The latest prototype from the prolific MusicStrands labs is a tool for recommending music tracks and artists, based on a movie title, as described here. So you type in your favourite films, and MusicStrands gives you a list of tracks and a list of artists that it thinks you might like. And if there are any photos on Flickr that are linked to the film, it shows you them as a bonus.
The first things I try to do with any prototype are figure out how it works and test its limits to breaking point.
It took me a few goes to figure out what the tool is doing. I entered The Moderns, a film set in 1920s Paris, and it included a Francoise Hardy track. Well, she's French, so there's a start, but how come Mott the Hoople are included as well? I tried David Lynch's Blue Velvet and the recommendations included a Chris Isaak track. Isaak had a track on the soundtrack of Lynch's next film , Wild at Heart, so I could see the connection there, but again the other selections looked pretty random…
Moving off to the left field, I typed in The Draughtman's Contract, and succeeded in my goal of finding one of the limits: "no recommendations", though it did recognise the movie, and provided links to tracks on the original soundtrack. I tried Le Mépris and Medium Cool and got "couldn't recognize movie" both times. Fair enough; they're fairly obscure and anything by Godard usually plays havoc with classification systems.
Next I entered Housekeeping, one of my favourite films, and I think that gave me the clue I needed. MusicStrands said "can't find soundtrack", with no recommendations. So I deduced from that that the tool is looking up the soundtrack to the film you enter, and then feeding the tracks from that into its standard music-to-music recommendation algorithm to generate the results.
My hunch is that this tool is of more value as a parlour game than as a 'serious' means of exploring the universe of music. But there's nothing wrong with parlour games, if they get people talking about music that they might be interested in hearing. And there are surely plenty of music-and-movies nerds who could get plenty of mileage out of picking apart the strengths and weaknesses of the recommendations.
Here's a starter: try typing in Woodstock at this page. The recommended artists are pretty much what you'd expect: The Doors, Grateful Dead, Cream, The Band, Neil Young. But the tracks? What's the connection from the Woodstock soundtrack to Slapp Happy, Kitchens of Distinction, Merle Haggard (not known as a hippy lover) and Elvis?