Friday, January 30, 2009

In Praise of Music and Genius

I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I love the new stuff, really love the things it enables us to do. I hate it when it doesn't work well. I suppose that's why I started out in the IT magazine business, reviewing mostly games and gadgets at first until I learned how computers actually worked. (Or to be precise, until I knew enough to bluff people into believing that I knew how they worked.)

It's always more fun to blast something that doesn't work well, but today I am going all soft and mushy and praising two bits of technology that I love.

The first is some software for the Wii called Wii Music. I picked up Lily from school yesterday and we decided we needed something new for the week-old Wii that she could enjoy. I suggested we drive to Toys 'r Them. She pursed her lips and said quite sternly, "Bampi, it's Toys 'r Us, and you know that."

Great, a 6 1/2-year-old is turning into LK junior.

Anyhow, Wii Music is great. Kids get to make believe they're playing any of 60 instruments. Somehow, they've written the software so that no matter when the kid plays the notes, they sound good and fit in with the band that's playing backup. And best of all, the whole performance is recorded and converts into a music video, complete with MTV-style labels of the song and band ("Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" by The Lily Band).

It's fantastic, and she loved it. In order to put some sense into the collection of videos, the program asks you to rate it from 1 to 100. Lily did a piano and a sax version of "Twinkle Twinkle" and she thought both rated 100. She then did a sax version of "My Grandfather's Clock".

We both agreed it was too slow and not as nice as Twinkle. Nonetheless, once the judges start handing out perfect scores, it becomes hard for them to stop. I suggested to her that maybe it shouldn't get a mark as high as her best video. She thought, moved the bar to 99, then thought again and moved it back to 100.

In hindsight, I think she was right.

The other great software is the Genius program Apple has introduced for the iPod's iTunes. All you have to do is pick a song on your iPod and the Genius program makes a playlist for you. It is a fantastic DJ and in one way better than the playlists I make myself because there's always a surprise or two that I wouldn't have thought to put on the list.

Here's the songs I heard on my walk this morning. I started out with Ray Charles' "Shake a Tail Feather" from the Blues Brothers soundtrack. Genius followed it with Aretha's "Think", also from the soundtrack. And then it got creative:

  • Shake a Tail Feather, Ray Charles
  • Think, Aretha Franklin
  • Green Onions, Booker T and the MGs
  • Dancing in the Street, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
  • Fever, Ray Charles and Natalie Cole
  • Can I Get a Witness, Marvin Gaye
  • I've Got to Use My Imagination, Gladys Knight and the Pips
  • I Can't Stand the Rain (extended version), Tina Turner
  • I Just Don't Know What to Do, Dusty Springfield
  • Let's Go Get Stoned, Ray Charles
  • Gett Off, Prince & the New Generation
Great list. I had forgotten how fantastic Ray Charles and Natalie Cole's "Fever" is, and I hadn't listened to it in ages. And I don't think it would have ever occurred to me put Dusty Springfield in there. Not least because, despite her name, she is a whiter shade of pale than the other performers. But somehow her song fit in.

I will let you know later on what songs Genius puts on the list when you start with "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" by the Lily Band, but I am pretty sure "My Grandfather's Clock" will be there.

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