We Need More -onomy

The other day I was listening to assorted tracks in my reading room while enjoying a glass of scotch and puttering away in the codebase of my current project. I was feeling chipper, the sun was shining. On Saturdays I’m willing to play the music loud enough to feel engrossed and I was looking for a bit of a beat in most of what I was listening to.

I own an iPod Video, and if we discount the fact that Winamp seems to be the only reliable way of getting data on and off the device, it does a satisfactory job of playing music. Selecting music, however, is a chore. None of the predefined labels in the iPod taxonomy (or the taxonomy of any other music player I’ve ever used) satisfy my needs: Artist? Genre? Just what is a “genre,” anyway? And how do I differentiate between Electronic, Electronica, and Electronica/Dance? Or Folk, Folk/Country, Folk/Rap, and Reggae/Folk?

I’d love to see a taxonomy for music based entirely on well-articulated emotion or situation. That is, the primary detail describing the music would be details of potential consumer environments, rather than details of the musical quality itself. Because music is so notoriously difficult to classify in the first place, I don’t see why a difficult, albeit inverted, classification scheme isn’t worth a go.

An open-ended tagging scheme would work well for this, so perhaps the folks at last.fm or MusicBrainz have already solved this problem… I don’t know. I don’t use the internet often enough to pay attention to this stuff. But searching one’s own collection for tags such as emotion:elated,complacent and situations:alone,underground coffee shop would save those of us who don’t have the energy to invest in memorizing albums.

Such a system would actively encourage group classifications to avoid the obvious potential single-minded environmental appreciation of music stemming from individuals producing this meta-data. But then, these classification parties would tend toward an eventual situation of classification party.

…so maybe it wouldn’t work after all. But I still wish UIs for music-selection had improved in the last 15 years.

Essay originally published on Hungry, Horny, Sleepy, Curious. (2008).