By Modest I. Predlozheniye
I have a dark secret that I have been hiding from you for many months now, dear readers. My Linn LP-12 Sondek turntable has been collecting dust back in my tiny apartment over in my city of oblast significance and now I fear I have become yet another victim of that dreaded disease known all over the world as “streaming fever.” For years I have resisted the taut and supple promises foisted upon the masses by all of the competing digital formats but thanks to Part-Time Audiophile’s Scot Hull I have been introduced to something called Roon. I am an old dog and I am usually set in my ways but now my world has been upended and I cannot stop listening to track after track after track of my favorite music.
For many months I feared that I would not be able to ever leave my apartment again especially after discovering the collected recordings of Eduard Khil. I have made over a dozen playlists just for Eduard alone. Did you know that he recorded over thirty versions of “From Where Does the Homeland Begin”? Supposedly there is a version where he sings it in English and if I find it I will share it with all of you. I have also found an album of outtakes where he sings “How the Steamers Are Seen Off” and someone in the control room keeps yelling “Cleveland!” at him for some unknown reason and he keeps fumbling his lines because he is laughing so heartily. But as my engineer father used to say, “A sense of humor might prevent you from freezing to death in the winter, Modest. Now go outside and dig out the Lada since I’m late for work.”
I am fortunate to have received a phone call from my good friend Mikhail Sudya who is a software engineer and expatriate from my homeland who now lives and works in the Silicon Valley in the Bay Area of California in the United States of America. He is a software engineer and has been a respected consultant on many digital streaming services and their proprietary technologies over the last decade or so. He had heard rumors about my new obsession with streaming and he called to offer some guidance.
“Modest, you have jumped head-first into the rabbit hole!” he said, laughing. “I think it would be a good idea if you came to visit me in sunny San Jose.” I almost asked him if he knew the way as a joke but that only reminded me that Eduard Khil also recorded a version of that song, which he called “Comrade, Can You Direct Me to the Office of the Autonomous Okrug?”
“It will have to be later in the year my friend since I am in the middle of constructing playlists for Elizaveta Khripounova, Artyom Yuryevich Ivanov and Nancy Sinatra,” I replied while browsing through several collections of three-stringed domra recordings.
“Modest, winter is coming. You need to come to out where the weather is nice. I know what harsh winters and Roon can do to a man. Remember, I personally know Arvo Part!”
“You have a point.”
“Listen, I am working on a new software algorithm for a music streaming project. You will be able to get out of that tiny apartment and still play around with digital streaming in a beautiful and warm place.”
Just two weeks later, my dear readers, I found myself taking the long flight halfway around the globe via the North Pole until I landed almost a day later in Sunny California. Once I arrived at Mikhail’s studio apartment in San Jose I noted the irony in his statement about my tiny apartment. His was much smaller and lacked the bedroom I have back in my oblast although to his credit his water closet was located inside his apartment next to his kitchen/foyer/hallway/balcony while mine is down the hall and is shared by the other fourteen apartments on my floor. (Sometimes we need to share the commode with the floor above us because someone up there keeps flushing the toilet paper down the toilet even though there is a very stern sign on all the water closets that says not to do that!)
“I know my place is small, Modest,” Mikhail explained as we sat in two metal folding chairs in front of metal folding desk that served as his workstation. “But it is a surprisingly good value for $2850 per month!” I am not familiar with the exchange rates but I nodded in agreement.
Mikhail is a couple of decades younger than me. The grey hair is just beginning to appear in his mutton-chop sideburns but his face is still youthful albeit very pale. I found it odd that such a pale person was living in California not too far from the beach. But as Mikhail went on to explain as he glanced around his humble abode, “All I need to live comfortably is a computer and a cot, Modest!”
After the obligatory glass of Pabst Blue Ribbon to toast my arrival, we started to discuss Mikhail’s work in digital streaming. Before I begin, dear reader, I must tell you about Mikhail’s father who is a neurosurgeon back in the homeland. He was very instrumental in developing the innovative new electroencephalograph machines that can detect emotional changes in the brain. Have you heard of the new research on dogs that uses EEG data to determine how they interact with their masters and how these wonderful animals are truly capable of having similar emotions to humans? Dr. Jude Sudya was part of the team that trained the dogs to sit still while undergoing the EEG tests. Dr. Sudya even used his own Siberian husky Mesto to participate in the trials.
Mikhail gravitated toward computer science instead of medicine when he was young because his math was not strong enough. But he was always fascinated with his father’s work in the field of electroencephalography. Mikhail always had a profound love for music which is something he had in common with his father. It was only a matter of time before all three worlds collided, software engineering, EEGs and music.
“It started with Pandora, Modest.” Mikhail fired up his computer and from the icons on his desktop I could see that he subscribed to just about every music streaming service available. “They were the first to come up with the idea that if you liked this piece of music then maybe you would like that piece of music. If you liked this band then maybe you would like that band. And so on.”
I nodded in agreement and treated myself to the last few sips of my can of PBR. That is what Mikhail calls it.
“The only problem,” he continued while scrolling through playlists on his Pandora account, “was that the algorithms at that time weren’t sophisticated enough. Just because I like Radiohead doesn’t mean I also like Coldplay or Oasis. Just because I love Peter Gabriel-era Genesis doesn’t mean I want to hear Phil Collins singing “Sussudio” right after it. And just because Weezer’s Pinkerton is a damned masterpiece, Modest, doesn’t mean I want to listen to any of their albums after that!”
Mikhail paused for a moment to regain his composure after he realized he was starting to raise his voice. “I’m sorry, Modest, but ‘The Good Life’ is the soundtrack of my existence.”
Mikhail went on to describe the pitfalls of software algorithms and their ability to make musical recommendations on a consistent basis. There were many variables after all such as the listener’s mood or the quality and thoughtfulness of the lyrics or even, in the case of classical and jazz, whether the recording was a particularly fine performance of the piece or merely sub-par. He had pondered this for a few years before he founds some old EEGs on his father’s desk in the study back home during a visit.
“I found all this data my father was collecting, Modest, and he was trying to show qualitative differences between emotional states and how EEGs could reveal distinct differences in the brain when someone was happy or sad or fearful or angry. I thought this was very interesting at first and I started to read more and then it hit me like a harsh storm on Klyuchevskaya Sopka. It is all about mood, Modest!”
“Mood, my friend?”
“Yes, of course. When you decide that it is time to listen to music, what is the first thing you do? You say ‘Hmmm, what am I in the mood for?’ Yes?”
Mikhail stood and went over to a lone bureau of drawers that was lurking in a corner of his living room/hall closet/breakfast nook. He pulled out what looked like a small wooden box that was no bigger than a small paperback novel. It was attached to a pair of earbuds and what looked like a set of electrodes from an EEG machine. He opened the small box and for just a second I could see its innards which looked like a simple PCB and a small Chinese power supply. He grabbed a USB cable from his desk and started plugging this apparatus into his computer.
“So we have an existing software algorithm that predicts what music and performers that listeners will like based upon their stated preferences. We have seen how EEGs can track brain activity according to mood. So now all we have to do is put two and two together and we have EmoStream!”
“Your new digital streaming service?”
Mikhail looked down at the box and the mess of cords and wires and said, “Well, it is obviously in the early stages and I don’t think it will be complete until we have made it compatible with existing services like Spotify, Tidal and your precious Roon. But this is what we have so far. I have used an algorithm similar to that early one used for Pandora where key characteristics such as tempo and chord progressions, especially those that use minor scales, are matched up. Then I spent months and months cataloging music according to what kind of mood it presents such as happy music or sad music or angry music or even music that combines two or more emotions, like Gilbert O’Sullivan.”
He described how he had spent week after week entering individual pieces of music, but it was taking too long. He had to address the human variables and how different types of people liked to listen to different types of music for different types of moods. For instance, if you have just been rejected by your lover, dear reader, do you want to listen to Katrina and the Waves’ “I’m Walking on Sunshine” to cheer you up, or do you want to listen to White Light, White Heat or Pretty Hate Machine as your life circles the proverbial drain?
“So this is where I am right now,” Mikhail said as he motioned for me to put the earbuds in and try EmoStream for myself. “We can include a pre-set algorithm of mood-appropriate music files for normal, well-adjusted people, but we must also offer a manual override for those who, well…march to the beat of a different drum.”
“Like millennials, Mikhail?”
“Please, my friend, I don’t want to go there. My two grown children have started calling me the Angry Old Boomer. Whatever happened to the revolution?”
Mikhail set the program up for pre-set operation. He must think I’m well-adjusted! I thought. I inserted the earbuds while he positioned the electrodes near my temples. I watched his computer monitor and instantly watched my EEG chart startup. A little “searching” icon appeared at the center of the screen. I thought about my mood at that moment. I was happy to be in California visiting my friend, but I was also very tired from my very long trip. More than anything, dear reader, I needed a nap.
I was surprised, therefore, when I started hearing Prince’s “Purple Rain” through the earbuds. I like Prince quite a lot, but I was confused as to why “Purple Rain” was suited to my mood that particular moment. It is certainly a ballad that is on the sad side but at the same time it has moments where it really kicks out the jams as we used to say. Within a couple of minutes I was relaxing and singing to myself, I only want to see you dancing in the purple rain. My head started swaying back and forth with the slow and steady beat and my eyes closed and I started thinking about Prince and how I was sad that he was gone. A couple of minutes later I was reveling in his now iconic guitar solo and how it always invoked the sound of someone who had Jimi Hendrix as a father and Neil Schon as a mother and then a few minutes later came the fade out, the long and dramatic finish and how the crowd starts to cheer and the final crescendos go on and on and on and on. There’s the twinkling arpeggio on the keyboards and then more synthesizer comes in and it sounds lush and orchestral and moves at a dirge with twinkling here and there and no real place to go as if the Purple One liked the song so much that he did not want to stop playing and get off the stage. We were then more than eight minutes into the song and it just did not want to stop. Why won’t this song…
And that was it, dear reader. About an hour later I woke up and I was still in Mikhail’s tiny studio apartment in San Jose in California in the United States of America and I felt strangely refreshed. EmoStream succeeded because it was able to match my mood to music with incredible results! I had an exquisite nap and now I was ready for a Double-Double animal style at the In-N-Out Burger that was located just a few blocks from Mikhail’s apartment.
Mikhail thinks that EmoStream will be ready for market by the end of 2018. He says that he needs to procure loans for the licensing for use with other streaming libraries which means he may have to find investors or borrow a lot of money or make an appearance on an American television show called Shark Tank. I think that is a terrific idea. I cannot wait for EmoStream software to be linked with Tidal and Roon in my small apartment back home.
Mikhail says if it’s a hit and he makes million of US dollars with EmoStream he’ll even be able to afford an apartment with a separate bedroom! Good luck my old friend!
EmoStream (website in development).