Outstreched arm

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tangerine awakening

Tangerine is a trendy new Mac app with a simple and useful premise: generate "mood-based" iTunes playlists. This is done by analyzing the iTunes library and picking songs in the user-selected BPM and intensity ranges. If I want a rock-out or exercise playlist, I pick high BPMs and intense beats; for chill-out time, I would pick the opposite.

Most non-Mac users will mock our appreciation of nice application icons, but I honestly don't care - let me profess my love for the Tangerine icon here and now. It's superb. The app itself looks pretty swanky too, though for my taste, it mimics too many iTunes features I might as well use in iTunes (if Tangerine were, say, a plug-in instead of a standalone app). But that's not really a complaint, just a side note.

Analysis of my 3,800-song library took about an hour and a half on a PowerBook G4. That's not stellar, but it's also not like I needed that punk playlist immediately. After this I went to create my first playlist - something fast and intense, my weapon of choice for dishwashing, dusting, and other household chores. I went for a BPM range of 130-200bpm and above-average intensity. I was surprised to find only these two settings (including a distribution curve).

The results were sorely disappointing. Included were a number of scratchy 1930s jazz cuts, and some of the mellowest tracks by Tricky, Can, and Beck (trust me, they were pretty darn mellow). I pushed both the BPM and the intensity up and got similar results - while some of the tracks were what I would put in the "fast and intense" category using my cerebral analyzer, they made up 10-20% of the generated mix.

Just about the only way I was able to create playlists that matched my expectations of fast/slow and mellow/intense was by picking from one of my carefully assembled iTunes Smart playlists. Which had me wondering why I was using Tangerine at all - a quick comparison of purely random iTunes lists using a somewhat selective playlist and Tangerine playlists seeded from the same pool with the added BPM and intensity revealed no appreciable difference between the two.

Maybe I was doing something wrong. Or maybe my music library is wacky somehow. In any case I found that Tangerine, while pleasant to use, did next to nothing for me - and not because I'm not in its target market. I have dozens of Smart playlists I regularly use. They were one of the things that impressed me the most about iTunes.

Sorry, you sexy citrus - maybe next time.

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