Thursday, May 8, 2008

the enlightenment that comes from shuffle play

I am the proud owner of a brand new Ipod - I have never before owned or even used a portable MP3 player, and having had this only for a few days now I can already say that I love it. I am at the beginning of what will be a long process of transferring something like 1200 CD's first to my laptop and then to the Ipod (I got the 160 GB model so I think that should hold everything with room to spare). So far I am in the middle of "Beethoven" (most of our CD's are in something like alphabetical order) and I am re-discovering some wonderful recordings like Carlos Kleiber's Beethoven 7 with the Vienna Philharmonic, which is absolutely positively on my desert-island discography - of course, thanks to my Ipod, the list of recordings I could bring to such an isolated place is now outrageously large.

It may surprise people who know me to find that I am enjoying the "shuffle play" feature of my Ipod - yes, I find the sense of the "whole" in, say, the op. 57 Sonata to be important; a great piece of music is definitely more than the sum of its parts. So it is a little odd to hear a movement of the Barber Piano Concerto, followed by one brief Bach "Goldberg" Variation, Maria Callas singing Bellini, and then the first movt of Beethoven op. 14#1 (as you can see, I am basically limited to composers whose name starts with "B" - are any of you familiar with the children's book that my kids like called "the 'B' Book"?)

I actually believe that shuffle play is an important and potentially enlightening part of the world today. Why? So much of the way people experience music and other media nowadays is "on-demand" - we expect to hear what we want, when we want to hear it. In my previous post, for example, I noted the pleasure I had from downloading Rachmaninoff Preludes in a matter of minutes for my immediate consumption. By contrast, there was a time (long before I was born!) when you could only listen to a couple of radio stations - maybe the baseball game and the Metropolitan Opera broadcast. Of course it is great to get what we think we want - but what about the many things we don't already know about, or which we have perhaps forgotten? Rather than do a google news search for the stuff we think we care about, what about learning about something unexpected? It is important sometimes to cede some control of our lives and allow our minds to receive the unplanned. The nation and the world become increasingly fractured, a kind of modern-day Tower of Babel, when we each spend our time listening only to music we already like, or to political commentators with whom we already agree, associating only with people who are in the same profession, or of the same social group or the same religion.

The above link is an article in the Boston Globe about different personality types and where they tend to live. The extent of my knowledge on the subject is what I read in the article, but it does seem like an interesting field of study. One personality "barometer" is "openness to experience," and I think this is something that is definitely endangered by the "on-demand" culture that new technology has made possible.

So my advice to myself is: use that shuffle play once in a while and discover something unexpected.

My wife and I don't really rent movies as much as we used to (the leisure time to watch movies is quite scarce these days) but we used to enforce a strict policy of alternating the choice of movie -and we would not make an effort to accomodate the other person's tastes. As a result I saw some chick flicks that I would never have chosen on my own (e.g. "Steel Magnolias") but ended up really enjoying (I admit it!).

1 comment:

ckoh71 said...

Welcome to the wonderful world of iPods! They are fabulous inventions, are they not? As someone who owns (or used to own) almost every iteration of the iPod - I share your enthusiasm for the device. I also agree about the Shuffle - I actually really like ceding some control over what I will get to hear next. This is particularly true when I've had to borrow my sister's Shuffle (after losing a few Shuffles - be careful about where you put them because they're so darn small you could easily misplace them!). Not only do I not know what to expect next, but when I'm listening to her Shuffle - I'm exposed to music I don't know or haven't thought about listening to in eons. I also feel like sometimes my iPod is secretly sending me messages by stringing together songs. Keep listening to your iPod - I guarantee you'll start sensing patterns. Of course, there will always be some connective tissue because it's always music that you put on the iPod and that clearly speaks to you - but sometimes, it's very uncanny. BTW, that Carlos Kleiber recording of Beethoven's 7th is amazing. I was saddened to learn that he died a few years back. I wanted to see him conduct in person one day & that never happened. At least we have his phenomenal recordings of Brahms and Beethoven which always astonish me - no matter how many times I've heard them.