Thursday, March 14, 2013

Saturate Before Using

The Leap Motion controller made quite a splash at SXSW Interactive 2013, bringing tablet-style gesture-based interaction to the open space between you and your computer. Imagine rifling through a virutal record bin with the same finger-walking motion you'd use on the real thing.

[Image credit: Russell Christian, "Liner Notes."]

 Meanwhile, Digital Music News' Paul Resnikoff speculated about music apps or websites that do not exist (but should). He included "a truly open source, comprehensive music database"on his wish list, containing deep metadata on all artists and releases.
Why not combine the two? Let your fingers do the walking through the definite cloud-based trove of liner notes.
Music fans of a certain age remember liner notes, which told you everything you needed to know about the making of an LP, and then some. Shrunk to inconsequential size in a CD jewel box, virutally nonexistent in the weightless digital world.
Online music information services have only the basics for an LP or CD — artist, genre, release year, track list. Maybe for a given track, they will have major collaborators and composer. The information is spotty and contains errors, especially for legacy material. Why — because the cloud doesn't have physical copies against which to cross check.

However, there is one music archive in the cloud that has physical copies: the John Peel Archive, The LP collection of the late BBC radio host John Peel, more than 25,000 titles. You can already interactively browse through the album covers of this specific, significant collection. Why not use it as the starting point of the definitive liner notes archive?

An opportunity beckons to catalog the crap out of this collection, extract the deep metadata, saturate us with information, and put it online — every musician on every track and what they played, producer, recording studio, recording dates, session players and background vocalists who have never gotten credit, composers. All collected in a searchable database. Imagine the bar bets settled. "Show me every song recorded between 1965-1975 on which Robert Plant played cowbell." Now there's a Spotify playlist.

Given the number of records and the pedigree of the Peel collection, this would more or less create the definitive chronicle of popular music over a generation. Both scholarly and fun. And, instead of just repeating the same step of photographing the physical material time after time, every new title cataloged adds more and more value. The information content snowballs over time.

Gracenote, underwrite this effort and make it happen. Our fingers are getting itchy.

            Vinyl-to-Digital Restoration #54            

Artist: Jackson Browne
Title: Saturate Before Using
Genre: Rock
Year: 1972

Windows Media Player lists Jackson Browne as the only "contributing artist" on any track on SBU. This ignores the contributions of session players Russell Kunkel (drums) and Leland Sklar (bass). Just as the Funk Brothers anchored Motown, Kunkel, Sklar and guitarist Danny Kortchmar formed the backbone of a session band that produced hits for virtually every solo artist recording in southern California in the 70s and 80s. (And I only know this from reading a lot of liner notes back in the day. You can find similar patterns of session talent in London.) It's time they all got credit in the cloud.

© 2013 Thomas G. Dennehy. All rights reserved.