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Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Playlist as Art Form


  Who would argue with the statement that the play list has supplanted the album/LP as the most vital format for the consumption of music?   This transition took over a decade, becoming a possibility in 1999 when the original Napster went online and becoming fully realized with the launch of Spotify in the United States in July, 2011.  Since the launch of Spotify in 2011, other competitors have joined the field, notably Apple Music, and Pandora also exists as an apotheosis of limitless music, but as I write this in 2017, I think Spotify represents the most advanced the of the possibilities and it is the system that I use almost exclusively.

   When I talk about the Playlist as an Art Form, I am talking about the Spotify playlist.  The available library of music on Spotify allows the listener to compose any kind of play list for any kind of music.  Spotify itself creates play lists by genre, mood and artist.  I would hypothesize that there are essentially three play lists that together constitute the entirety of available music.  All music can be divided by tempo (fast, medium, slow) and length (from a few seconds to hours.)   The three play lists refer to the three tempos: fast, medium and slow.  In developing these three play lists, fast, medium and slow, the listener should be unlimited by time, place and style of music but allowed to sort by secondary considerations that impact the creation of the play list, from an aesthetic stand point.

  To take two examples of these secondary considerations which relate to the aesthetic of the play list, the length of the track is significant.  Since a play list inevitably contains dozens of songs, length of each is an issue.  For my own three play list I target a track length between three minutes and ten minutes.  Another secondary consideration is the distribution of sound within the length of the track.  For example, a song that starts with 30 seconds of silence, or uses extremely quiet parts followed by extremely loud parts, are less suitable for play list purposes than songs that begin immediately and maintain a similar volume of loudness throughout the length of the track.

   These secondary considerations sometimes rightfully impact the ability of the creator to travel, "unlimited by time, place and style of music."  To give an example, the symphony is obviously a huge part of any complete play list, at any tempo.  Unfortunately, the recording of large scale orchestras is made according to standards different that the world of popular music, and the contrasts in volumes is often jarring.   Likewise, the ebb and swell within a typical symphonic track is far beyond that of more recently developed genres of music.

   The primary instrument for the development of the three Spotify play list is their interlinked genre play lists, which are interlinked and typically contain 150 to 400 songs.


The Spotify play list for Experimental covers a huge range of artists, from Captain Beefheart to Pere Ubu. and it has 375 tracks and lasts nearly 40 hours.


Some of the genres are quite exotic, Central Asian folk, for example- only 150 songs and 10 hours long, but it shows how far the listener has to travel in time and space to really embrace the fullness of the three play lists.

    The key to assembling the three play lists is to draw from the genres like taking ingredients for a recipe.  Each composition will be different, the only obligation is for the listener to attempt to embrace all of it to create the fullest possible aesthetic across the three play lists.   I have added my three play lists on the side bar.

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