Sunday, July 29, 2007

Shuffle Off to Stuff I Know

It's becoming evident that my life can be divided into two main periods: the time before I had an effective way to listen to my iPod in the car, and the time after (3 weeks and counting). It's like the iPod that I've owned for almost two years was finally unlocked. Previously, I've used it plenty, especially for class lectures, etc., but the truth is I'm not a big fan of headphone listening, so I've got that going against me. Not too long after I went pod, I invested in one of those FM transmitters - actually I bought and returned an inexpensive one and then bought an expensive one. The bottom line: for most classical music, or any music with much dynamic range, it just wasn't satisfying. Too much interference, etc.

Long story short - I waited a long time and finally got a new car CD player that has an auxiliary audio input. Since my old FM transmitter came with a handy iPod charger and cradle that sets the iPod up in a perfect position, I now have the means to get the most out of all those mp3s. It's especially significant because family life at home doesn't allow for a lot of quiet listening time - but spending an hr+/day commuting works quite well for that. Actually, the fact that the CD player will play mp3 discs is pretty exciting in itself. It's easy to have a couple of discs now that each contain the equivalent of 10 or more CDs, and moving back and forth among different albums is a snap.

Still, my favorite thing about having the iPod at the ready is shuffle mode. I don't know what it says about me that I have trouble making my own listening choices, but I find shuffling often makes for some of the most satisfying listening, and it also uncovers some fascinating connections. My love for shuffling is an odd combination of both an old-technology mindset and a new-technology dependency. The old-technology mindset comes from growing up in a world in which one had much less control of media, especially TV and radio. My favorite illustration of this is that, though I'll watch just about any episode of Seinfeld that I stumble upon while channel-grazing, I always find it quite difficult to choose an episode from the six or seven seasons I own. At least when it comes to that sort of media, I find it more natural to let the episode come to me.

That also reminds me of the childhood pre-cable, pre-VCR days in which the annual network showing of The Wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music was something to anticipate for weeks. There was an added element of 'occasion' to watching those movies that they don't have now that they're available any hour of the day - albeit in much better quality and absent the cuts and commercials. Although I certainly grew up choosing my own records to listen to, I still find it strangely freeing to have music chosen for me - and yet classical radio doesn't do a very effective job of picking music I want to hear. (It's as if all my TV channel-grazing kept landing only on The King of Queens.)

The new technology dependency could also just be called laziness. I have a big CD collection, so I've had the capacity for listening to a wide range of music in the car at high quality for some time; but it's so much work to pick out a CD, get it to the car, put it in the player. Laziness. It wouldn't even have occurred to me twenty years ago to think that music should just be at my beck and call, and I once spent lots of time transferring LPs to cassettes for listening on the road. In the more technomarvelous recent past, my car CD player got very little exercise until I finally got it hooked up to the iPod. Since having so much music available is a bit overwhelming, the shuffle option turns out to be a great way to "decide" what to listen to.

As I'm sure many have noted, it's kind of like having one's own radio station, except if something comes up that I'm not in the mood for, I can easily jump to the next, although I usually make myself wait at least a minute to see if I might be won over. This turns out to be a great way to rediscover music I'd forgotten about, and it can make for some fascinating playlists. True, sometimes the juxtapositions are jarring, but often they are interesting and even illuminating. I've written before about the degree to which I think art, the creation of art, and our perception of art has to do with making connections. Shuffling is a good catalyst for doing that.

Here's a fun recent example. At some point on the commute, up came the "Sinfonia" movement from the violin/piano version of Stravinsky's Divertimento. This is not a work that I know well and I think I almost skipped it, but started listening and really enjoyed it. I'm glad I listened to the end because here's how we shuffled from Stravinsky: LISTEN.

It's an almost seamless transition - to something quite different. Basically the big A's that the violin's been hammering away at (originally to lead right into the next movement) segue right into another preparatory A in the bass. I don't know exactly why I find this sort of "found music" so satisfying, but it's pretty cool when it works out this way. Of course, sometimes creative people make such connections without the help of randomizing technology, but I wonder how often it happens that a great creative connection comes from seemingly out of the blue, even if it's just some sort of natural brain shuffle mode. (As a low-level ADD type, I think I have a pretty natural brain shuffle mode.)

1 comment:

Tanya Thomas said...

I'm rather fond of the shuffle feature myself. I like the constant contrasts and the energy it gives.