The war against silence

Glenn McDonald

Just thought that was a great title for a weekly music review and discussion column (now archived) by Glenn McDonald from Cambridge, Massachusetts. I used to enjoy his meandering musings about all things musical. He was a writer given to quixotic self-expression, but it passed the time, if you allow yourself to be carried along with it.  It takes him a fair bit of time to get around to his point, but sooner or later, he has one. I’ve read articles from him from many obscure artists, and some not-so-obscure artists such as Laurie Anderson, which makes his articles on Boston, Dolly Parton and Shania Twain rather jarring.  But still worth reading. He had also been a regular contributor to an online music magazine column in The Village Voice called Pazz and Jop, which had annual music lists curated by music critic Robert Christgau. The lists differed from the Billboard music lists in that it leaned more havily toward alternative and avant-garde music. The list couldn’t rely on album sales, but instead relied on what appeared to be a cryptic statistical system. Whatever the system, they appeared to be on to something, since the list was popular with musicians and music critics worldwide.

How to clear 'Recently Played' in your Spotify library ...McDonald’s TWAS column folded early in 2013, and Pazz and Jop had its last publication in 2018. And now we know Glenn McDonald as the brains behind Spotify. The 1,387 categories that Spotify generates are based on computers whose algorithms classify the music into the categories, genres, and sub-genres which clients could pick and choose from. And going by the success of Spotify, it seems to work quite successfully. I also find out that he was the brains behind the website Every Noise At Once, mentioned years ago in this journal. I am beginning to think that iTunes, who had braindead classifications which I discussed in an earlier article, may have been a casualty of this make-it-up-as-you-go-along style of classification rather than a beneficiary. If someone told me at a cocktail party that they like “nu-gaze” or “neo mellow” music, I would just think of them as pretentious and just trying to sound cool and edgy by name -dropping a few of Spotify’s 1300+ musical categories that may have popped into his or her head. I am sure the musicians themselves don’t set out to be the next great musicians in the “electrofox” or “fuzz pop” genre or whatever. These are the names that exist in the imagination of maybe Glenn McDonald and a few of his Spotify colleagues, with the classification itself being the product of a Spotify algorithm. No musician, and no other humans, have had a hand in classifiying their music if it is on Spotify.

As an update, The Village Voice upon which Pazz and Jop was based has been rebooted only a few months ago, sans Pazz and Jop. But gone are nearly all of the writers that made it a national  institution for alternative music, voices and lifestyle. According to their “Emeritus” page of contributors, and apart from Christgau, there were notable cartoonists Matt Groening, Tom Tomorrow, and Robert Crumb, and one of the founders was Norman Mailer. There were also novelists such as David Foster Wallace, Tom Robbins, and numerous other writers, music and cultural critics. Wikipedia lists other contributors, but they don’t check out with the emeritus list. For example, while it is plausible that Allan Ginsburg, Ezra Pound, Henry Miller, James Baldwin, e. e. cummings, and Katherine Anne Porter may have contributed articles in the past, one would have expected these names to be prominent on the emeritus page, but none of their names are there.