Guest post by Benjamin Naddaff-Hafrey of Evolver.fm.
It’s a bright afternoon at the Pitchfork Music Festival. eMusic editor-in-chief J. Edward Keyes says to Dirty Beaches lead singer Alex Zhang Hungtai, “You’ve talked a lot about feeling sort of a sense of dislocation or a lack of connection to the past, and I was wondering if you could talk about that feeling a little bit.” Alex responds by describing the difficulties of being a first-generation immigrant. Keyes nods.
Ami Patel, eMusic’s “Pitchfork spiritualist,” informs Alex, “if you ever feel disconnected or anything like that, maybe some of your chakras are out of line.” She then asks a pendulum which of his chakras need aligning. The pendulum’s answer: yellow-orange. “You need more yellow-orange, so I would probably recommend visualizing more yellow, and if you don’t like wearing yellow, wear yellow boxers.” Keyes looks slightly embarrassed.
You probably know eMusic. They’re like the little engine that could, except maybe they can’t. Somewhere in my iTunes is a playlist called “eMusic,” created while I enjoyed a promotion to download music free from their subscription-based music downloading site. Between receiving the code and cancelling my account, I grabbed a couple of albums. Back then, the site was plain and simple. Now, they’ve beefed up their offerings, in part with an app built around findings from the Electromusical Energy Visualizer they brought to the Pitchfork Festival.
[In the following photo a Pitchfork Festival attendee winds up looking a bit baffled in eMusic's Electromusical Energy Visualizer web app.]
The visualizer captured the “auras” of music fans at the festival as they listened to some popular tracks (all available on eMusic, of course), using a “psychedelic camera that captures people’s auras as they listen to different songs.” Now that eMusic has mined data from those auras, visitors to the web app are presented with a “Filter by Mood” diagram that enables them to “pick a mood and see the songs that inspire it” — essentially reverse-engineering the auras. (It also includes videos of Patel and Keyes interviewing bands at the festival, some of which are linked from this article.)
Lower Dens and Real Estate are “Magical.” Feist borders “Ambitious” and “Happy.” Anyone familiar with the nature of ambition might question its placement next to happiness. Likewise, anyone familiar with Feist might wonder how she fits into either category.
To create the categories, eMusic harvested all the snapshots of people in the visualizer at the Pitchfork Festival and empirically determined the songs’ auras from their listening experience — at least to the extent that auras and psychedelic cameras can be involved in empiricism. You will notice from the photographs included with this article that “Magical” appears to mean stoned or apathetic, while “Passionate” apparently designates A) Williamsburg and B) Mustache. Any hipsters inclined to hate hipsters should beware of this app.
Overall, this seems to be a nonsensical, somewhat spiritually-concerning promotion, or at least that’s how it struck me. Ami teaches The Men chakra chanting, and they play along while sometimes giving the finger. This was an empty, ironic act of rebellion, recalling a time in music as far off as the one eMusic is trying to conjure with their “psychedelic camera.”
It’s nearly impossible to tell whether any of this is serious or not. Patel takes it seriously, but it seems everyone else is playing along ironically. And so, eMusic is trying unironically to sell meaningful music on potentially ironic spiritual grounds.
In one of the last videos, Keyes doggedly addresses Liturgy: “Well, since you deal a lot with concepts of both nihilism and transcendence in your music, we’ve been working with Ami who’s a spiritualist all weekend, and so for an activity I thought we could do to close out the interview, Ami’s going to teach us a prayer to invoke the Archangel Michael, so if you guys are game, we’ll do that now.”
Ami takes over, explaining, “Invoking angels is very amazing. When you’re not feeling as creative, you can invoke an angel and it can be a quick fix.” Great!
The prayer is “mainly to cleanse your aura.” After they all participate in the prayer, the video ends, and the page offering the spiritual wonders of music lies waiting. Maybe we just don’t get it, but its aura seems unclean.