Pandora’s chief musicologist and architect has a book out — neat

This book is definitely on my “to be read” list.

https://www.npr.org/2019/04/29/718394276/nolan-gassers-new-book-explores-musical-taste-and-where-it-comes-from

Nolan Gasser’s New Book Explores Musical Taste And Where It Comes From

NPR’s Audie Cornish talks with Nolan Gasser, chief musicologist and architect of Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project about his book Why You Like It: The Science and Culture of Musical Taste.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

If video killed the radio star, Pandora may have killed the radio deejay. Pandora, like Spotify and Apple Music and unlike a top 40 station, offers us the chance to stream songs individually, catered to our unique musical taste. Now, Nolan Gasser is one of the creators of the algorithm powering Pandora. It was called the Music Genome Project.

And to figure out a system that worked, Gasser had to understand what musical taste is, where it comes from and what our favorite songs say about us. His new book is called, “Why You Like It: The Science And Culture Of Musical Taste.” He’s here now to talk more about it. Welcome to the program.

NOLAN GASSER: Thanks so much, Audie. It’s great to be here.

CORNISH: In the book you write about rhythm and harmonic similarities in some songs that some people might not tie together. Here is a pairing. People will probably recognize the first. It comes from The Rolling Stones.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT”)

THE ROLLING STONES: (Singing) I saw her today at the reception, a glass of wine in her hand.

CORNISH: And the second is Vivaldi, “Spring” from the “Four Seasons.”

(SOUNDBITE OF VIVALDI’S “FOUR SEASONS: SPRING”)

CORNISH: Do these things have anything in common?

GASSER: From a harmonic standpoint, they do something that a lot of music does. And that’s that they sort of pivot between two harmonic posts, between two chords in this case. So The Rolling Stones song goes…

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT”)

THE ROLLING STONES: (Singing) I saw her today at the reception…

GASSER: …Dum, bum, buh-dum, bum bum bum bum-buh-dum…

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT”)

THE ROLLING STONES: (Singing) …A glass of wine in her hand.

GASSER: …Bum bum bum, buh-dum, bum bum bum…

CORNISH: Ah, OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT”)

THE ROLLING STONES: (Singing) I knew she was gonna meet…

GASSER: It’s like going back and forth, passing a ball back and forth.

CORNISH: Now when I listen to the Vivaldi, that rocking sense, maybe.

GASSER: Right. So it’s that dun dun dun, dun-dun-dun…

(SOUNDBITE OF VIVALDI’S “FOUR SEASONS: SPRING”)

GASSER: Bum bum-bum bum-bum bum-duh-dum, bum bum-bum bum-bum buh-duh-dum…

(SOUNDBITE OF VIVALDI’S “FOUR SEASONS: SPRING”)

GASSER: That’s one of myriad factors that we may not be able to discern from an immediate listen, but they form part of why we may like it.

CORNISH: I want to talk about rhythm because that’s something I feel like is very easy to understand. I assume from the first cave man picking up a stick (laughter) – right? – like, we’re inclined towards rhythm. What’s going on there…

GASSER: Yes.

CORNISH: …In our brains that you’ve learned about?

GASSER: Well, you’re right. And this comes back to why it is that we may gravitate towards some music or another. So for example, if you like Pink Floyd’s “Money,” which is in 7/4 – seven beats per measure. So it’s one, two, three, four, five, six, seven…

(SOUNDBITE OF PINK FLOYD SONG, “MONEY”)

GASSER: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven – right?

(SOUNDBITE OF PINK FLOYD SONG, “MONEY”)

GASSER: You may have just this natural bent towards interesting, syncopated, complex meters. So you may also like Stravinsky’s “Rite Of Spring.” The beat is dun, dun-dun, dun, dun-dun, dun-dun.

(SOUNDBITE OF STRAVINKSY’S “THE RITE OF SPRING”)

GASSER: And you may – in your jazz taste, you may like those pieces of jazz that use unusual meters, like Dave Brubeck did in the “Time Out” album on the piece, “Blue Rondo A La Turk.”

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVE BRUBECK’S “BLUE RONDO A LA TURK”)

GASSER: Dada, dada, dada, dada, one two, one two, one two, one two three, one two, one two, one two, one two three.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVE BRUBECK’S “BLUE RONDO A LA TURK”)

CORNISH: Is there anything that surprised you to learn about why we like it?

GASSER: Well, certainly there were so many things that I just was fascinated by. In particular, one cannot but be fascinated by how musical we are as infants. You can take a 6-month-old baby. And you can play them a Turkish rhythm, a complex rhythm in 9/8 time. And then you play that same rhythm, and you change something. That baby’s going to recognize that. Or you play a melody, and then you shift something that would go beyond expectations. The baby’s going to be alert. They will turn their head, which is a way that researchers can identify that. That’s just so amazing.

CORNISH: In the end, what are you hoping people take away from this book, from this idea? Is it that, like, your tastes aren’t necessarily your own?

GASSER: Well, no, I would say that, indeed, our tastes are our own. We share a lot in common with all of our fellow humans in certain penchants for our music listening. But of course, at the end of the day, what you love, Audie, and what I love are going to be different because we are different people, even though there may be a lot of music that we both love collectively.

But there’s really one overriding goal of this book. And that’s that we empower our musical taste, that we begin to understand what music we like, what music we don’t like – which is also important – and what music we might like so that we keep our ears open to new possibilities.

CORNISH: Nolan Gasser is author of “Why You Like It: The Science And Culture Of Musical Taste.” Thank you for explaining all this to us.

GASSER: My pleasure. Thanks so much, Audie.

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