Monday, September 1, 2008

To Shuffle No More!

Do you use a shuffle function when you're listening to music? I noticed a month or so ago that whenever I listen to music on my MacBook or iPod, I use the Shuffle option rather than listening to full albums. I tell myself that I am using it because it lets me get on with what I need to do without having to stop to think about what I'm listening to next, and that it allows for some great random connections between songs, but I've come to realize that I'm lying to myself. I think it's time I gave up on shuffle and went back to listening to music the way the artists intended.

While shuffle can yield some wonderfully appropriate transitions between songs (from this evening: Jamie Cullum's Wind Cries Mary to Travis' Flowers in the Window, the Kaiser Chiefs' Oh My God to Die Toten Hosen's Warum Werde Ich Nicht Satt, the B-52s Junebug to R.E.M.'s Stand), it can also create some jarring juxtapositions (Franz Ferdinand's Michael to Nothing from A Chorus Line, Rufus Wainwright's Gray Gardens to System of a Down's Toxic). Whenever I get a bad transition, I notice it, and hit skip or reshuffle, so using shuffle doesn't necessarily save me any time or thought. In fact, it can break my concentration, and it happens as often as not.

Furthermore, according to some of my friends, shuffling songs goes against the spirit of the music and intentions of the artist. I didn't use to agree, but I'm starting to see their point. Assuming an album was assembled by its musicians, there is probably a reason behind the placement of the songs, a way they interconnect. Particular songs may suffer by being removed from their environment, and the mood or message may be lost. I'd wager there are people who never listen to whole albums straight through anymore, and that is a shame, because how then can they truly judge a song's effect without its intended context.

I have decided to make a change: no more shuffling. I will only listen to full albums. In one month, I'll look at what I've been listening to and see if there are any songs I've developed a new appreciation for after having listened to them in their original context. Would any of you care to join me in saying goodbye to shuffle, even for a month, and seeing what happens?


alex-ness said...

I do not shuffle, I listen to CDs very deliberately, for the contextual and holistic reasons you suggest. That, and because I don't own an Ipod or similar device. But I have been thinking about burning some collections of music I like to send to friends.

So I might shuffle anyway.

Great piece Derek!

Derek Handley said...

Well, burning a selection of songs is like making a mix tape, which isn't really shuffling. It's not random if you're doing it properly: you're in control of the transitions between songs, and you probably have some vision or concept.

Ah, mix tapes. Remember those?

alex-ness said...

I made many dozens of mix tapes. But none recently.

I am suggesting though that the concept of sharing a burned CD is somewhat like shuffling because the listener is not listening to a whole work nor one they control outside of consent to listen.

Brynna said...

I don't really like to shuffle anyway. My dear old iPod is very organized, and I listen to it that way. :D

I congratulate you on your challenge, though! I think you'll like it.

kurt wilcken said...

I don't shuffle myself, but I've heard that listening to They Might Be Giant's album Apollo 17 is an interesting experience. At the end of the album is about a dozen short tracks of a couple seconds each, so that when you listen to the CD in shuffle mode you get these random soundbites of surreal music between songs.

But that is a case where the artists intended the music to be shuffled.

Derek Handley said...

Alex: I see your point. Making a mix tape or playlist, or burning only a selection of songs to a CD changes how the songs affect each other. However, this is more acceptable to me than random computer-generated shuffling, because at least there is your vision.

Brynna: It has been interesting so far. I'll blog about the results, for sure!

Kurt: Trust 'They Might Be Giants' to come up with an idea like that! It's a great use of the technology that exists though, and I certainly can't say it's not the artist's vision.

Alan Coil said...

I don't shuffle as I don't iPod.

I am so 20th century.

Some albums demand sequential playing. Some don't matter. Most of those that don't matter have only one or two good songs.

Derek Handley said...

That's an interesting point, Alan. I am noticing already that there are albums I have where my fingers itch to just pick out the two songs I like, but having set myself the task of listening to full albums, I want to stick with it!

Neil said...

I never shuffle my music and usually just listen to CDs anyway. I did try TMBG on shuffle mode and it was an interesting experience. I also heard them do those Fingertips pieces in concert all together.