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Google Instant Playlists: Do They Know More About Our Music Collections Than We Do?

MusicGoogle PlayLibrariesGoogle Inc.Artists

Do you use Google Play? If so, have you noticed that they’ve rolled out a new “Instant Playlist”-generating feature recently? It’s very strange, and kind of cool.

Google Play (otherwise and formerly known as Google Music) -- in addition to allowing you to purchase and manage your digital music, (and bunch of other stuff) much like Amazon or iTunes -- lets you upload everything from your digital music library and store it in the cloud. It takes a little while, depending on how huge your music collection is, but once you do it, you can stream your entire library from wherever you can log on to your Google Play account, on your smartphone, from your Kindle, etc.

One shortcoming is that you can’t then download your music once you’ve uploaded it. You can only stream it. So if your laptop dies and with it those thousands of tunes you’ve purchased from iTunes go poof, you will only be able to listen to them on Google Play, you won’t be able to repopulate your library and burn copies, etc. Whatever, no one uses CDs anymore, it seems.

But just recently Google Play started rolling out a cool and slightly weird stealthy feature by which some baked-in software, logarithm or artificial mind now grabs selections from your library and starts to assemble them into playlists. I started noticing this a few weeks back. The playlists are generally about 90 minutes long or so. They tend to bundle tunes according to loose genre groupings.

One showed up based around a Cat Power tune -- a lot of similar-sounding indie rock from her and other sorta-like-sounding artists. Another showed up anchored by an A.C. Newman track: similar, more power-poppy indie rock. Then one appeared organized around a Great Lake Swimmers song, this time with mellow Americana-ish indie material. A couple jazz-based playlists had a nice assortment of Ellington, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Andrew Hill, Monk, and more. One thing that perplexes me is that the Instant Playlist generator also grabs some songs that are filed as “unknown track/unknown artist” -- stuff that I’ve forgotten to label or never got around to ID-ing. I don’t even know what some of these tracks are or where I got them. But the Instant Playlist feature seems to analyse the files and identify the artists and fold them into their appropriate genre grouping. It’s pretty wild. I was able to find an unmarked Archer Prewitt song that I’d been looking for for months when it showed up in one of the lists. Nice work Google!

Then the other day though I noticed a more mysterious and less coherent playlist. This was one based on the song “Brown-Eyed Woman” by Bill Medley (of the Righteous Brothers). It’s a song I’m fond of and I play a lot. Google grabbed it, obviously knowing that I like it, and then dumped it in with a bunch of other stuff -- bits of Wagner opera and old psychedelic stuff. I like it -- it’s stuff I own after all -- but it doesn’t necessarily make sense to have it all together, except in a grabbag kind of way.

One other peculiarity: the lists appear to vanish (unless you click “Save As Playlist,” which took me a while to figure out.) Adding to the mystery of this feature, I’ve noticed that some of the Instant Playlists also include songs that were converted to MP3 from vinyl transfers that I or my friends made from old records. How can the machine decode those digital mysteries? Okay, so I’m curious what sort of overmind has insights into my musical tastes and what they’re going to do next.

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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