Today I spent some time discussing playlists with Lucas Gonze (creator of the Webjay “playlist community”), which got me thinking about the spectrum with simple playlists on one end and full-blown cinematography on the other. Both essentially describe sequences of media selected and arranged in a purposeful manner.
What Lucas made me realize is that a playlist needn’t be a static record: it can be a query, a suggestion or template that can be realized by a number of possible content sequences. For example, a playlist entry that specifies only [”I Love You” by Cole Porter] could be satisfied by either Ella Fitzgerald’s or Frank Sinatra’s version of the tune (or countless others).
This realization brought to mind something from a paper I read recently:
The rules used to generate establishing shots are based on cinematographic principles to maintain continuity… [For example, we have a rule that] defines an establishing shot as a combination of two sequences of which both shots are in color, the focus of the first has a wider angle then the next shot, and the weather conditions are similar. Note that the rule can also be described as a query that returns all shot combinations that match a certain description: we found that in this (and probably many more) applications the difference between a rule and query is rather artificial.
This makes the thread of continuity along the spectrum a little clearer. Initially we have static playlists, which arrange specific pieces of content in a sequence. Then “smart” playlists, which define a space of possible sequences as a query over a media database. More sophisticated queries return not just individual pieces of content that match the query but combinations or subsequences that match certain criteria. These more sophisticated queries can be viewed as rules which formalize the techniques involved in creating time-based media. In film or video these are the rules of cinematography such as those that govern continuity editing. In the realm of music these are the rules followed by DJs for selecting and mixing sets.
Looked at this way, the recent mainstreaming of the playlist phenomenon may be the first step on the road to a future of widespread media meta-production.