Senzari’s Formulaic Fail

 

Comparisons with Pandora quickly come to mind when describing Senzari. Both services let you search for your favorite artist to create your own radio station which will mix that artist’s tracks and similar ones by other bands. Since algorithms aren’t perfect, you can still skip a few songs if you don’t like them.

However, Senzari’s CEO is quick in pointing out the differences between his service and Pandora’s. One of them is the depth of its catalogue: with 10 million songs, Senzari boasts “10 times more tracks than Pandora”. This is clearly a huge asset for Senzari – we all know how frustrating it is to fail to find an artist on these services. This is also an important element for a platform that hopes to please listeners all over the world, with different music tastes, including Brazilian and Hispanic music. (How Senzari Plans to Take On Pandora and Traditional Radio)

Sometime in my second hour of auditioning Senzari last week I realized its algorithm for choosing music sucked. I suppose I should qualify this impressions by adding ‘for my purposes.’ After all, my purpose, as long as I’m going to be subjected to some kind of algorithm, is to enlist it to aid a serendipitous journey of discovery.

Pandora leverages the Musical Genome Project to great effect. The Pandora user loads in multiple “seed” choices when initializing and developing a custom radio station. This really revs up the subsequent unwinding of the algorithm’s musical choice-making. It is easy to develop custom stations that step off trail.

Whereas Senzari’s current algorithm fails. To set-up a station you select a single artist. There’s no way, yet, to refine this initial choice. The ensuing broadcast set reflects this ‘monological’ approach.

Presumably, refinement of this “single factor” comes with plugging in social factors gleaned automatically from Facebook friends on Senzari. Whatever…

I started with rock choices, and started stations with the seed of The Byrds, then of Quicksilver Messenger Service. Initially The Byrds station reflected the folk rock core of the early Byrds, ignored the group’s country-rock breakthrough, and, then morphed into a mostly non-stop 1965-1967 pop hit machine, interspersed with minor tracks from Roger McGuinn and Stephen Stills. My first thought? Way too much of the machine part involved in executing the algorithm was showing through.

My Jellyfish station cycled through Jellyfish and XTC. Inexplicable. Likewise, the Ry Cooder stations cycled through about ten artists. Senzari didn’t get the AFrican core of Abdullah Ibrahim or Randy Weston. The most successful station I created was the one with experimental guitarist Aidan Baker, but only Baker’s context and musical relations are not very familiar to me.

Nor could Senzari make a station from Amos Garrett or The Quarter After. I stopped trying to stump it when it went 0-2.

Next I decided to challenge the obviously thin formula by introducing two left field seeds, Pauline Oliveros, and, Bill Laswell. In both cases, the test I posed to the darn algorithm. was to travel down the various branches implicit in the substantial diversity on offer by Oliveros and, then, Laswell.

Here’s what the formula spun on the Pauline Oliveros station:

Gordon Mumma
Deep Listening Band
Gordon Mumma
Henry Cowell
Pauline Oliveros
Charlemagne Palestine
Henry Cowell
Terry Riley
Pauline Oliveros
repeat: Gordon Mumma
Charlemagne Palestine
Deep Listening Band
Lou Harrison
Harry Partch
Pauline Oliveros
Oliver Messiaen
Gordon Mumma

On one hand this provided an intriguing aural trip. On the other hand, the formula revisited the same records by Mumma and The Deep Listening Band and Henry Cowell, and so shouted out to me how stupid it is, as a musical set-inducing piece of programming.

The Laswell set was even more narrow, and, as a ‘machine take’ purportedly able to access hundreds of recordings related to the various genre preoccupations of Bill Laswell, laying into Jah Wobble and Burnt Friedman for seven of the first twelve tracks was ludicrous and revealing.

Burnt Friedman
Jah Wobble
Praxis
Bill Laswell
Burnt Friedman
Bill Laswell
Muslimgauze
Jah Wobble
Burnt Friedman
Jah Wobble
Material
Burnt Friedman

Senzari won’t be damaging Pandora based in their having a superior music-choosing technology. For me, if there are sensitive muso types laboring for Senzari, their day hasn’t arrived. The musical results sound random, and in comparison to Pandora, Senzari’s hype is cynical.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *