My hypothesis of music appreciation

I believe most music we like we like by association. What I mean by that is that we don’t like the music because of the music itself but because of what we associate to it. We probably do that with most stuff but if you think about it, shouldn’t music taste vary much more from person to person, and yet it seems most generations like the same stuff and continue to like it for the rest of their lives.

My hypothesis is that they are young, they are enjoying life with friends, and whatever music you make them listen to they’ll like by association of having a good time. Now, when I was a teenager I didn’t tend to have a good time with other people, thus I more or less hate the popular music of that era. What I’ve really loved was watching movies.

Soundtracks excite me, soundtracks take me to another world, I love listening to soundtracks, specially as background music. I can close my eyes to Indiana Jones and the last crusade and see the movie. When I was kid that was the movie. I can put it on and feel that every line of code I type gets me closer to the grail, every test that passes is a dead nazi. Great music, great movie!

I’ve just remember this because I’m listening a lot to Inception lately and, this you’ll only understand if you watched the movie, but every time I reach the point where Edith Piaf sings (in Waiting for a Train) I almost say “Oh fuck! Oh fuck oh fuck!”.

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An intelligent music player

mikPmjuI still haven’t found a good music player, for my computer that is. The one that got the closest to it was Amarok, but still it was very far away. My problem is that I don’t know what to listen to, really! I’m only just finding out what music to use  for coding. There’s one thing I really want from a music player: for it learn what to play for me. It’s not the same as learning what I like. It’s much more complex. Amarok learns what I like, but not really what to play for me.

In Amarok, when you jump to the next song it checks how much of the song you listened and assigns a score based on that. For songs that you listen completely you get a high score and for songs you listen only for a couple of seconds a low score. Over time, as you listen, those you like most and listen most will get high scores while those you despise and jump immediately will get a lower score.

Amarok has a special playing list, or used to have in the 1.4 version, which is called “dynamic” and plays those songs with the highest score. That sounds excellent, but it’s not enough. This music player I’d like to have would not compute how much I like a song, like Amarok, but how probable it is that  I’ll like it when it plays that song.

Let’s call this player Pamup, Pablo’s Music Player, and let’s see how it could provide such a magic feat as playing songs that you want to listen (even if you don’t know you want to listen to them).

Pamup would have a scoring for the songs but instead of being a linear score it’ll be multidimensional. Let’s start with two simple dimensions and the rest will be clear: percent of playing time and time of the day. Song A you play 100% and song B 50%. That means that you like song A better than B. That is what Amarok does. Pamup would instead record:

  • Song A in the morning: 100%
  • Song B in the morning: 50%
  • Song A in the evening: 50%
  • Song B in the evening: 100%

You like A as much as B, but you are more likely to want to listen to A in the morning, and B in the evening. Of course adding the time of the day will probably not improve the equation by much. The idea would be to add as many dimensions as possible. Some dimensions may be irrelevant and they should cancel themselves out, like in this case:

  • Song A in the morning: 100%
  • Song B in the morning: 50%
  • Song A in the evening: 100%
  • Song B in the evening: 50%
In that case, you like A better than B, in the evening and in the morning. The time of the day is irrelevant. Maybe it’s only irrelevant for some songs but not for other:
  • Let it be, I like it at all times.
  • O Fortuna of Carmina Burana, please, don’t wake me up with that (or maybe yes, please do, not sure).

Maybe it’s irrelevant for some people, but not for others. I don’t know and we don’t need to know.

I can think of many other dimensions to add to the system and I’m sure many other people will think of more and as technology improves we’ll be able to have even more:

  • What program are you using? I want music that helps me concentrate when I’m using my text editor to write code while I don’t care much about what I’m listen to while web browsing.
  • What are you browsing? Maybe I do care about the music while I’m web browsing. Redditing and Facebooking can be done pretty much with any music, but if I’m at Lambda the Ultimate, I need something to concentrate. Even some analysis of the web site could give some important hints: lot’s of dense text, no pictures, play Mozzart; a photo blog, play whatever.
  • How are you controlling the player? Are you using the keyboard with global shortcuts? you are probably doing something else. Are you using the remote control? you are probably away from the computer. Are you using the mouse directly into the players window with the lyrics window open? Ok, let’s play something with lyrics because you probably feel like reading, maybe even signing.
  • Are you singing? When can find that out using the computer’s microphone. Let’s play things that are in your vocal range, and mostly by the same gender as you are. Let’s also play things you liked singing before.
  • Are you using only one app or switching between various apps?
  • Which apps are you switching with?
  • Is there any other sound coming out from the computer? If so, maybe soothing background music with not much volume is what the player should play.
  • Are you dancing? Let’s disco! You think that’s a tough one? Most smart phones have accelerometers in them, if you have the smart phone on your pocket I’m sure I can find out if you are in the couch or dancing, or maybe moving but not dancing. Even the raw input of the accelerometer could be used as a signal, because it’ll be different depending how tired you are and how you are dancing.
  • Are you alone? You think that’s a hard one as well? Many people are using wifi, so, what’s the strength signal received on other devices on the same network?. If another computer has a similar signal level as yours and it is being used, you probably are not alone. It could also be done using smart phones, although with a smart phone you don’t require to be in use, you require it not to be on the table. If it’s plugged into the computer, you can ignore it, if it’s flat and not moving (accelerometer again), you can ignore it.
  • Who are you with? I hope by now you realize how much we can find out. Let’s make it social, let’s have the app in every device. Why would people install it? Well, when you visit me, if you have it on your device, you’ll device will tell my computer what you like, and my computer knows what I like, so it’ll try to find a common ground for us (and it won’t trust me that much when I skip a song, because maybe it’s you skipping it). We could make you use your own smart phone to skip it, and then Pumap knows who is skipping it.
  • Who are you talking with? If you are talking with other people, using voice recognition you may identify that people, or at least how many there are. If there’s cutlery clater in the background, people are eating, let’s just play background music for a nice evening. If it’s only you speaking, maybe you are in an old land-line phone (if you were using your smart phone, Pumap would know), let’s cut the music altogether, probably it’s distracting.

I believe this program should not work with special cases but have some very sofisticated machine learning system where we input all these signals and does the right thing. And as more signals become available, they are added and analyzed as well. I would like to have that music program! Because honestly, really, I’m not sure what music I want to listen to. I want my computer to figure it out for me.

Music for coding

Back to the FutureI’ve been looking for ages for the perfect music for coding. I’ve asked around and tried new age, Mozart, Bach, and other academic music. I’ve tried instrumental soothing music and instrumental electronic music. Nothing worked until I started to expand my original coding music: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Yes, I used to code to the music of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and I loved it. I started to try others and I’ve found I like coding to these albums:

I’m looking for more. There’s a clear pattern: instrumental and fast. It has to be of movies I’ve seen. When I listened repeatedly to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when I was a teenager I would recreate the whole movie in my head. I don’t do that anymore but the music still carries some subconscious meaning. I’ve tried with music of movies that I haven’t seen and it doesn’t work. And some don’t work and I don’t know why. These songs work as isolated songs, but not the whole album:

All by Vangelis of course. Star Wars music kind of works, but only some songs. I still have to sit down and select them (6 albums, lot of work). I remember other music like Apollo 13 also worked, but I don’t have it anymore.

What do I mean by work? It seems that music speeds me up. It makes me work faster, concentrate more and enjoy myself more. It makes me not want to stop, like watching a good movie. What do you listen to? Any other movies with great coding music?

Reviewed by Daniel Magliola. Thank you!