31 March 2004


..so anyway I was down with the Recognise crew last week (another great night, lads) showing-off my iPod to whoever would look. Reactions ranged from cautious approval to total envy to, in Will's case, outright hostility. "Those things are the death of music!" he exclaimed with barely concealed contempt. Will reckons iPod will lose him and all those other hardworking musicians loads of potential earnings. To which I respond: invest in a decent MP3 website and sell your band's music there instead of wasting money on elaborate vinyl packages. You can't un-invent the technology, so learn to work with it. And that goes for all those major labels out there who really are engaging in an exercise in futility by trying to combat the downloaders. But apart from that, respect to Will for playing Mankind's disco version of the Dr. Who theme.

One particular comment from another friend got me thinking. He works with an iPod owner who keeps his on permanent 'song-shuffle' mode. These means that tracks (or, if you prefer, albums) are played at random. Although I was aware of the shuffle function, it hadn't occurred to me that I might actually use it. You see I'm the sort of person who likes to be in control of his musical diet. The process of selection, of thinking "what shall I play today?" is intrinsic to my daily routine. That's why I rarely listen to the radio, other than when driving, 'cause I like to be my own DJ.

Yet I couldn't get the idea of song-shuffle play out of my head. iPod has already changed my perspective of my music collection. I'm starting to view it in a more modular way, rather than a collection of discreet blocks. By adding that random factor, I would be not only losing control of the sequence of events, but also wrenching individual tracks from their usual homes on albums and compilations; breaking everything up into an unpredictable flow of stimulation. It's strange that, even though I don't like it when other people are controlling the sounds, the idea of letting a machine make the decisions (based on parameters that I have set for it) seems quite attractive to me. It would be like listening to a radio that plays only music you like without any annoying chat between tracks.

Shuffle-play is nothing new. Many CD players have had them for years. But even the 5-disc changer systems seemed too limiting to be of any real use. I now have 1691 songs in my iPod, from over 260 different albums, compilations, EPs and singles from a similarly varied selection of artists (it's not even half-full yet - I try to rip at least 5 CDs a day). That feels like enough to make experimenting with shuffle-play an interesting project.

So I decided that, as I was spending most of today at home, I'd give it a go. I set iPod into song-shuffle mode, jacked it into my stereo system, pressed play and left it alone to do it's thing while I went about my business. I'd hoped to play at least a hundred tracks, but in the end only had time for half that. Here's what iPod decided to play today:

Prefuse 73 Altoid Addiction (interlude)/B12 Hall Of Mirrors/Boards Of Canada Basefree/Boards Of Canada You Could Feel The Sky/Aphex Twin Come To Daddy (Little Lord Faulteroy Mix)/Close,Up,Over Olivine/Phil(3)/Kraftwerk Techno Pop/Wagon Christ Rendleshack/Funky 4 Plus 1 That's The Joint/Eric B. & Rakim Put Your Hands Together/Suicide Harlem II/Universal Indicator 303/Aphex Twin Ventolin (Carharrack Mix)/Nobukazu Takemura Let My Fish Loose (Aphex Twin Mix)/Air Suicide Underground/DMX Krew Konnichi Wa!/Air Don't Be Light (Edit)/Audio Bullys Ego War+'Hidden' Track/Mark Stewart Shame/Philip Glass Heroes (Aphex Twin Mix)/Underworld Dirty Epic/U-Ziq Dance 2/A Certain Ratio Life's A Scream/Luke Vibert Rank Rink Ring/Radioactive Man Twistyboomklart/B12 Obsessed/Kid Koala Skanky Panky/UHF Everything/Boards Of Canada The Color Of The Fire/Luke Vibert Music Called Jazz/Steve Poindexter Computer Madness/Boards Of Canada Orange Romeda/Wagon Christ Workout/Amen Andrews London/Kinesthesia Triachus (Aphex Twin Mix)/Sampson 'Butch' Moore House Beat Box/Kraftwerk Tour De France (Francois K. Mix)/Kraftwerk Computer World 2/AFX CD Only #2/Luke Vibert Harmonic/AFX Isoprophlex/Wagon Christ Tomorrow Acid/Bush Tetras Can't Be Funky/Suicide Sweetheart/Squarepusher Tommib Help Buss/Boards Of Canada She Is P/RAC Detour/Kraftwerk Spacelab/Radioactive Man Fed-Ex To Munchen/Aphex Twin Beskhu3epnm/Plaid Cedar City/Prefuse 73 90% Of My Mind Is With You/U-Ziq Beatnik #2/James White & The Blacks Contort Yourself (Original Version)

Now I'm frankly embarrassed to publish this selection. In no way does it do justice to my varied music tastes. But the fact is that yes, the first CDs to get ripped into iPod were from Warp, Aphex and Vibert etc, so I guess that the view has been distorted because there are whole eras and genres that I haven't even begun to tackle yet. For instance, no reggae, jazz or anything pre-punk yet. But if this is a mirror of my obsessions than I guess I have to accept it. It just makes me look really one-dimensional. If I'd been in charge of today's music selection, I would've probably been playing some Remarc stuff, 'cause I'm really into that Amen-junglist zone at the mo'. iPod had other ideas.

As an experience, song-shuffle was surprisingly enjoyable. Initially it felt like driving a car with someone else steering, but once I'd acclimatised to the situation it actually became quite thrilling. Sure, not everything was what I wanted to hear at that particular time, but just as often it was exactly what I wanted. And some of the tracks that initially disappointed soon began to grow on me, transporting me into their zone as opposed to me trying to find something to soundtrack my zone. The constant mood-manipulating, in tandem with the anticipation of "what's gonna play next?!" was really jazzing my system. It also forced me to listen to some stuff that, even though important to me, I maybe hadn't listened to very often. In a couple of cases I wasn't even sure who or what I was listening to.

I'm resolved to continue with the shuffle-play mode, though not permanently yet. But I need to get more tracks and styles in there yet to get anything truly meaningful out of it. Maybe it'll help me to understand what's really important to me, to find the link that holds everything together. And maybe that's bullshit..