Friday, August 20, 2010

To classify the unclassifiable song.... File that under "Musicals," by the way!

Today a coworker said, "outside they're listening to hard rock, and in here it's techno." By techno, he meant the stuff I was listening to. I wanted to tell him: actually, this kind of music is called "Happy Hardcore." But he was already gone. And he probably wouldn't have cared anyway. I think music phylogeny is a topic of obsession only to me (and now, by dint of their role as a captive audience, my readers!). But I'm still just a learner in this vast library of nomenclature. I'm starting to get a handle on identifying the various electronic dance subgenres that I like to listen to, but other styles of music still mystify me.

Like, what makes certain kinds of rock "alternative?" What's really the difference between hip-hop and rap? That stuff I hear on the radio – that I just lump into a big bundle I call "pop" – would some of it be better classified as "R&B?" Is "Indie" really a musical style, or is it more of a lifestyle? If "indie" artists sign on to a big label, then do they still get called "indie?"

Of course, none of this would be a problem except that I'm anal retentive and won't be satisfied until there's a place for everything and everything's in its place. Other people just throw all their digital music in a giant folder and call it a day. I have to rename the file according to artist and song name, and put it in a folder corresponding to genre. Then I have to make sure all the ID3 tags are complete with album name and release year duly noted, any alternate genres listed in the "notes" field, the composer and performer credited separately if they are both well known, and mood and tempo listed if I think about it. (Some day, I hope all these ridiculous practices will help me create auto-playlists that respond to my every whim. But first I have to wait until the auto-playlist-building technology improves to meet my exacting requirements.)

The other source of my taxonomy problem is my pretty darn eclectic tastes. I don't think many people have media libraries filled with equal parts classical, dance, video game soundtrack, oldies, new age, and modern rock (Plus a smattering of country, various forms of electronic, synthpop, show tunes, rap, and—well, you get the picture). Actually, maybe they do, but all I know is, when coworkers wander in to the sound of my beloved recording of The Hampsterdance Song, and then later they pass by while I'm blasting Eminem (quietly—it's work you know!), they act mighty amused. I'm a nice girl by reputation, so one bats an eye when they learn I listen to Rogers and Hammerstein soundtracks...but they practically fall over in shock when I tell them I have stuff by Marilyn Manson too.

I can't help it! I like what I like! If it makes me happy, I like it. If it sounds strange and interesting, I like it. If it mirrors my mood when my mood is grouchy or depressed, I like it. I am not bound by genre. I like my classical music as much as any snob, but I'm not so highfalutin' that I can't appreciate a good rap when I hear it (er, let's rephrase that to "a rap that I think is good" I don't claim to know the first thing about what constitutes quality in rap music). I like dance music because it's fun—but I like lots of dark electro/experimental stuff because it's ominous. Unlike many people I know, I refuse to hate country on the grounds that it's country. I have stuff that's new age. I have stuff that's old as the hills. I have stuff that I only like for the lyrics, and I have other stuff that I completely ignore the lyrics of and focus only on the sound.

I may sound like I'm making myself out to be some kind of benevolent, egalitarian, music-loving angel, but the point I'm trying to make (in the most self-congratulatory way possible, of course!) is that my broad tastes sure make it difficult for me to indulge my obsessive-compulsive side. I imagine, with a certain amount of wistfulness, how easy my life would be if I only listened to, oh, hard rock. Just one genre. No infinite categories to break down and define.

By the way, anyone know what genre to call Fish Heads, by Barnes and Barnes?


Tariq said...

I *really* think you should get iTunes. It will save you a lot of time organizing your files, especially when you want to straighten out the ID3 tags. For that matter, iPods also let you sort music by artist, album, and genre...

By the way, for all your love of electronic stuff, you still don't like Skinny Puppy! Don't worry, I'll convert you eventually.

Valerie said...

Skinny Puppy is not just electronic--they're also anti-melodic and creepy! I tried iTunes a few times and was never happy. It didn't give me the kind of control I wanted.