Archive for November, 2010

wide-eyed shutters

November 26, 2010


post-script: you could literally steal my thumb-print and my dna from this comic. well, not literally.

an audio odyssey

November 23, 2010

Transcribed verbatim from my notebook. A justification for textual inconsistencies, structural deficiencies and thematic blunders.

“A music collection set to random playback on a walk. It decontextualises the music – it is no longer anchored by the knowledge of its placement within an album, or within a narrative. And as albums are largely set to be cohesive bodies of work, presents only  a fragment of a piece of art – a single tessera from the mosaic. That said, it inevitably presents the music in new, undetermined contexts; its lack of thematic cohesion becoming a kind of meta-theme – where melancholy songs may be rendered emotionally unaffecting if sandwiched between two upbeat pop tunes, since it is no longer part of, or the climax of, a conscious attempt to create this emotion. A classical piece, perhaps the most susceptible to the hack-n-slash of randomly generated content, may become a mere sampler; or an aria, a meaningless narrative piece, anticipating but never evolving into a predetermined course of action.

A mood established by the first song played may set the tone for the rest of playlist – which will constantly affect how songs are perceived; or perhaps the mood is never truly established, as it is never given enough of an introduction by a particular grouping of songs. The effects, of course, are all overall lessened if one’s playlist is built entirely on one genre of music – but this is rarely the case – and even within genres, songs may embody many and all different kinds of moods. Does a track’s attitude or sentiment seem particularly disingenuous or inscinere as a result of an ever-fluctuating variety of moods?

Furthermore, this sequential destruction renders an identity increasingly frustrating to determine – many familiar songs become, initially, difficult to accredit to any particular performer, and track names are rendered elusive, even if we are able to hum, or even sing, along (based on a purely aural experience, that is, if we are not able to see the track details). Identity rests in the knowledge of a sequence, without which our mind’s inherent and unavoidable – unconscious – predicating and assuming compulsions are rendered useless. Without a sequence, there is no familiar. When we know, or choose, which album to listen to it, it becomes easy to identify which track we are listening to, even if the tracklisting remains unseen. Like Ted Hughes’ Shakespeare collection, the loss of a definite context – thought we may think we recognise the source, we can never know – complicates a clear identification. Similarly, it also creates a much more widely appealing, a more inclusive, interpretation – a song clearly aimed at one demographic, by its placement or inclusion on a particular album, is wrenched from it and given over to a much wider audience; without a context, on a blank canvas, perhaps informed only by the songs randomly preceding it.

We also develop a greater tolerance for songs we might otherwise avoid, or consider unbearable on an album of similar-sounding, or thematically complementary, songs. This is because we know, in the case of random playback, that the following track is not guaranteed to be in any way like that which is currently playing. Important, however, is the knowledge that no song can be totally without context – as it cannot play us a track we previously had no knowledge of (operating in the realm of our own playlist; of course, putting someone else’s onto random anticipates this). We at once anticipated both the following song as it stands on the original album and every other song that exists on the playlist.

The song’s identity belongs to the instance we hear it in the playlist, and this changes on every subsequent random playlist it features in – whereas on an album it will always be the same (relatively), although our mood will affect at all times our interpretation. Mood, however, is more affecting in random playback, as it will completely alter our perception of the song – which, again, will be different on every random playlist. (On an album, our mood is generally informed by the content and intent of the album and performer – furthermore, we are much more likely to listen to any particular album because of our current mood; this is a moot point in the realm of randomly generated atmospheres.)

We identify songs less with their primary theme (as on the album), but with a secondary theme, one that will be coloured not by its place in a sequence but by our memory of where we experienced that song previously: it is situated temporally, not sequentially. It becomes less about the performer and more about our personal associations with the song. That is not to say, however, that a track we usually hear as an introductory piece on an album will not be informed by this when heard in the middle of a playlist. Indeed, a random playlist becomes a mosaic of introductory pieces. It is a beginner’s guide, an anthology, to a series of (occasionally un- or misidentified) performers. Where a mixtape is a carefully crafted sequence of one or more moods, expressions and identities, the random playlist is the opposite, it is an anti-mixtape, and fearfully uncontrolled.*

Our fear of this unknown, of this barrage of confused emotional identities, is very quickly realised by one action: when we take hold of the remote. As soon as we can command the unpredictable it ceases to be so; we quickly reject the unknown, as we inevitably begin to cycle through the tracks until we land on one that is sympathetic to our current state – rather than remain subject to the dictatorial, mood-determining, random playlist.

*Ultimately, it serves to create a highly personal (internal) atmosphere from a number of highly impersonal (external – aimed at the general public) sources – but never once takes into account our personality and personal preferences. Our personalisation of the random playlist is a natural and inevitable compulsion, and we cannot hear is as anyone else hears it.”


post-script: why not insert the asterisk-section back where it should be, now that it’s out of the page and into the screen? Well, I believe both sentences, ‘our fear…’ and ‘ultimately, it serves…’, should follow that which ends ‘…fearfully uncontrolled.’ So whilst, logically, the asterisk-section should come next, it doesn’t, simply to allow for this parallel progress, this fork-in-the-page.