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In the Mood

A new app from Ghostly music allows you to program your playlist from their archive based on your “mood.” Choices range from sad to aggressive and include two other metrics for more/less digital, and faster/slower. It’s a very cool idea and a very mixed bag in terms of what it returns. I tried to go polar and put fast with sad and got some very disturbing tunes, but maybe that’s as it should be.

Such taste-tools are undoubtedly going to become increasingly popular as search devices as we tune into our aesthetic preferences. Rather than specifying what we want through a keyword — rather than basing our desires on names — we’re now shifting over into the fuzzier logic of “moods.” (And it’s not just going to be applicable for music — imagine a search engine for literature that allowed you to ask for Jane Austen with a dollop of mystery…)

I think for many this makes a lot of sense, especially when it comes to the arts. Choosing what I want to read, watch, or listen to based on my mood might in many cases be a more successful match than choosing by genre (comedy, drama, popular) or recommendation algorithms like “people also liked” or even keywords (“superheroes”).

But it also implies a significant shift in how we’ve thought about the point of aesthetic experience. According to one line of thought, what we engage in when we experience something artistic is not mood-based, but an encounter with another creative mind. We experience creativity itself. The work of art is a medium, not an end in itself. Focusing on matching our aesthetic consumption with our moods makes our aesthetic experiences, well, far more consumer-driven. We ask, What will make me feel good versus searching for the inspiration of mental communion with another or the experience of losing ourselves in a work, in a totality that has been created in a deep sense. Instead of inhabiting the work of art, it just passes through us. We’re the new media.

The acutely interpersonal (and extrapersonal) nature of aesthetic life seems to recede with these new mood-driven taste tools. Art becomes more ghostly.