ACCELER8OR

Aug 30 2012

Re/Search’s V. Vale Seeks Next Burroughs, Ballard, Lamantia… Ken Goldberg Interviews William Gibson

 

V. Vale, the great publisher of Re/Search, has sent out a very thoughtful essay wondering who is predicting the future as well as William S. Burroughs and J.G. Ballard did (particularly Ballard, I think) and calling everyone’s attention to an upcoming appearance by William Gibson in San Francisco.

EDITORIAL FROM V. VALE: “Mirror Mirror On the Wall, Who’s the Most Prophetic of Them All?”

It is difficult to survive and transcend the loss of one’s “father” [figures] — in my case there were three: William S. Burroughs, Philip Lamantia and J.G. Ballard. Philip was an authentic American Surrealist poet and first-generation “Beat” luminary — he read at that very first public reading of “Howl” at the Six Gallery at 3119 Fillmore Street/Filbert-Greenwich Sts, SF, Oct 7, 1955. Mr Lamantia was my first mentor. William S. Burroughs I didn’t meet until fall of 1978 when he came to San Francisco to read at the Keystone Korner in North Beach next to the Police Station. J.G. Ballard I corresponded with beginning in 1978 when I finally got an interview with him by proxy for my Search & Destroy #10 (incidentally, still available in a low-cost reprint from the original negatives). That same issue featured Burroughs on the cover; photo by Kamera Zie, who worked at City Lights, as I did.

When J.G. Ballard died April 19, 2009, I looked around and wondered who could replace him. He was a magnanimous, generous, spontaneous, unpretentious, publicity-avoiding ORIGINAL whose darkly imaginative literary output seemingly contradicted the ultra-polite, warmly humorous manner in which he treated people who visited him (including me). I was fortunate to be in his presence (and tape-record him) a number of times — in San Francisco, Berkeley, Palo Alto (?), and at Shepperton, outside London, near the Thames river where he took frequent après-lunch perambulations. By sheer luck I managed to tape-record both Burroughs and Ballard just months before they died…

Needless to say, nobody has yet “replaced” the above three deceased mentors. The nagging question is: Who are the people alive on the planet who are predicting the future as well as Burroughs and Ballard? The so-called CyberPunk writers (William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Richard Kadrey, Rudy Rucker; who else?) are alive and penning miles of sentences — are they still the “zeitgeist” of now? Is there a zeitgeist of now, besides “Things Fall Apart” and –? Maybe we all need to attend the Extreme Futurist Festival

We have long supported Survival Research Laboratories in their noisy machine performances divining a rusty, improvised-technological future in the perhaps money-less, state-less, more robotic- and drone-filled world landscape ahead of us. We’re reviewing the past 20 years, and an SRL associate comes to mind who has more or less selflessly curated dozens (maybe hundreds) of futuristic, bursting-with-ideas presentations by the crême-de-la-crême of cutting-edge thinkers, scientists and artists — most of them free; no admission charge — at U.C. Berkeley. That would be Ken Goldberg, who has been studying the future for several decades. Anyone heard of telerobotics? To quote, “Telerobotics is the field of robotics concerned with the remote distance control of robots using wireless connections, tethered connections, or internet connectivity via human input. Ken Goldberg, a pioneer of telerobotic art and his collaborative installation “Memento Mori” can be seen as the first telepresent, internet-based earthwork controlled by minute movements of the Hayward Fault in California and transmitted continuously as a seismic data stream to an embedded audio visual display.” [!]

To read this entire essay, go here.

Jul 29 2012

From Psychedelic Magazine With A Tech Gloss To Tech Magazine With A Psychedelic Gloss (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #23)

Another segment from the rough draft of Use Your Hallucinations: Mondo 2000 in the 20th Century Cyberculture.  Note that “the total fucking transmutation of everything” is established as a conceit early in the narrative, thus its use here reflects on a major theme.

…Meanwhile, we made a rash decision.  Despite High Frontiers relatively successful rise within the ‘zine scene (where 15,000 in sales was a pretty big deal), we decided to change the name of the magazine itself to Reality Hackers. 

It was my idea.

We’d been hipped to cyberpunk SF and I’d read Gibson’s Neuromancer and Sterling’s Mirrorshades collection.  His famous introduction for that book, describing what cyberpunk was doing in fiction — seemed to express precisely what a truly contemporary transmutational magazine should be about. Here are some parts of it:

The term, (cyberpunk) captures something crucial to the work of these writers, something crucial to the decade as a whole: a new kind of integration. The overlapping of worlds that were formerly separate: the realm of high tech, and the modern pop underground.

This integration has become our decade’s crucial source of cultural energy. The work of the cyberpunks is paralleled throughout the Eighties pop culture: in rock video; in the hacker underground; in the jarring street tech of hip hop and scratch music; in the synthesizer rock of London and Tokyo. This phenomenon, this dynamic, has a global range; cyberpunk is its literary incarnation… 

An unholy alliance of the technical world and the world of organized dissent — the underground world of pop culture, visionary fluidity, and street-level anarchy… 

For the cyberpunks… technology is visceral. It is not the bottled genie of remote Big Science boffins; it is pervasive, utterly intimate. Not outside us, but next to us. Under our skin; often, inside our minds.

Certain central themes spring up repeatedly in cyberpunk. The theme of body invasion: prosthetic limbs, implanted circuitry, cosmetic surgery, genetic alteration. The even more powerful theme of mind invasion: brain-computer interfaces, artificial intelligence, neurochemistry — techniques radically redefining — the nature of humanity, the nature of the self.

The Eighties are an era of reassessment, of integration, of hybridized influences, of old notions shaken loose and reinterpreted with a new sophistication 

Cyberpunk favors “crammed” loose: rapid, dizzying bursts of novel information, sensory overIoad that submerges the reader in the literary equivalent of the hard-rock “wall of sound.”  

Well, then…

Also, Jaron Lanier was hanging around some, sharing his lofty goals for virtual reality; and Eric Gullichsen, who was teaming up to do some writing with Timothy Leary — with whom he shared a mutual fascination with drugs, extreme technology and Aleister Crowley — was already even a bit deeper in the mix, while dreaming his own VR schemes.  Various hackers like Bill Me Later and John Draper (Captain Crunch) were popping up with increasing frequency.  Hanging in hacker circles, we were also befriended by John Morgenthaler, who was getting very serious about the exploration of smart drugs.  Something was starting to surface.  Several small subcultures were drifting together, and some of these, at times, esoteric groupings included men (yes, men) who were creating the next economy.  Clearly, we were positioned to become the magazine of a slow baking gestalt.

Other factors played into this change.  While a strutting, pop-intellectual, irreverent psychedelic magazine (in other words, High Frontiers) could surely build an audience somewhat larger than 15,000, we probably weren’t all that far from our optimum, unless we wanted to stifle our Gonzo-meets-Camp writerly excesses and dumb ourselves down to something more like a High Times for psychedelic drugs.  Also, acid dealers didn’t advertise.  The number of potential advertisers for a magazine that revolved primarily around psychedelics was limited, particularly in this “just say no” period. Hell, dope friendly humor was even voluntarily eliminated by Saturday Night Live, the once-hip show inspired by a Lorne Michaels mescaline trip.    And then, admittedly, by emphasizing technology, we could, in theory, put a bit of a buffer zone between ourselves and “the man” — throw him off our druggy tracks while sneaking sideways into the center of the oncoming digital establishment, all the better to affect the total fucking transmutation of everything (bwahaha)… or maybe even make a livelihood!

Lastly, it had really been my intention from the start to create a magazine that (to slightly detourne the original subhead of High Frontiers) was balanced between psychedelics, science, technology, outrageousness and postmodern pop culture.  The psychedelic impulse had gloriously taken center stage for the first four years.  Now it was time to push into new territory.

To consolidate my thoughts about the Reality Hackers, I wrote a small manifesto (a list, really) titled:

What Are The Reality Hackers Doing

1: Using high technology for a life beyond limits

2: Expanding the effectiveness and enjoyment of the human brain, mind, nervous system and senses

3: Blurring the distinction between science fiction and reality

4: Making big bureaucracy impossible

5: Entertaining any notion — using what works

6: Infusing new energy into postmodern culture

7: Using hardcore anthropology to understand human evolution

8: Using media to send out mutational memes (thought viruses)

9: Blurring the distinctions between high technology and magic

10: Replacing nerd mythology with sexy, healthy, aesthetic, & artful techno-magicians of both genders.

With this, I was also aligning the magazine ideologically with a transhumanist agenda.  I’d attended meetings of a nanotechnology interest group hosted by Christine Peterson and, sometimes, Eric Drexler.  I started to see the actual dim outlines of a plausible “total fucking transmutation of everything;” with molecular technology giving us total productive control over matter for unlimited wealth; biotechnology giving us the potential for positive mutations in the human organism; and neurotechnology theoretically allowing us to maximize our intelligence — not too mention cleaner, better highs with no downside.

Of course, we were maybe throwing away four years building a brand but, if we were anything, we were impulsive.

Ken Jopp: Reality Hackers was, to me, inelegantly titled. Still, the cyberpunk thing was revving up.  The weekly tabloid in my town ran a cover story on hackers: teenagers who lugged computers into phone booths, and then, when nobody was looking, they made long-distance calls for free! This was subversive stuff. Off the Establishment! I bought the issue of Reality Hackers and adopted it and its kin as a cultural security blanket.  These proto-Mondo publications, arriving during the Dark Ages of President Ronald Wilson Reagan (666), were a source of what later would become hollowed out to form a tinhorn. I mean, Hope and Change?

Lord Nose: I think it kept getting more and more mainstream in hopes of getting on to the newsstand and getting advertisers. It was being slowly made more palatable — or seemingly palatable — for the corporate interests that had no taste. I mean, it was so different. High Frontiers had a very different thrust.

Jeff Mark: Those of us serious about psychedelic exploration continued. Indeed, there was considerable activity, particularly around Tim Leary and Terence McKenna, but the momentum was spent. People started worrying about making a living.  High Frontiers/Reality Hackers had to get their shit together. 

 

Previous MONDO History Entries

Psychedelic Transpersonal Photography, High Frontiers & MONDO 2000: an Interview with Marc Franklin

Gibson & Leary Audio (MONDO 2000 History Project)

Pariahs Made Me Do It: The Leary-Wilson-Warhol-Dali Influence (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #3)

Robert Anton Wilson Talks To Reality Hackers Forum (1988 — Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #4)

Smart Drugs & Nutrients In 1991 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #5)

LSD, The CIA, & The Counterculture Of The 1960s: Martin Lee (1986, Audio. Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #6)

William Burroughs For R.U. Sirius’ New World Disorder (1990, Mondo 2000 History Project Entry # 7)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 1 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 2 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

The Glorious Cyberpunk Handbook Tour (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #9)

Did The CIA Kill JFK Over LSD?, Reproduced Authentic, & Two Heads Talking: David Byrne In Conversation With Timothy Leary (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #10)

Memory & Identity In Relentlessly Fast Forward & Memetically Crowded Times (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #11)

The First Virtual War & Other Smart Bombshells (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #12)

Swashbuckling Around The World With Marvin Minsky In How To Mutate & Take Over The World (MONDO 2000 History Project #13)

FAIL! Debbie Does MONDO (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #14)

Paradise Is Santa Cruz: First Ecstasy (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #15)

William Gibson On MONDO 2000 & 90s Cyberculture (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #16)

Ted Nelson & John Perry Barlow For MONDO 2000 (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #17)

R.U. A Cyberpunk? Well, Punk? R.U.? (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry # 18

The New Edge At The New Age Convention (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #19)

The Belladonna Shaman (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #20)

NeoPsychedelia & High Frontiers: Memes Leading To MONDO 2000 (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #21)

“I’d Never Met A Libertarian Before” (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #22)

 

Feb 14 2012

Cyberpunk SF/Mathematics Legend Rudy Rucker’s “Nested Scrolls”: An Interview

Both the funniest and the most scientific of cyberpunk SF’s fab four, Rudy Rucker’s autobiography Nested Scrolls is a laid back groove, in the best sense. It’s funny, real, a bit off center… yet friendly and so thoroughly engaging that I was sorry that it ended.  Maybe Rudy could live another life so that he could take us along, once again.

Aside from being a legendary SF writer and twice-winner of the Philip K. Dick Award for best paperback SF book of the year, Rucker has authored several seminal books in Mathematics and taught at the SJSU Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.  If that’s not enough, he’s also worked on several software packages.  Rucker books include Software, The Sex Sphere, Master of Space and Time, Postsingular, The Fourth Dimension and The Lifebox, The Seashell, and the Soul. 

He lives with his wonderful wife, Sylvia and has a bunch of really cool kids doing interesting things out in the world at large.  I interviewed him via email and — in a tradition we began at Mondo 2000  — he had to send me his answers twice before I acknowledged receiving them.

R.U. SIRIUS:  So I just read your autobiography, Nested Scrolls.  This is a pretty laid-back life in the grand scheme of things — no big drama — and yet you manage to make it very entertaining. Do you feel lucky (punk)?

RUDY RUCKER: My life has turned out better than I expected.  As a youth I didn’t know if  I’d be able to publish books; to raise a family; to find a good job, or even to live past forty.  I don’t know if luck is the right word, though.  It’s more a matter of me being a certain kind of person and of fate working out the consequences.

Becoming a writer isn’t like buying an instant-win lottery ticket.  You have to obsess over your writing for years.  But, at a meta level, I guess you could say it’s a matter of luck to have the kind of personality that makes you work that hard.  If you can call that luck!

In her journals, Susan Sontag says that, to be a writer, you need to be a nut and a moron — a nut to have the wit and the endurance, and a moron to persist.

The craft of writing is soothing to me.  When I don’t write for awhile, I’ll start wondering if I actually know how — maybe I’ve been kidding myself and lying to my friends?  But then when I get back into the work, I find that I have a well-honed capability, and it feels good to use it.  It’s almost like making something with my hands.

RU:  How is your life similar to cellular automata?

RR: As I mention in Nested Scrolls, seeing cellular automata in 1986 was a trigger that sent me into a metamorphosis — like a full moon that changes a man into a werewolf or a werepig.  I moved to California and became a computer hacker.

I need to explain that cellular automata are a type of self-generating computer graphics video.  You think of the pixels on your screen as cells.  With each tick of the system clock, the cells look at their nearest neighbors and use their tiny programs to decide what to do next.  Incredibly rich patterns arise: tapestries, spacetime diagrams, bubble chamber photos, mandalas—and they flow and warp like the shapes inside a lava lamp, never stopping, perennially surprising.

But you’re asking me how my life is similar to a cellular automata.  Well, I suppose I could say that my life, and my mental processes, divide up into specialized cell-like zones.  And information flows from zone to zone.  I evolve in gnarly and unpredictable ways.

Why unpredictable?  One of the biggest teachings that I’ve taken from my work with computers is that even a system with a simple rule produces unforeseeable outputs if you let it run for a little while.  This is particularly true for systems that operate in parallel and which repeatedly munch on the same material.  Which is exactly what the human mind does.

It’s folly to imagine that you can know exactly what you’ll be doing a year from now.

RU:  What’s Embry up to? Did he like Nested Scrolls?

RR:  You’re talking about my big brother Embry, who I mention numerous times in my autobio.  He’s five years older than me, and we weren’t all that close when we were little, although we did see a lot of each other, living in the same house.  In later years we became good friends.  The most memorable thing that Embry and I ever did together was to take a month-long scuba diving trip to the remote islands of Micronesia.  It was a landmark event, a once in a lifetime thing.

Embry’s back to living in Louisville, the town where we were born.  It’s interesting for me to go revisit the city from time to time. He read Nested Scrolls, and he didn’t exactly say that he liked it, but he’s not nit-picking me or arguing about details, which is a relief.  I’m sure that I remember some things differently than Embry does, and that I choose to emphasize different events than the ones he would prefer.  But I do think I depict him fondly.  And it seems like we’re still friends.  So I guess I got away with it.

Writing an autobio is kind of risky in terms of how your friends and family members are going to take it.  It’s wise to think ahead and to be a gentle when you’re writing, wise to have some empathy.

RU:  So did you take some stuff out, thinking better of it?  Conversely, as a fiction writer, did you make up part of your life?

RR: Sure, Nested Scrolls is a somewhat cleaned-up version of my life story.  This time I wanted to focus more on my intellectual development and on my relations to the people around me.  I did however write an earlier memoir that’s a more in the “my wild times” mode that you’re looking for.  This earlier book is All the Visions  — I wrote it in 1983, when I was thirty-seven.  It’s a memory dump of tales about wild things I did to seek enlightenment as a younger man, usually in the context of drinking or getting high.  I typed it on a single ninety-foot-long piece of paper, fully emulating Jack Kerouac’s legendary composition methods.  All the Visions appeared from a small press and is out of print now, but I plan to republish it as an ebook fairly soon.

Regarding your second question, I wouldn’t want to say that Nested Scrolls is a tissue of lies.  But I’m a storyteller, and I’ve told many of my anecdotes before.  As you tell and re-tell a story, you polish it, work on it, make it funnier, more succinct, more to the point.  You edit your memories like you’re editing a novel.

Revising my memories felt good.  That’s one of the pleasures of writing an autobiography.  You tweak your life so that things fit — and then the whole thing begins to make sense.

RU:  You wrote about becoming part of a literary scene, cyberpunk, and about how this felt like being a Beat writer.  But as we discussed recently in a conversation, you cyberpunks aren’t really close in the way that Ginsberg and Kerouac and Burroughs and Corso were, and you’re probably less extreme in how you’ve lived.  Do you agree?

RR:  Let’s start with some similarities between the Beats and the cyberpunks as groups.  We got publicity in the wider press; we were reviled by an establishment; stuffy critics continue to minimize our abilities; we advocated revolutionary views of our society; and our writings ushered in widespread cultural changes.  The end of the Eisenhower years in the case of the Beats; the coming of the Web in the case of the cyberpunks.

At one point I got interested in pushing the cyberpunk/Beat analogy as hard I could, and I wrote an essay suggesting these correspondences: William Gibson ~ Jack Kerouac, Bruce Sterling ~ Allen Ginsberg, Rudy Rucker ~ William Burroughs, John Shirley ~ Gregory Corso.  Gibson writes like an angel and has best-seller status.  Sterling is deeply interested in politics and in changing the world.  Rucker, the oldest, has a scientific streak and an antic sense of humor.  Shirley speaks and writes without the interference of socially-prescribed mental filters.  All of us have an implacable and unrelenting desire to shatter the limits of consensus reality.

Despite what I said to you in conversation, I do feel fairly close to Sterling, Gibson, and Shirley.  I’ve collaborated on seven short stories with Sterling, two stories with Shirley, and Gibson helped me develop the first chapter of my quintessential cyberpunk novel Wetware.

I see Shirley a couple of times a year, Sterling about once a year, and Gibson every three or four years.   So we are pretty close, but of course it’s hard to match the legends of Jack and Neal’s visit to Bill Burroughs’s farm, or Jack’s stays with Bill in Tangier and in Mexico City, or Bill’s unrequited crush on Allen, and so on.

And it’s also true that my life hasn’t been as romantic as the lives of the Beats.  Being a heroin addict, hitching back and forth across the country, having hundreds of gay lovers, living in destitution—all these adventures were denied to me. In some ways I wish my life had been that exciting.  But then I might not have written anything.

It’s possible that to someone on the outside, maybe my life does seem exciting.  After all, I got to work with R. U. Sirius and Queen Mu at Mondo 2000!  And one night at the Berzerkistan Mondo house in the 1990s, some people associated with your scene got me so high that I thought I’d been snatched by a time machine and transported to a holographic virtual room in the 2010s to be interviewed by some weird… oh wait, that’s actually happening right now, isn’t it?

Rudy w. Mondoids

 

RU:  I’ve always felt the voice of Philip Dick in your work, more than maybe I’ve ever said before.  There’s a certain whimsy in the way you present your characters reacting to strange situations in ways that are more offbeat than panicky.  Does that make sense?  Anyway, say a bit about Dick’s influence.

RR: Yes, I’ve definitely been influenced by Dick’s voice, his language-with-a-flat-tire quality.  I still think A Scanner Darkly is one of the funniest and saddest books I’ve ever read.  Dark oboes playing behind the stoner grins.  I like Phil’s California vibe, and, living in the San Francisco Bay Area for the last twenty-five years, I’ve gotten more and more imbued with his tone.

A few years ago I showed one of my SF novels in manuscript to a younger friend who’s a hot quantum physicist.  I wanted him to check the quality of my pseudoscience, the plausibility of my con.  But he went off on a tangent and started complaining that my characters weren’t surprised enough when weird things happened.  Like a giant cone shell snail would fly in and eat someone, and my characters would be like, “I’m glad the cone shell ate that shithead instead of us,” and then they’d go on with whatever insane task they were busy with.

I told that my friend that it would be boring to have my characters continually going, “I can’t believe this is happening!  Am I dead, drunk or dreaming?  How can this be real?  Blah, blah, blah.”  To me, being inside an SF novel is like being inside a surrealist painting, and you don’t want to waste time pretending to be shocked by the changes coming down.  You want to savor the weirdness and, where possible, keep kicking it up to higher levels.

You want a hero who’s a snickering nihilist, not a defender of the status quo.  At least to start with.  And then of course you put in some routine about coming to terms with your inner demons, finding your sense of empathy, and growing up at last.  You need that part for the book to be a novel.

One of the interesting things about Phil Dick is that you can never really tell when he’s putting you on.  And he doesn’t know either.  He’s working in that gap, where you just say anything—to see how it feels.  Does that make sense?

RU:  Do you have a lifebox?

RR: Okay, you’re talking about my notion that it’s possible to make a software model of yourself — a notion which goes back to my first published novel, Software of 1982.  And then people can have the illusion of talking with you, even after you’re dead.  I see lifeboxes as becoming a very big consumer technology.  A simple design is to have a lot of your personal online as a data base, and to have an interactive search tool for accessing this data base.

My autobiography is a lifebox in an older sense.  Moving beyond that, I’ve set up a primitive but functional lifebox of myself at the Rudy’s Lifebox website.  In principle my lifebox could be answering the questions in this interview, although the interviewer would need to be doing some edit work on the “answers.”

Many people are already producing a lot of online data on blogs and social networks.  If you follow someone’s posts closely enough you can indeed get a feeling of knowing them.  And as searching across blogs and social networks becomes simpler and more fluid, we’ll effectively be getting lifebox representations of many web users.

What’s the appeal of lifeboxes?  They make a weak form of immortality accessible to a wide range of people.  For most of us writing a book is quite hard. A key difficulty is that you somehow have to flatten the great branching fractal of your thoughts into a long line of words. Writing means converting a hypertext structure into a sequential row  it can be hard even to know where to begin.

If you have an effective search tool as the front end, it’s okay if your “memoir” is a disorderly heap of random personal factoids.  With the search working, the database becomes an interactive whole.  That’s really what a living personality is, come to think of it.  A mass of brain data with a so-called mind .

Aug 29 2011

Can We Get An Automated Internet Radio Programming App That Doesn’t Assume We’re Lame?

Consider the Pandora IPO.  A few months back this really crappy radio app got $2.6 billion! … the company must assume that we all want to hear those same six songs by our favorite artists over and over again.

Taking a break from the usual far out futurism, psychedelic explorations and what have you…  and taking an opportunity to merely rant about something trivial, but nevertheless irksome.

Back in the early 2000s I did an interview with Cory Doctorow in which he quoted Bruce Sterling that real value is created by “wooing the muse of the odd.” In other words, a service that offers the best selling stuff may do OK for awhile, but a service that can get you access to the odd thing that only a few people want and is hard to find is probably going to do better over time.  Doctorow said, “This is because we are all odd in our own way.”  I wonder.

Consider the Pandora IPO.  A few months back this really crappy radio app got $2.6 billion!  Now, Pandora CEO Tim Westergren is a nice enough guy and I even had him on my NeoFiles podcast (when I was doing that) back a few years during his battle with the RIAA over their attempt to impose absurdly high royalty rates for playing tunes.  But the company must assume that we all want to hear those same six songs by our favorite artists over and over again.  Go to Pandora and create a station using, say, David Bowie and Pink Floyd (I’m a  ’70s guy so that comes immediately to mind). How many times do you want to hear “Ziggy Stardust,” “Space Oddity,” “Welcome to the Machine” and “Comfortably Numb?”  Pandora’s programmers seem to think you want to hear them pretty much every time you log on.  And in deference to the “musical dna” of those performers, you might get to hear “All The Young Dudes” by Mott The Hoople, “Fool In The Rain” by Led Zeppelin, “Hey Jude” by the Beatles… ad infinitum. If you’ve ever wished you could time travel back to the ’70s and find a  mediocre FM station, this is for you.

The point being that Bowie, Floyd, Mott, Zep, and The Fabs have deep catalogues — there’s thousands of songs in there.  It would be a delight to open up a “radio station” and here “The Cygnet Committee,” “Corporal Clegg,” “Crash Street Kids,” “Celebration Day,” and “Blue Jay Way.”  Maybe Bowie would lead to some Philip Glass or John Adams.  (A boy can dream.)

I did locate a better bet in Last FM, which I guess reads your mp3 library and then gives you “neighbors” with similar tastes.   Then you can hear a randomized mix of their libraries.  My neighbors did not choose to put only the same half-a-dozen songs by favorite artist that we have all heard a hundred times before into their music libraries.  That might seem to indicate something that Pandora might want to consider.

So Last FM is ok, but even that got repetitive after awhile.  Plus, they’re asking me to pay for — on my iPad — what I’ve been getting for free on my laptop and desktop.  Off I went in search of alternatives.

Well, there’s Slacker.  So I had a great time building up a randomized selection of my favorite artists that popped into my head and I clicked on play.  What did I hear?  “Paper Planes” by MIA, “Break On Through” by the Doors twice (and nothing else by them), “My City Was Gone” and “Brass In Pocket” by The Pretenders, “Closer” by NIN… ad infinitum.  The hits!  (As I type this, Slacker has finished serving up the second Psychedelic Furs hit that I’ve received in the last hour and… whoops… oh boy, here’s “Burning Down The House” by Talking Heads.  Haven’t heard that one since… yesterday.)

Here is what I’d like to see.  You go onto an Internet music “station” and you type in the names of 100 artists.  The company gets their entire goddamn catalogues or as much of them as they can manage.  Then they hook it up to other music with similar “musical dna” and they randomize the whole fucking thing… maybe programming it to favor your 100 selections over their cousins… but not favoring particular songs.  Then you get to be surprised and delighted when that song you haven’t heard in twenty years or never heard at all suddenly comes on.

Is anybody listening?