can be a big help in making the best music choices. But in general, people don’t like having a pre-made taste flung at them. So when in doubt, explore; take chances. After all, musical taste is one of the few truly free things left. If you want to have Bruno Mars, the Hold Steady, a whole bunch of Verdi opera and LL Cool J all in the same iTunes library, who’s to second-guess you? A music genome can predict, but not provide, the joy — that’s your job.♦

© 2013 Adam Barr

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