Tag Archives: devendra banhart

Genius or idiot savant?

itunes genius - is it?

itunes genius: is it?

When I got my new ipod classic 120GB just before Christmas (to replace the much lamented 80GB that succumbed to ‘sad face’ syndrome in mysterious circumstances in early December) I was intrigued and alarmed in equal measure by the new ‘genius’ feature.

A friend had described it as ‘brilliant’, and then when she proceeded to explain that you activated it by sending Apple all the data from your itunes library and then it suggested music you might like to buy from the itunes store I was less convinced.

This reminded me of all the highly irritating prompts and suggestions that my Amazon account has become riddled with over the past couple of years. When I buy a Richard Scarry illustrated book for my godson or a Tales of the Night Garden toy for my two-year-old niece I am not making a statement about my purchasing choices from here on in. It is not a logical step to assume that every time I log on to Amazon from now on that I wish to purchase associated childrens’ toys, DVDs or CDs, and to find my recommendations page plastered with these alongside the latest Guillemots album is bizarre and frankly quite disturbing.

The Fear

I was fearful of enabling Genius and causing a similar effect to my ‘splash’ page on the itunes store. As you may have guessed by now (and if not you’ll soon realise) I am quite picky about the music I listen to and I don’t wish those high standards to be compromised. If, for instance, I love my wife so much that I’m prepared to download a Girls Aloud album for her from my itunes account (making darned sure it goes straight into her ring-fenced library only of course) I don’t want the whole world to know about it. What? Oh. Bother.

So, anyway, I was rather sceptical about the whole enterprise and although after Christmas my finger was poised over the genius logo button a couple of times, and I did click the ‘find out more’ section, I was still nervous about letting Apple have my library data. I have to admit, this was less to do with data protection and more to do with saving face. I would have been mortified if some data analyst geek somewhere assumed that the person who liked very cool bands like Interpol, Kings of Leon, Arcade Fire and Midlake was also a fan of Kelly Clarkson, Leona Lewis and (it pains me to even type this) Steps.

The Plunge

Eventually though, some time towards the end of January my curiosity got the better of me and I took the plunge. As I saw the library data chugging away into the ether I was sweaty-palmed and quite anxious, regretting what I had done, and anticipating a long list of recommended pop pap next time I hit the itunes store.

What happened next though was very interesting. The reason I had decided to bite the bullet was the intriguing prospect of genius concocting ‘instant’ playlists for me from a single song. So, I picked a song at random from my library, clicked the genius icon and waited. For about 3-5 seconds. And then there it was, so quick I almost missed it. A fully formed playlist of 25 songs, based on the one I’d chosen. The cynic in me insisted on trawling through each one of the 25 to find a quirk, a clear misfit that would make the application a dunce. I couldn’t find one. It was a really good playlist, and the ‘feel’ or ‘flavour’ of the songs were all a good match.

The Fluke

Obviously that was a fluke, so I had another go, choosing a favourite folk song ‘The Blooming Heather’ by Kate Rusby. ‘This’ll fox it’ I thought, but if anything, this playlist was even better: ranging from the traditional English folk of Kate Rusby and Seth Lakeman, to more modern quirky alt-folk artists such as Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart, via the latest singer/songwriter sensations such as Laura Marling and Emmy the Great with some classics such as John Martyn, Loudon Wainwright III and Fairport Convention thrown in for good measure. I listened to it regularly for the best part of a week, and it had taken genius around 6 seconds to compile!

Cutting a long story short (never a strong point of mine) I spent a delirious 5 minutes selecting songs from very different genres and being amazed and delighted by the results. I ended up with 15 really excellent playlists that would have taken me several days to put together myself.

The speed!

The best thing about genius for me is the speed, and the fact that it isn’t a perfectionist application: it doesn’t mind throwing things together. If I make a playlist I agonise for ages and invariably only pick the very best songs from a handful of groups I couldn’t be without. Genius is prepared to mix it up a little, and as a result I am suddenly hearing tracks for the first time that I might not have otherwise discovered in my collection.

I have well over 5000 songs in my library, and there are probably many hundreds of them I have not yet listened to: genius is helping me make my way through them, with a lot of delightful discoveries along the way.

On the downside, one or two songs did crop up a couple of times on different playlists, which is disappointing when I have only set my lists to contain 25 songs (you can also have 50, 75 or 100). I also discovered that, like all geniuses, it can be a little petulant at times. When trying to use ‘Le Toi Du Moi’ by Carla Bruni as the catalyst for a World Music playlist (as you do), genius was having none of it, insisting it couldn’t produce a list until I ‘updated’ my library data with Apple. It was the digital equivalent of “I don’t do foreign” accompanied by a sulky shrug.

However, I have to say that overall I am delighted with the feature and it puts a smile on my face every time it delivers a new list – I have only waded through about 5 of them so far. Perhaps best of all, you can actually refresh the playlist while it’s playing and it will choose another similar selection based on the original song. Now that’s clever, or some might say …….

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