Friday, June 12, 2015

Do you hear what I hear?

As usual one morning, I clicked on YouTube®™ to use as my radio for the workday.

That's my habit: Find a song or artist I like, start the song, collapse the YouTube™® page and draw or write to the music.

I can't be the only one who uses YouTube©™ this way, because lately YouTube™ has begun automatically playing other similar songs in succession, without my say-so.

I have to flip a switch now if I want the hit parade to stop.

At first I stopped each song manually as it ended, and found another song I liked. In a short time, though, I was letting YouTube™® do the work, just loading up one song after another. Whatever.

I didn't like Pandora™® for this same reason: Instead of playing the artist I wanted, Pandora®™ algorithms would find songs that math says I'd also like.

Try listening to Iris DeMent with her yodeling helium voice, for example, and your Pandora®™ channel is likely to be hijacked by Alison Krauss. A fine singer, lovely to listen to, but not if you really, really want to listen to Iris DeMent. Math is sometimes wrong.

Now, though, I've surrendered. Sort of.

I choose mixes now. Someone makes these up, I guess. Some YouTube™® fan or subscriber compiles his or her own collection of songs by artist or genre, and posts them to share.
(Here I must confess my part in the ruin of the music industry, and the cavalier nature with which I can click on an artist's entire new album — or even an entire movie! Not that I do! — which someone has posted on YouTube™®, and about which no one seems to be bothered. Including me.

(It's almost quaint now that I click on a YouTube™® music video and told it has been blocked by the publisher.

(That sound is intellectual property rights and creative control and ownership crashing and burning in a chain reaction. Good luck making a living with your art. But I digress.)
Choosing a mix gives me a bit more control about the music chain I'll listen to for that block of work time. Or so I tell myself.

So, on this particular morning, I saw something called "My Mix" on YouTube™®.

"My" doesn't mean much to me in the digital world. Countless applications and devices are labeled "My." Register for college classes, check your health record, chances are the secured page you use starts with the words "My."

"My" sketchbook holds meaning for me, a tangible object I hold dear but which no one else would want or use.  But "My" health record is ephemeral and vague, not really mine; I just happened to type in the write password to get the information. You could also go to your health record, and it would be called "My" health record. Not "Shawn's" health record or "Tom's" or "Belinda's." "My" this or that.

It's nameless and faceless.

So I just assumed whoever had collected this mix just labeled it "My Mix," choosing to be nameless and faceless, and posted it anonymously in the ether, in case someone else — like me — would enjoy it.

I clicked on "My Mix," because the first song was one I'd listened to recently and liked enough to listen again and again, "Holland 1945" by Neutral Milk Hotel.

Next was "Let Go" by Frou Frou, and I like the soundtrack from the movie, "Garden State," and had been listening to it in the last few weeks.

Then something by Sufjan Stevens, his new "Carrie and Lowell," sour-sweet and haunting. Then OK Go's cover of the Pixies' "Gigantic," which I found by accident not long ago and listened to repeatedly.

Then it was "Let the Mystery Be," by Iris DeMent, helium-high and yelping.

"Huh!" I thought to myself at this point, "Someone else likes my varied choices in music."

I mean, I'm not the only one with an eclectic taste in music. It's just weird that the maker of "My Mix" has the same eclectic taste.

Kate Rusby is next in the mix, singing "The Wild Goose." OK, not so strange: She's a folk singer, in the same genre as DeMent. People who like Iris would like Kate. We're on a first-name basis.

Then comes a song by Jeff Buckley I hadn't heard before, but I like his aching version of "Hallelujah." Maybe this "My Mix" maker is a bigger Buckley fan than I. I let the song roll. Not bad.

Next is John Hartford. Hey, I love John Hartford! There's not enough of him on YouTube™®, nothing at all from his great album "Headin' Down into the Mystery Below." That's kind of a hard shift from Buckley to Hartford, but cool that this "My Mix" person likes them both.

Then Regina Spektor singing "How," and Missy Higgins singing "Everyone's Waiting," and Pink singing "Raise Your Glass." Some of my favorite songs lately, two of them melancholy and heavy with hope, the last a "Who cares what the world thinks?!" anthem.

Then Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," my absolutely favorite piece of music.

OK, what's going on?

How could this anonymous YouTube®™ poster like almost all the music I do? It's possible, I guess, but so, so remote. What are the percentages?

Seriously, I want to know: What are the percentages?

Then it dawned on me.

"My Mix" is literally my music. Algorithms and software have remembered and aggregated the music I've listened to over time on YouTube®™; more algorithms and digital voodoo found similar songs, then threw them all together into a collection. Just for me.


Isn't it creepy?

No human particularly cares about my music choices — at least, I really hope no one cares — but some humans made it so a Web site would track my movements and regurgitate my choices for repeated consumption.

And pock the music choices with ads I might want to watch. For things I might want to buy.

At the same time, I notice facebook®™ has begun dredging up memories I posted from two years before. Memories that I no longer even remember. I guess I'm supposed to repost and regurgitate?

I guess I'm not supposed to creep out over the idea that something is putting my life into pigeonholes, never quite to go away, but to revisit me randomly, in a way that I suppose is meant to be friendly and helpful but really makes me want to look in the closet for hidden cameras.

 I'm going for a walk now. Take no offense if I don't tell you where. I'm going to hum a secret song.

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