Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Random Regime

Recent exceptions noted (e.g. Woodstock and Beatles nostalgia wallowings), the most common subjects in non-review music writing these days have been the death of the CD and the new listening paradigm.

Mr. Fig's most recent posting got me thinking along those lines, so I scribbled down a few opinions that I sincerely hope will find a way of tying themselves together and forming an overall subject for this meander:

1) Random access has always been the digital era's biggest boon. I loved the CD changers when they first emerged: 6 discs, then 18, 50, 100...I once owned a carousel that held 300. Load the discs, hit 'random,' and let it go. The only downsides: the time between tracks while the mechanism was swapping discs, and thinking of all my other discs that weren't in the that would be excluded during this go-round.

2) The single song is the more enduring musical artform. Yes, there are full albums that are of and for the ages in ways that huge numbers of individual (and disposable) songs are not. But most of the albums we revere as such were not artistic concepts, but series of tracks that were sequenced for flow after recording. Some might say there was tyranny in unalterable track sequencing; I prefer to appreciate our new freedom to alter running orders or not to.

3) Multi-tasking while listening has generally been the rule rather than the exception for decades. This reality supports my contention that music is the greatest value in entertainment. Books and movies require our undivided attention and are (usually) consumed only once. Music invites (and sometimes requires) multiple listenings, which can have different effects because of the moods and activities we bring to the environment. We experience events as we listen to music, thereby bonding the two and scoring our soundtracks.

4) Music recedes into the background only if we let it. We all love comfort music, the pieces which trigger familiar and desired responses. Given our daily duties, it's all too easy to shrink our music experience to the known and the comforting. In order to keep things fresh, a little discipline might be called for: we must seek out the new, and sprinkle some of it into the day-to-day listening experience. Actually, Pandora is great for that, but we can do it ourselves by unearthing some of the under-utilized music in our collections and working it into the mix.

5) In the end, there is no 'correct' way to listen to music (analog vs. digital, single vs. album, sequential vs. random, familiar vs. unfamiliar, attentive vs. distracted). The important thing is to simply do it, one way or the other.

The foregoing beliefs inform my way of listening, which is essentially neuroses-driven. Call it a feature or a bug; the following is a part of my operating system software. File under TMI:

Every month, I create a large playlist. It is comprised in equal measure of recent material and randomly-chosen library tracks. I add a sprinkling of sure-fire comfort music, blend it all together, and hit 'random.' The key is to never know what is coming next. Anything is possible. I do not play to mood (with one big exception: I favor Steve Roach when I write), and I do not play albums from front-to-back (except when first auditioning them).

This randomness regime works for me because it addresses a few peculiarities:

I grow impatient when staying too long within a single genre or artist's work.
I can be haunted by the knowledge that there is music in my collection sitting long-dormant due to habit. Back in the day, I purchased a lot of albums that I eventually dispensed with because of lack of familiarity. What did I miss?
I want to be surprised. This drill assumes I will be multi-tasking: which music pulls me out of my current chore and makes me pay attention? This is my ticket to spontantenous transporting, anytime.

Home-made serendipity. That, and farrrrm living, is the life for me.

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