I was classically trained in piano from about the age of five until I left for college – and pretty much hated every minute of it. If I wanted to hear the Moonlight Sonata, which I learned how to play, all three movements, I would simply listen to someone who was really, really good play it.
I am cursed with short fingers, which is great for climbing, but poor for making the reach that people like the freakishly long-fingered Rachmaninoff, or the brilliantly sadistic Liszt, put into their pieces. Plus, I really wasn't all that interested in rendering other people's music, but I didn't have the training necessary to make my own.
But, despite my animosity towards the piano, I love music. In college, when I was moody and emo-ish (though I didn't know it by that name by the time), I was introduced to the genius of industrial electronic music by my friend, and now VP of Professional Services at Lexalytics, Tim Mohler. I really got into the gentle tunes of Front Line Assembly, Front 242, and Skinny Puppy, and can still sing, er, rasp the lyrics to Nine Inch Nails "Down In It." (Kinda like a cloud, I was up – way up — in the sky…)
Once I got out of college and started working, my friend and current climbing buddy, Bill Kish, encouraged me to start working on some music. We started messing around along with another one of our friends, Aaron Hughes, and had tons of fun. This culminated in starting a record label, where I met some really great people and spent a lot of money. Our current graphics genius Kevin Crosslin (of Crosslin Digital and Cavestar fame – his work is great, go check out his tumblr) was the best relationship I got out of that whole process.
I still listen to a ton of electronic music, and thus we come to the heart of the matter. What kind do I listen to? Well, I like "vocal trance" for when I'm working, and I tend to write music that is a bit more "downtempo lounge."
To give you an idea of the sheer magnitude of electronic music sub-groups, here's the wikipedia page with an incomplete list of electronic music genres.
In case you don't want to count, there's over 200 separate genres. These aren't even separated out into their own sub-sub categories. For example, "Dark Ambient" alone has the following sub-categories that aren't listed on that main page:
- Death Ambient
- Ritual Ambient
- Black Ambient
- Doom Ambient
- Drone Ambient
- Deep Ambient
- Black Space
- Gothic/Medieval Ambient
Holy music, Batman! I've listened daily to electronic music for over twenty years, and I haven't listened to most of these genres.
These kind of categorization problems abound in the content industry. Netflix with their 76,897 categories, and Pandora with the 400 different attributes that they track, and group into over 2,000 "focus traits" by which they categorize music.
On a certain level, categorization can feel like an exercise in futility. How can you universally apply labels to something as unquantifiable as music or film for the purpose of providing what the consumer wants to see or hear? Music is a deeply personal thing, and one artist’s Deep Ambient may be nothing like another’s.
But at the end of the day, categorization is incredibly important to shared understanding. It helps us group experiences and find community. Industrial electronic music was a category of music, and something I shared with Tim.
In the same vein, sentiment is also a deeply personal thing. Everyone has a unique understanding of exactly what one word might really express. That’s why we never get 100% human agreement when we do human sentiment tests. Categorization, while an imperfect tool, creates deeper shared understanding of language. If we can understand the community, I think we can better understand communication, and if we’re smart, like Netflix, use that information to give them what they want - like another season of House of Cards (seriously, give it to me already).