Franzen Redux

by jbloodwell

1) I received Freedom in the mail yesterday. Quite excited to start it, though I am just getting into Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, which so far is fantastic.

2) I have a subscription to MOG, an online music site that’s a pleasant and necessary diversion at work. I was a big fan of Lala, until Apple bought it so they could demolish it (as it was an iTunes competitor). One cool thing about MOG is that there is a scale one can slide during a given song, selecting a notch on a spectrum from “Artist Only” to “Similar Artists.” So when I was listening to a ton of Ween, I could have slid the scale over to “Similar Artists” to listen to what MOG thought was in the same ballpark. And if I were listening to a compilation album, and Ween came up, I could then slide the scale all the way over to “Artist Only” and thereby jump into a Ween mix. And so on—you could jump in and out, deciding you like Ween but you’d like to see similar artists, and from that decide what you really wanted to hear was the Butthole Surfers or early Flaming Lips—and so forth. Here is an interesting New Yorker piece about the larger online-music scene, with some special attention paid to MOG.

Navigating MOG, though, has put me in mind of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and a program he describes one of the characters writing that uses (what sounds to me like) similar technology, and which the character sells off for nearly $20 million. I’d always thought it was called Eigenvector, but apparently it’s actually “Eigenmelody.”

It is, of course, deeply impressive that Franzen thought this up. I suppose similar things were around in the early 2000s, but I remember reading The Corrections a few years late and being impressed by the novelty of this idea. Invention isn’t considered the strength of Franzen’s writing, but this again calls to mind his friend, David Foster Wallace, and all the technological developments described in Infinite Jest.

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