Music the Internet is hiding from you

Recent compelling rail trip listening included the new CD La Voix de la Passion (Voice of Passion) from the young Syrian singer and oud player Waed Bouhassoun. In 2015 I wrote about her previous album L'Âme du luth (Soul of the oud) and on this new disc she juxtaposes settings of Nabataean poetry from southern Syria and Arab poetry from the cultural Indian summer of Al-Andalusia - sample via this link.

In his 2011 book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You Eli Pariser explained the dangers of the little-understood filter bubbles created by the personalisation algorithms used by Facebook, Google and other major Internet players. These algorithms maximise web traffic by personalising - in other words skewing - content to pander to the known likes of individual web users. In very simple terms this means that clicking on or 'liking' Facebook statuses about Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla means your news feed will be skewed to Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla-related content, and mentioning Jonas Kaufmann in your Gmail messages will push Jonas Kaufmann-related results to the top of your Google searches . But it also means that as very few readers will have googled Syrian oud music or 'liked' statuses mentioning Waed Bouhassoun, this post about a very fine musician - female to boot - will receive minimal exposure on social media. And this is just one example: because the work of many other deserving musicians from the Western and other traditions is also hidden by the ubiquitous bubble filters. Moreover selective filtering is not confined to the Internet giants.

Eli Pariser describes how "In the filter bubble, there's less room for the chance encounters that bring insight and learning" and how "Creativity is often sparked by the collision of ideas from different disciplines and cultures". On both sides of the Atlantic there is currently much righteous indignation about restrictions on the movement of populace across borders that helps spark these vital collisions of ideas. Yet we all (yes, this post is bidding for 30 seconds of social media fame) aid and abet a technology that covertly and very profitably suppresses this vital collision of ideas. The $3 million cost of Donald Trump's weekend Mar-a-Lago getaways and uninformed guesses at the cost of Brexit are the lifeblood of social media; but the filter bubble-driven annual profits of Facebook - $10.2 billion - and Google - $6.8 billion - hardly merit a mention. We live in very strange times.

No review samples used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.


Pliable said…
Peripheral to the main thrust of this post but nevertheless relevant is that Waed Bouhassoun was born in the Druze minority in the south of Syria. The Druze are an esoteric ethnoreligious group; they self-identify as unitarians who believe in a monotheistic God and that individual freedom, equality for all and rational thought should be encouraged -
Pliable said…
On Facebook Ivan Ilic comments that a further bubble is created by the alphabet and/or characters one types into search engines. Chinese ideograms, the Cyrillic alphabet, Arabic/Persian's hard to gain access to these cultures while using the Roman/Latin script, or even to know what's out there.
Pliable said…
On Facebook Noemí Jiménez-Furquet comments El peligro de fiarse de las recomendaciones de Spotify (The danger of trusting the recommendations of Spotify...)
Pliable said…
Joshua Cheek comments on Facebook - Joshua Cheek Emphatically agree and have ranted repeatedly about this same topic, both online and to many of my non-western colleagues. But on the other hand, one could argue that even prior to the digital age such algorithmic skewing occurred, though on an analog basis. For instance, I am just finishing a review of some music by Franz Xaver Gebel, a fine composer, now completely forgotten, primarily for having found employment in far-off Moscow at a time when the heft of the musical establishment was in central Europe). As for lack of access due to non-western alphabets and characters, at least Google, Bing, et al offer online translation, though some languages, (i.e. Korean) yields some utterly bizarre results. When I began my trek into the music of "the Other", I had only a card catalogue and the miserable Wage-Giles and the doubly miserable Yale system for Korean!

I am not saying that the glass isn't half-empty (or half-full if you're more optimistic than I), but I only had the opportunity to discover the wonderful music of Waed Bouhassoun , وعد بوحسون as the result of an enthusiastic post about her Institut Du Monde Arabe CD on an obscure online music forum. I doubt that I might have discovered her music otherwise
John said…
Dear Bob

I can't see much about Mahler in this post. Are you experimenting with labels?

Best wishes, John

(I also think "Âme" is better translated as "soul".)
Pliable said…
John, many thanks for both those points - both of which are quite correct.

There was a mention of Mahler in an earlier draft - no prizes for guessing in what context - but the mention although not label was edited out of the final version.

Your translation of Âme as 'soul' is quite correct - the error of translation which was mine entirely was carried over from the previous post. Checking Buda Musique's sleeve note confirms the tile of the CD of 'The Soul of the Lute

Both points are now corrected. It is very pleasing that in this age of filter bubbles and miniscule attention spans my posts are still read so diligently. Slipped Disc could do with some readers like you John.

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