'My Very Excellent Mother…'

In which an astronomical trifle sends Cennydd into an orgy of arcane library science and obscure bands.

The hunt is on for a new mnemonic as Pluto is confirmed to, in fact, not actually be a planet, because it’s too crap. It’s your age-old classification problem: the item on the fringe, the one that makes you question your entire classification system.

Case in point: I bought a CD by !!! a while back. It’s poor, I can’t recommend it. More importantly, it caused me untold hours of frustration and grief. Should its punctuation mean that it precedes A? If so, does this mean I have to reclassify …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead? And if so, which band comes first? Would this mean I would end up classifying by the ASCII character set?

Or should it go under C? (It is apparently pronounced “Chk chk chk”). Does that mean I’m now classifying by phonetics? Shaky ground, particularly when you’re dealing with bands called Xiu Xiu, OOIOO and 90 Day Men.

For a while, I actually started classifying my CDs by colour. While it satisfied the aesthete in me and worked fine for "driftnetting" browsing behaviour, it's useless for known-item retrieval. It's also incompatible with our mental models: we don’t tend to think in terms of “I’d like to listen to some purple music today”.

Some people rebel against the ideas of genres, but I can live with them. I don’t find myself offended by the labelling a large section of my collection “post-rock” or “shoegazing” or whatever. People who get offended by labels are generally more interested in listening to 'the right music' than listening to the music. But even that’s troublesome for the bedroom librarian. Where does one genre end and another begin? What about bands whose sound has evolved over the years?

Don’t even get me started on split EPs, or the Calexico/Iron & Wine collaboration. And do El Guapo go under E or G? Is the Spanish definite article to be ignored? What about Les Savy Fav? Is their name French or English? Should I be using ISO 639-1 to define it?

And this, my friends, is why iTunes is great. Don't like the way it sorts alphabetically? Browse by genre! Look for all songs under 2 minutes long! It's probably the most useful Ranganathan-inspired analytico-synthetic faceted classification tool I know of.

Cennydd Bowles