The Age of Shuffle

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Moving Mah Jong Tiles

Random enough for you? [Tolka Rover / Flickr]

Thanks to Nother for a big poke in the iPod direction back in October.

The iPod turned five in October, which came as a dual shock to a lot of people. “It’s only been five years? I don’t remember life without you!” is, in the emotional geography of time, not that different from “I still recall the day we first met!” A lot has changed in those five years. We walk around with white umbilical cords, now. We listen to playlists, not albums. We carry entire music libraries (not to mention podcasts, videos, movies, pictures, contacts) in our pockets. We (well, some of us) actually pay for digital music at the iTunes store.

But it’s likely that the iPod’s most lasting cultural contribution won’t be the little machine itself but the novel way we approach the data we keep in it. As Steven Levy noted in his recent celebration of all things iPod, The Perfect Thing, Apple realized that the vast majority of iPod users choose the shuffle function as their default setting, meaning that most people are happy to listen to whatever songs come out of their iPods in whatever order. And if shuffled iPods rule earphones, “Jack” radio stations — the randomized, no-DJ, fastest-growing radio format in the country — are ruling car stereos. Two years ago Dan Hill, the super-smart blogger behind City of Sound, picked up on the reverberations of this randomness in a great, rambling essay about the iPod Shuffle:

I think the preference for randomness may also be about something else though – the increased preference for collage. Much of the 20th century’s art and culture could be seen as tending towards collage in form (e.g. photomontage, cubism, pop art, tape loops, multitrack recording, hip-hop culture, sampling, mixtapes, Ocean of Sound, filters, quotations, hyperlinking, blogging, Photoshop, layering, aggregators, adaptation, recombination, reappropriation etc.).

Dan Hill, The rise and rise of shuffle mode, January 11, 2005, City of Sound

He goes on to quote Brian Eno from a 1995 Wired inteview: “This is why the curator, the editor, the compiler, and the anthologist have become such big figures. They are all people whose job it is to digest things, and to connect them together.”

But I wonder what Eno would say today (we hope to ask him), and whether this shuffle era represents something different, a revolution of sorts in which the cult of the curated is being (has been?) replaced by the cult of the random. Isn’t there a big difference if your mix is chosen by an algorithm — random or not — instead of a fellow human being? Is the age of the anointed cultural selector over, for better and for worse? Are we watching what happens when we cede control of our cultural choices to a Cupertino-based randomizing function?

And isn’t this a curious time to talk about ceding control in any realm? Wasn’t 2006, whose person of the year was YOU, supposed to be about user-generated content, “we media,” hyperlocal journalism, and, crucially, personalized RSS feeds? What does it mean that we — the great aggregate of yous, who now have unprecedented power to craft our own cocoons of what we read, write, watch and hear — are increasingly eager to enlist an algorithm to help us out?

Should we let our iPod Shuffles accept our Time award on our behalf?

Steven Levy

Senior Editor, Newsweek

Author, The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness

Tim Westergren

Founder, Pandora internet radio

Michael Bull

Professor of media and film studies, University of Sussex

Extra Credit Reading

Dan Hill, The rise and rise of shuffle mode , City of Sound, January 11, 2005: “I love the white-knuckle ride of random listening.”

Matt Patterson, On iTunes and random play, Reprocessed, June 29, 2004: “I find myself thinking that iTunes/iPod has just made a ‘good choice’. Obviously, I’m assigning a high degree of agency to my iPod here, and it’s not really making subjective choices, but whatever algorithim it’s using is well-enough crafted to have me fooled.”

Kara Platoni, Pandora’s Box, East Bay Express, January 11, 2006: “Welcome to the Music Genome Project, the most awesomely and exhaustively nerdy cataloguing endeavor in pop-music history.”

Randy Dotinga, Radio Industry Hits Shuffle, Wired, June 6, 2005: “Boasting they’re “like an iPod on shuffle,” the new stations typically dump their disc jockeys in favor of huge song playlists that mimic a well-stocked portable music player.”

Sal Sberna, The Theology of the iPod, The Met, January 15, 2006: “My goal in the teaching series The Theology of the iPod® is to relate the qualities and characteristics of the very popular iPod® to the spiritual life that God has intended for us to enjoy.”

Mike Kuniavsky, iPod shuffle animism, Orange Cone, October 10, 2006: “[The iPod] shows how easily we slip into animist explanations when we can’t understand how something works.”

Clarence Rosario, ShuffleLog Makes It All Go Away, ShuffleLog, September 14, 2006: “I’ve got 613 songs in my iPod right now, so I figure that should keep me entertained for weeks. But is there a ghost in the machine?”


Something that came up that I thought might be a problem . . . is that Steely Dan, in particular, kept coming up more often than it should. Within a couple songs, it seemed, of every shuffle, there would be a Steely Dan song, and than a few later another one, and then a few later then there’d be another one. And I’d go, “Gee, it’s just not represented to that degree in my music library. Why is this happening? Could it be that the random shuffle, which is touted to be totally random, right, really isn’t random?

Steven Levy


In fact, the machine is amazingly potent. The magic of the machine that contains your musical identity in your pocket is something which most iPod users describe in revelatory terms. So this notion of the potent object is quite important, I think. But I think the interesting thing is can users manage the potency of the machine. That is, how would do decide which songs of 1,300, 1,500, 2,000, to listen to. How can you actually incorporate that in a kind of a way of listening. So one response to that is to let the machine do it for you. You give yourself over the shuffle because actually, the machine is so powerful that it’s quite difficult for you to manage it in any other way. It’s a struggle, if you like, between the power of the machine and the power of the cognitive process of the user, to in fact manage the machine.

Michael Bull


[Pandora launches] off on this sort of serendipitous listening experience — driven by musical properties, so it’s not based on popularity – and then let the listener react to what they’re hearing. You can actually, as the station plays, gives songs thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and that sort of further refines the playlist as if you were talking to your musical expert friend.

Tim Westergren


I think the fact that the shuffle came along was a logical progression from where the iPod were. In a burst of enthusiasm you rip your first 50 CDs onto the iPod, and then you get tired of them, and the next way to make it fresh is to do Shuffle. It makes total sense. I don’t think that represents some significant change in the ADD incidents . . . I think it’s getting tired of the same songs in the same order. I don’t think that’s anything new. I think what inspires someone to action is a combination of experiencing a song that just makes you feel so profoundly and those things that are sublime moments in your life, it makes you want to figure out how that’s done and do it yourself, and sharing that experience with somebody else.

Tim Westergren

Related Content

  • jfink

    How about a look under the hood of the Music Genome Project? I haven’t been crazy for the results, but the player “Pandora” showed up on all sorts of Web 2.0-type best-of lists this year.

    They describe the algorithm:

    “We ended up assembling literally hundreds of musical attributes or “genes” into a very large Music Genome. Taken together these genes capture the unique and magical musical identity of a song – everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony.”

  • nother

    “Isn’t there a big difference if your mix is chosen by an algorithm — random or not — instead of a fellow human being?”

    David, your question above speaks to an important point, you write the words “your mix.” Yes, my mix is now chosen by an algorithm but up until now, it was not “my” mix that was being chosen, it was some stranger’s mix. In fact, for many years now, it hasn’t even been a person choosing, it’s been an algorithm derived from some elaborate homogenized analysis of general musical preferences – nowadays the dj’s just press buttons and introduce the songs with a deep voice.

    The only reason I listened to “their” mix was they had the content and they controlled it. Now, for the first time I have a lot of content and I control it. That speaks to something else you wrote: “And isn’t this a curious time to talk about ceding control in any realm? I would venture that it’s the opposite happening, we are seizing control.

    I was just explaining to a pod-less friend, that I now own my own radio station. I told him that there was two reasons to listen to celestial radio before, one was that had a lot of content and two was that you get to be surprised with some randomness. Now that I own my own radio station (my ipod), when I press shuffle, the randomness is derived from a better pool – my own.

    Of course, the bigger the content the more pleasant the randomness. My radio station is acquiring new content everyday; another friend just lent me his external hard-drive with thousands of songs on it – essentially lending me his radio station. I copied what I wanted onto my Mac (to copy the Bon Jovi or to not copy the Bon Jovi, that is thy question) in about an hour, and whala, I be jammin’!!!

    Dj nother – in the house!

  • eryk salvaggio

    As someone who has worked with community radio, my perspective is this: the rise of shuffle-culture has a lot to do with the decline of free-form radio stations. Our station was criticized at the onset by people who “never knew what would come next” on our shuffle-happy automated DJ, but soon enough it was something our audience demanded.

    The evils of media consolidation on the news is probably less direct than the bane of top 40 niche-marketed radio and limited playlist rotations. Our culture seems thirsty for something as diverse as we are and ironically, it is forcing us into the isolation of our earbuds.

    I ask the question of why an iPod has never been built with an FM radio receiver, while “podcasts” are all the rage – really, just homebrew radio, that has been with us since the dawn of laptops. An FM receiver can be made with five dollars worth of parts from radio shack. The iPod isn’t an attack on CD stores or record labels, it’s a commercially viable criticism of the state of modern radio.

  • nother

    One irony in play here is that while the ipod represents the age of shuffling, it’s also ushering in an age of the homogenization of technology. The new ipod phone will be our phone, music, computer, camera, wallet, microwave, ext.

    Speaking as someone who could manage to lose his keys – in the car, I dread the possibility of all my gadgets in one – unless of course they can find some way to connect it to my body, because, as my mom yelled repeatedly, I’d lose my head if it wasn’t connected to my body!

    Btw, part of my shuffling extends to within songs, my ipod enables me to sample parts of songs and move on.

    Also, I tend to shuffle while listening to my ipod, which gets a little weird on the subway.

  • jfink

    My bookcase is on “shuffle” too. A bicycle repair manual next to Sandburg poems next to “100 Uses for Baking Soda” next to “Great Expectations”.

    A random shuffle can make you see connections you might otherwise never make consciously.

  • plnelson

    The problem with this whole discussion is that it simplistically assumes only one level in the taxonomical tree. Apparently, either things are random or they are ordered.

    Of course the real world doesn’t work that way – there are DEGREES and LEVELS to randomness. Except on the iPod, of course.

    For example, just try putting classical music on shuffle. I’d love to shuffle my classical music – Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, say, followed by Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony, say, followed by Gabrieli’s Venetian Coronation and then maybe Nanking! Nanking! by Bright Sheng. Leaping across the centuries and continents at random.

    But my iPod has no concept of movements. It only knows about “tracks” or “songs” or “playlists”. Short of giving every piece its own playlist or merging all the movements of a piece into one big “song” it can’t be done.

    Ditto with house music. I’d like to shuffle my house-mix music for workouts, but keep all the songs for a given album together the way the DJ intended.

    Before you write paens to randomness consider this: you might like a charmingly cluttered office – a stack of postcards over here, a newspaper clipping from some sports victory over there, a computer monitor and mouse in the middle, etc. But what if the WORDS on the postcards were also randomized? What if the newspaper clipping just said “qwertyuiop” and the words from it were transferred to the keycap letters on the keyboard? What if the colors the monitor could display were only those of the first postcard? What if the left and right mouse buttons were where the brightness and contrast adjustments on the monitor should be?

    My point is that a DEGREE of randomness is fun but “random” randomness gets old really fast. The “randomness” of the natural world is not random at all – it has a purpose and organization and a whole HISTORY that led up to this flower being here and that bug being there and this tree being taller than that one. And we can sense this even if we don’t know how every detail got that way. That makes for a charming randomness, unlike the iPod’s UN-charming randomness.

  • Forget the ipod, if you want to know what it is to shuffle, try moving through one of the intersecting areas of Shinjuku station in Tokyo during rush hour (over 1 million people go through this station a day).

    Actually, I do the double shuffle, since I-pod at the same time in an attempt to counter this dispiriting routine and find calm out of chaos.

  • plnelson

    “try moving through one of the intersecting areas of Shinjuku station in Tokyo during rush hour (over 1 million people go through this station a day).”

    I love Shinjuku – not only the station itself but the surrounding shops and underground malls, where you can find little shops with a single-minded devotion to selling the most arcanely specialized items. I once found a shop there that ONLY sold heat-shrink tubing. All different diameters and lengths and thicknesses and colors but JUST heat-shrink tubing! Incredible.

    But that’s EXACTLY what I mean about charmng, natural randomness as opposed to the purposeless. “random randomness” of the iPod. Shinjuku is the “randomness” of the rainforest or coral reef. It’s not random at all. Everyone and everything is there for a reason or a purpose and it ebbs and flows to its own rhythms. It’s all so complex that we can’t always discern what the patterns are but we can still perceive that they exist, the same way we can perceive that an oak tree’s branches are part of a pattern and flow from a process and that the pattern and process is not the same as a maple tree or a willow. Even at a glance the sillhouettes of the trees are distinct even if you and I can’t mathematically describe what the distinction is. Shinjuku is Shinjuku and is not Gare du Nord or Grand Central Station – they each have their own “algorithms” and if you filled Shinjuku with Frenchmen it STILL wouldn’t be Gare du Nord.

    THAT’s the problem with the iPod – it’s MINDLESS randomness with no pattern or purpose.

  • plnelson

    Warming to his subject . . . .

    I wrote – if you filled Shinjuku with Frenchmen it STILL wouldn’t be Gare du Nord.

    Let’s try that as a gedankenexperiment – a million Frenchmen, with French attitudes and body language, but cleverly disguised as Japanese and all perfectly fluent in Japanese, passing through Shinjuku all the day long.

    You would notice right away that something was “different” – there would be a “disturbance in the force”, even though you might not be able to pinpoint it.

    So I think I see one problem with iPod randomness – it’s top-down only. The randomness is imposed on the songs but the songs don’t impose any patterns on the iPod’s algorithm. Unlike a coral reef or train station where the denizens affect the larger structure and pattern, so the influence flows in both directions.

  • jfink


    There are a couple of non-ipod algorithms that take a stab at 2-way influence…

    – I am facinated by the Auto-Playlists on my Windows Media player. It includes things like “Songs You Listen to at Night”. Or “Songs you Listen to on Weekdays”. What other listening habits could my stereo study? Music I listen to in the car? Music I listen to while shopping on eBay?

    – Both Pandora and claim to “learn” from listener feedback. You give each song a Yea or Nay vote and your algorithm is adjusted.

  • People have always loved some amount of randomness, if randomness is another way of saying Variety and Discovery. Part of the allure of large cities is the feeling that at any time you and someone else can “meet cute”; at every turn you could meet the lover (or mugger) who will permanently change your life. We’ve always known that variety is the spice of life, and that you can spur your creativity by changing your routine or location.

    So now the iPod and Stumbleupon and Google’s I Feel Lucky bring some randomness to the new media. Is there anything really new or surprising here?

    The country is confronting the randomness of global disruption, the randomness of gambling that one won’t get sick without health coverage, the randomness of trusting one’s retirement funds to the stock market in place of traditional pension plans, the growing randomness of global warming… I don’t think that the iPod shuffle feature is a signifier of much good in the larger context. In its narrow music playing context, of course, it’s a fine little feature.

  • Sutter

    Wanted to thank you all — reading this conversation made me think of things in a new light. I’m inclined to think there’s something both to PLN’s observations about the hidden order in what is sometimes perceived as being random AND to the Nother/jfink observation about the dynamic potential of “strict randomness.” Both really have an important place — my book-reading habits are more along the lines of PLN’s “ordered randomness,” with emanations from today’s book always influencing what tomorrow’s book will be (but only in concert with a lot of outside influence, such that there’s still a good deal of randomness). On the other hand, one wonders what new avenues my thoughts would take if I really did read (or listen to music) “randomly” — I suspect I would find new and profound connections, even if they were derived in a top-down manner.

  • Tom B

    The key word is not ‘randomness’ but ‘complexity’. Each of our worlds is becoming a self-baked fruitcake where we pick the fruit and the recipe… Some folks throw in avocados and everyone else says, ‘yuk!’. Most stick to cherries and pecans, but sometimes throw in walnuts or slices of apples just to see if it bakes out nicely. And NO ONE simply throws all the ingredients into a blender, turning it into a muddy paste, ready for the oven…. So, we are now becoming more complicated, and the patterns of our lives are becoming both richer and more individual. And underlying it all, is a willingness to live in uncertainty, cope with risk, and exercise creativity… Yep, we are all becoming Rachael Rays and Mario Batalis, or at least kidding ourselves that we are….

  • Sutter

    BTW, regarding Shinjuku: My experience with Tokyo is limited (a long weekend during a semster in Nagoya), but my recollection of that area brings me to nearby Harajuku (a park), and the scores of young men expressing their nonconformity by… dressing like Elvis. All together. Trying to figure out whether that says anything about order and randomness, or just about “nonconformity.”

  • stevenjayl

    Delighted to see this discussion. In “The Perfect Thing” (mentioned above) I argue that Shuffle is not only the signature feature of the iPod but a symbol of the digital age itself — instead of remaining within the walled garden of a physical newspaper, we “shuffle” the news on the Internet — and shuffle our shopping (with e-commerce), our radio (with podcasting), etc. I also ponder that big question in the posting about whether it makes a difference if a felcitious mix is produced by an algorithm or a creative deejay–an issue that so bedelived me that I was moved to go find the brilliant progressive FM disk jockey that made magic during my college years.

  • plnelson

    And if shuffled iPods rule earphones, “Jack” radio stations — the randomized, no-DJ, fastest-growing radio format in the country — are ruling car stereos

    Our local “Jack” station here in the Boston area is “Mike FM”, whose motto is “We Play Everything”. This is one of the most bald-faced examples of false advertising I’ve ever encountered! In a year of listening at random, so to speak) to Mike FM I’ve never heard ‘Trane or Miles Davis or Bill Monroe or Bob Wills or Dmitri Shostakovich or Edward Elgar or Rebecca Clarke or Triona Ni Dhomhnaill or Andy Stewart or Värttinä or Astor Piazzolla or Eliane Elias or plenty more artists that I have on my iPod.

    I think the main appeal of the “Jack” fomat is that it comes with a LOT less DJ chit-chat than the other formats.

  • plnelson

    – Both Pandora and claim to “learn” from listener feedback. You give each song a Yea or Nay vote and your algorithm is adjusted.

    My wife and I have been experimenting wih Pandora. I think it has some real potential but right now it’s limited by having a VERY small music library and too heavily weighted to pop music. I have broader musical tastes than almost anyone most people here have ever met. I have a 1200 CD music library, growing by about 100 CD’s a year, that includes everything from liturgical music to rap to rock to jazz to classical to trance to folk to country to house to show music to experimental to “world” music, etc. I don’t bat an eyelash at combining Stravinsky and ZZ Top and Moby and the Kingston Trio in the same playlist.

  • nother

    Steven, thank you for posting and for writing the book.

    Your ideas had me thinking of Grandmaster Flash and DJ Kool Herc, and how they started shuffling in-between songs with a break-beat — isolating and repeating breaks, the most danceable portions of songs. I’m sure that inspired a lot of us to shuffle in different ways. I’m hoping the ipod shuffle evolves to a point where we do our own break-beat.

    As far as the “creative deejay–an issue” you mention above, you can still find those DJs at the right bar or club. My favorite place is called River Gods in Cambridge MA, there are different DJ’s every night that take their curating very serious.

    I’m happy to be liberated from the “walled garden” of the 10 song CD. We’d be paying $15 dollars for a 10 song CD when we only wanted 2 of the songs.

  • nother

    in a general sense you have me thinking about how communication is now shuffled. At any given time I’ll be in-between text messages and emails with an exchange of short messages.

    Text messaging has become the shuffle of communication.

  • jfink

    It seems like “shuffle” is great for short forms of information – text messages, single songs from an album, video clips, news stories…

    I wonder if other short forms that have been tied up in traditional publishing methods might be set free by the “shuffle”. Poetry? Short Stories? Is there an analogy in the visual arts?

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    Before I do anything, I consult my Lava Lamp to bootstrap my day. To wind down, a nice long soothing conversation with my Mister Bubble avatar.

  • Just a quick thought before another Shinjuku Shuffle.

    I think in our discussion here we are bumping into the question of ‘political’ agency or the “invisible hand”. More on this later.

  • nother

    ahh, CCP/CCM, it’s sure nice to have ya back on the scene!

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    It might be interesting to introduce into the discussion some aspects of Chaos Theory and Dynamical Systems. Might sort of get us into some of the interesting middle zones.

    Some folks who would be great to hear from, though I have no idea of their status or available or inclinations for these things…

    An explainer:

    James Gleick

    An innovator:

    Professor Steve Smale

    Hey nother, great topic BTW!

  • Sutter

    Sidewalker, your reference to political agency plays off something I was thinking: This discussion is making me wonder whether the shuffle is just a symptom of one of the cyberworld’s great problems. Specifically, the cyberworld offers so much information that we don’t need to experiment with ideas, viewpoints, or subject matters that don’t already interest us. Thus, many lefties read only the lefty blogs, and “righties” read only the right-wing blogs, and horticulturists read about horticulture, etc. One read advantage of a CD is that I might hear songs in which I would otherwise not be interested — and which I might like. Same goes for a newspaper, or a magazine, etc. etc. In some sense, the shuffle mentality plays into this narrowing: It tells us “So you want to listen to just YOUR music but you don’t want to be bored senseless? Let us randomize it for you!” Even the “Jack” stations plays songs within a limited context (or so PLN says, and I will take him at his word). So, diversity is reimagined not as true diversity, with the exciting prospect for exposure to the unfamiliar, but as diversity within one’s original field of comfort.

    It’s dangerous. A year ago, I got XM Radio in large part to experiment with new music. Nowadays, I mostly listen to… well, XMPR, with a dollop of familiar 80s tunes and an occasional — occasional — foray beyond.

  • jazzman

    When I hear the term shuffle, I immediately think: 12 Bar Blues with a 4/4 triplet feel, and the notes accented on the triplet’s 1 and 3. (DA da DA, DA da DA, DA da DA, DA da DA etc) with the lowercase da’s omitted (think of Wilbert Harrison’s rendition of Kansas City.) It’s probably the catchiest simple rhythm of all time as it comports perfectly with the natural 4/4 of a person walking.

    When I listen to canned music which is mostly while commuting or before sleeping, and as you might deduce I only listen to jazz if I have a choice. If jazz is available on the radio as it is on WGBH starting at 8 PM which is usually when I drive home, I prefer to let Eric Jackson shuffle (randomize within the genre) my tunes so I get an idea of current artists’ CDs and get the random surprise of old favorites from time to time. I used to listen to WERS on my morning commute as they played jazz exclusively from 10 AM to 2 PM but they changed the format this fall to what amounts to shuffling a subset of PLNs eclectic collection – minus the classical. As a result I no longer listen to WERS, life is too short to wade thru the dross on the off chance I might hear something that I actually enjoyed.

    So now I listen occasionally to WHRB in the morning but as they usually play entire CDs before announcing the artist and seldom credit the side musicians, it’s frustrating (sometimes I note the times and try to find the playlists and search the web at work but it’s a hassle.) If I’m going to listen to an artist, I like to listen to their entire work of ART (CD) and then if some portions are not to my taste, I’ll skip them when I replay that CD.

    I don’t have an Ipod or a computer but I can burn a mix CD if I want a variety of artists but I have only done that a couple of times and find I don’t play them much – there’s so much else to listen to and so little time, but to each their own – de gustibus non est disputandum

  • So, I just gave my iPod away. I couldn’t stand having yet another device to carry around. I thought I would use it when I walked the dogs in the Arboretum, but realized I preferred the quiet experience.

    My one thought about the randomness of the Ipod versus hearing the music of the DJ: you get to hear something you might not otherwise have heard, if you listen to someone else’s collection.

    I do like some randomness. I’m painting a room and the original technique idea didn’t work at all, so now I’m making an abstract mess of the walls and hoping that it turns out pleasing. I love this kind of creative process. Some times. At other times, you need to achieve a particular goal or finish a task in a particular time frame and having things orderly ensures success.

    I walked around with a Sony Walkman attached to me whilst walking or roller-skating my way around many major cities in the world during the ’80s. In retrospect, I wish I had not been so stuck in my own head, so disconnected from the natural symphony of a place. My community members all feel so alien to me now. They stand in line in front of me, dancing ever so slightly to their tune, often oblivious of what’s happening around them and completely closed off from the niceties of the neighborly “hello”.

    Perhaps people like the joys of random play because they hear some of their music that they wouldn’t actively choose very often, but like. But I always love the times that my fingers touched an album I hadn’t played in a while and the pure joy of listening to it with “saudade” anew.

    Or pehaps people simply like having something taken care of. One less thing to think about.

    Whatever the reason, i don’t see why it is an either/or situation. Can’t you enjoy the shuffle and enjoy listening to entire albums and enjoy the potentially surprising offerings of the DJ?

  • I think it would be wrong to speak of the morning rush-hour through Shinjuku station as having any high degree of randomness. The station has indeed greater entropy than people packed into trains, but the movement in the station from train platform to exit or from train platform to the platform of another line is very determined. People have their usual paths and patterns—high probability. What is unpredictable is the ordering of this huge number of people as they make their way to their workplace destination. Each day this is random and thus the shuffle.

    Is it an enjoyable shuffle, like the one on my ipod? Of course not. People move at different speeds and in different directions holding bags and umbrellas that can do damage.

    At other times, yes plnelson, people linger and browse through the unique shops with far less predictable movement and a higher degree of randomness. It is at this time they have greater agency as consumers, if they have enough disposable income and they can resist the influence of advertising. Some will choose to spend all their time in a jazz record store and others will visit an HMV shop, some hanging out in the J-pop section and others wandering from one genre to the next listening to all the latest CDs. If they go with a shopping list in hand, of course randomness will decrease.

    The shuffle function of the ipod mimics this in a sense, but as sutterothers have pointed out above, it is bounded and imposing. Here we choose the range of music we wish to listen to rather than the corporate radio stations, so agency is increased, but it is also the death of discovery. At the same time, the invisible hand of the algorithm takes this little surge of agency away from us, much like that of the market negates “we the people”.

    How to increase agency and discovery? Open source community radio, of course. Democratize the process and involve the wealth of knowledge of the listener-participants.

  • Microcosmic I

    Grandly designed randomness

    Of shuffling atoms

  • Agavar

    I just wanted to mention that I am 66 years old, and I recently got an iPod Nano and also gave one to an 82 year-old friend. From the comments we have heard from some of our contemporary friens, I gather that this is very unusual for people our age. We love them, both for music and for listening to books. I am about to sign up for my first podcast from Open Source. I know this discussion is about the Shuffle, and I do regularly use the shuffle feature on my Nano, but prefer the Nano so there is enough space for long books.

  • plnelson

    I just wanted to mention that I am 66 years old, and I recently got an iPod Nano and also gave one to an 82 year-old friend. From the comments we have heard from some of our contemporary friens, I gather that this is very unusual for people our age.

    With all due respect I don’t think it’s unusual at all. Without revealing my age suffice it to say that I got so fed up awhile back with all the invitations to join the AARP that I signed my CAT up (I figured in cat-years he was old enough). Now he gets better deals on cruises and restaurant meals than I do. But I have an 8G iPod Nano and my wife has another brand and my bro’-in-law just got one, and we also play MP3’s on our cell phones – and we’e always texting each other etc, etc.

    I think there’s a lot of stereotypes out there about older people and frankly they piss me off. I recently had a letter-to-the-editor published in Business Week magazine about their stereotypes of older consumers. It was a bit ribald and I was surprised they printed it.

  • jazzman

    To expound on my previous post:

    Jazz being mostly composed of the musicians’ performances (spontaneous interpretation) and far less about the vehicle (original musical form or composition) the notes and rhythms that comprise each performance are always shuffled (edited/re-edited) or it isn’t jazz.

    Obviously a canned recording track (as a frozen record of the music played at the time of the session – although a studio session’s music product may be assembled from individual performances and the final product fobbed off as an in situ take of the band’s – it is less in the jazz spirit) may be subjected to shuffling by DJ or algorithm. In contrast classical music is mostly about the composition and less so about the musicians assuming they are competent to render the piece. Those musicians in general have little leeway to express their individual interpretations of their parts – ceding the authority to the conductor in large ensembles and to the composer in smaller or individual performances with nuance usually the only room for personal expression.

    I believe the shuffling urge is a form of ADD and the reason for the most of virtual epidemic of ADD/HD diagnoses (besides misdiagnosis, lack of appropriate analysis, and the rewards for drugging the patients) is: Most Americans today are bombarded by a 24/7 stream of eclectic secondary information and lack the ability to focus on a task or thought except for brief periods until they are interrupted by other stimuli and they’re off on a new tangent.

    This tends to create a quest for novel experience as people seldom invest themselves in anything (except perhaps an individual passion/hobby which often is a form of OCD [collecting especially]) more deeply than a superficial level which creates boredom as there’s no there there so they attempt to mitigate the quotidian with an ever changing landscape of novelty.

    This behavior is also abetted by the relative ease of survival in modern western countries. I doubt that there is much ADD or yen for novelty (save a peaceful existence) in Darfur or in New Orleans in wake of Katrina, or in any situation when one is challenged by nature or their survival.

  • nother

    Howdy jazzman, nice post. My gut reaction though is you are selling people short. Why can’t they be shuffling because they want to shuffle, as opposed to being victims of some Western ADD thing. I’ve shuffled the Jazz on my ipod and I’ve shuffled to Jazz at Wally’s Jazz bar.

    Where you see bombardment of secondary info, I see a wealth of new information to choose from.

    It’s like walking through a beautiful and bountiful peach orchard, I am bombarded with the multitude of peach trees but that doesn’t stop me from focusing on some pretty peach.

  • plnelson

    Jazzman wrote: “ believe the shuffling urge is a form of ADD and the reason for the most of virtual epidemic of ADD/HD diagnoses . . .

    [ . . . deletia for brevity . . . ]

    I doubt that there is much ADD or yen for novelty (save a peaceful existence) in Darfur or in New Orleans in wake of Katrina, or in any situation when one is challenged by nature or their survival.

    I agree with all this. While it may be possible for Nother to walk through a peach orchard and focus on one particular peach, the problem is that for many Americans they were walking PAST the peach orchard in their way to school or an important errand when they spied the peach and thus became distracted from whatever it was they were supposed to be doing.

    As I might have mentioned before, I have a library of diaries and letters from Americans in the 19th century. And it’s very clear from reading them that these people were much better at staying focussed on things. They didn’t have to deal with the “staccato signals of constant information” that we do. Many of the tasks that they did were very long boring activities like building a fence or taking in hay. Today I would personally find it very difficult to do that without a bunch of By Design’s or Night Air’s or On Point’s or Radio Open Source’s podcasts stashed away on my iPod to keep me (over?-) stimulated.

    The ability to attend to lots of littles details is important when the details add up to a unifying wholeness. Hunter gatherers on a hunt had to attend to the wind direction, smells, faint impressions in the earth from animals walking, the behaviors of birds or other small animals, etc, because all that adds up to finding prey. But a typical American at breakfast has a TV going with a mix of ads, happy talk, news from Iraq, sports scores , etc, along with conversations with his family, the phone ringing or texting, eating his breakfast, thinking about his upcoming work day, etc. These details are all unrelated to each other.

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    thanks jazzman, nother, plnelson. The last few comments have been superb.

    I can’t follow that with anything as insightful, but I will mention the following: One day I found myself at work and could not account for any visual memories from the time I woke up to that moment. I didn’t think it a big deal, except this persisted. I became slightly alarmed, but figured I was focused elsewhere. Still it caused me some concern that I was experiencing a net-loss in a qualitative aspect of life.

    My solution(a placebo perhaps): Begin drawing and then painting. It forced me to focus and account for my visual experience, which doesn’t always get past the surface, but sometimes things line-up for me and it is exceptional. The most peculiar aspect is now I notice I lose a feel for the temporal. These are fairly brief by cosmic standards, but on strictly personal level, the only metaphor which makes sense is that of temporal weightlessness. The loss of time has not caused me any distress in the way the loss of an accounting for visual memory. I didn’t realize I placed such a premium on seeing. In all my educational experience, there was no access to art instruction; not even an option. I had a coloring book or two as a kid that my mother provided, but that was the extent of my exposure to doing art that persisted well into my adult years. I don’t know if I would have been able to embrace learning techinques for visual expression as a child, but it seems to me now that it could have taught me the powerful lessons for focusing my body and mind and the joy of self expression and solving problems with my own means.

  • rahbuhbuh

    Shuffling as editorial device:

    The Onion’s entertainment section the A.V. Club’s “Random Rules” is a favorite of mine. Interviews are based on an iPod set to random, asking musicians to talk about what they’re listening to. It is insightful and a little more humane when questions are improvised and responses contextual. In normal press blitzes, most artists tend to give hackneyed or memorized answers to keep a marketing message uniform across all media.

    Randomess in music, not just playlists:

    I’m curious whether the popularity of free jazz has risen in a culture of yearning to be surprised. Song structure, rhythmic squawks, and noises seem purely random. The cacophonous variety of today’s heavy metal and electronic music is very similar. Polyrhythmic distorted ADD noise. Young listeners are cultivating a taste for dissonance rather than just the traditional louder, faster, and more explicit. Isn’t dissonance typically a “bad” biproduct of randomness?

    Please try to contact James Gleick. His “Faster” on varieties of time was fascinating. I can only assume that his take on chaos in science and society will help this show.

  • jazzman

    nother says: Why can’t they be shuffling because they want to shuffle,

    Shuffle away my man, the reasons for re-ordering the mundane may be idiosyncratic or compulsive. I was speaking generally but there is always a motivation for shuffling – dig deep. BTW I also used to shuffle at Wally’s (and even sat in some Sundays) to Roy Haynes. I used to see Ricky Ford (tenor) before he joined Charles Mingus’ Band.

    nother Where you see bombardment of secondary info, I see a wealth of new information to choose from. Secondary information is data that impinges on your perception that is not directly in your immediate personal space, e.g., news or other abstractions (internet, video games, thinking about work away from performing the tasks etc.) Primary information is data received from your personal sphere of sensual stimuli, e.g. ambient temperature & noise, tactile input, olfaction, tastes (like the stimuli in your place of work.)

    The infinite wealth available from which to choose can make it a challenge when trying to decide one’s course. If one is good at focusing this isn’t a big deal but for many it is a form of gridlock that hinders progress.

    As plnelson notes: to walk through a peach orchard and focus on one particular peach, the problem is that for many Americans they were walking PAST the peach orchard in their way to school or an important errand when they spied the peach and thus became distracted from whatever it was they were supposed to be doing.

    P.S. Alice Coltrane is now jammin’ with John on a celestial harp- incase you missed the secondary info.


  • Alison said: “Whatever the reason, i don’t see why it is an either/or situation. Can’t you enjoy the shuffle and enjoy listening to entire albums and enjoy the potentially surprising offerings of the DJ?”


    When I got my new Mac the first thing I wanted to figure out was how to make a compilation CD. Then I stayed up all night making one. I have a few friends who have taken the compilation CD to an art form. When you’ve painstakingly orchestrated your own mini Rock Opera shuffle mode kind of defeats the purpose. But, in the process of making a compilation CD I have gathered together a lot of music that I’ve cherry picked songs from and that is a bigger playlist that I like to put on shuffle. I usually have something like that on my ipod.

    And yet, it’s still great sometimes to be caught off guard by something unexpected. Today I had an AM station on my car radio and I had to sit in the grocery store parking lot for a while because I just couldn’t get out of my car until that Chris Isaak song was over.

  • A friend just turned me on to a great AM station out of Victoria BC. Its called the Village 900. They call it “global roots” and play great music from all over the world in a global shuffle kind of format. Maybe its a sign of the shuffle-mode times?

    KUOW listeners in Northern WA or BC can give it a try at 900am.

  • nother

    I hit the shuffle button and wrote down the first line of the first five songs, making little short poem kind of things. I did this six or seven times and the following were the four best: (I hope someone else tries it!)

    1. I wish I was ocean size – Many lovers has come, and many lovers has gone – Feel me now listen, mama love me, pap left me – The light was leaving – All I’ve undergone, I will keep on…

    2. I heard it all before, I don’t wanna hear, I don’t wanna know, please don’t say your sorry – Ooh-ooh-oo-ooh, Slave Driver, the table is turn; Catch a fire, so you can get burn now – That there, that’s not me, I go where I please – Yea, yea, I don’t want you to hold back any longer baby – Nibblin on sponge cake, watching the sun bake…

    3. Alright, now dig this baby, lazy eyes in the summer heat – She gave me her mind, than she gave me her body – Whenever I’m alone when you – My love paints the desert sky – Why be sweet, why be careful, why be kind…

    4. Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes, are calling – Dada dada da, it’s the mother__ck’in D O double G – I see trees of green, red roses too – the weak are the strong who got it going on, your dead wrong…

    1. Jane’s Addiction, R. Kelly, Jay-Z, Jack Johnson, Nine Inch Nails

    2. Madonna, Bob Marley, Radiohead, R Kelly, Jimmy Buffet

    3. Jimi Hendrix, Van Halen, ACDC, Cure, Lenny Kravitzs, Tom Waits

    4. Some old Irish guy, Snoop and Dre, Willie Nelson singing What a wonderful world, Notorious B.I.G., Rage against the machine

  • What the iPod in shuffle mode has done for me is help me listen to some great music in my collection that I don’t often turn to, but when I hear it, I’m glad. It reminds me of how much better music was, and how bad it’s gotten.

    Record labels have complained that digital music is ruining their business. I say that their crappy business practices is ruining their business. The fact that we’re all spending more time listening to music we bought a long time ago, and not buying or even listening to new music.

    about the iPod shuffle: Have you noticed a logorhymic pattern in the iPod shuffle? This is how I see it. The iPod in shuffle mode will play an song, another, and then a song by the first artist again. This happens to me a lot, enough that I’d notice.

  • Another iPod comment:

    The bad news, even though compressed digital music has come a long way, it’s still flawed, so by MP3-ing and MP4ing our music we’re dumbing down the quality. CD quality is 1979 tech, and now we’re going backwards. Some people insist there is no difference. If you think that, you’re just not listening. Listen to the range the high-hat is in, there is a swishy, icicle crackling, distorted sound. Of course my ears are over-sensitised from years of working in a recording studio, but it’s there. Also having worked in recording, I believe in the theory that listening to badly encoded digital music with headphone for a long period of time can create an emotion effect. I have experieced it and not me along, years ago, after a long day of using ADAT digital recorders, you would be left with this strange feeling that something bad has happened to you. No joke, I don’t mean the session was bad, you just get this empty feeling. The explanation is that mind stuggles to subconsiously replace the missing information that you don’t “hear,” and it has an effect. This was discussed in trade magazines at the time, but I can’t find the articles now. Anyway we should be improving the quality of digital music, not bring it down, 24 bit digital, even at 44.1 is a very real improvement.

    Having said all that I use my iPod daily. It’s a great way to carry around 350 of my CDs, especially when I travel, when I used to take just 20 CDs, sometimes for a half year’s time. And of course, listen to Open Source on my way to work on the Moscow Metro.

  • faithandreason

    Sadly, I think “shuffle” has become a rather good metaphor for much of our society — short-term attention, rapid switching of styles and fads, don’t maintain focus on any one thing lest people think you’re obsessive.

    I listen to my iPod daily, and find that for me, shuffle is just too alienating from the musicians I love. For me to hear the Hackensaw Boys followed by Prince followed by Public Enemy followed by Berlioz just doesn’t provide me with the type of flow of themes that listening through a continuous album does. Brian Wilson’s “Smile” on shuffle sounds like some weird disjointed moan, while all the way through it still sounds a little crazy, but it’s got theme, and ending up with the new “Good Vibrations” song and repetitive harmonies implying ascendancy out of the mundane world of “Vege-tables.”

    (yes I’m a pretentious liberal trying to make myself look like a cultured populist)

    An album used to be a canvas on which an musical artist could assemble story, or at least a set of related motifs. It touched different and deeper parts of the soul than listening to any old commercial radio station. B-sides held some of the most profoundly important intangibles messages that an artist could make, often because a serious message couldn’t make it onto a radio track. Of course, sometimes that’s also where the garbage dwelled.

    I worry that “Shuffle” further disjoins stimuli that our brains are designed around: sound, sight, etc. Epidemiologists have tracked young children from 1-7 years old, and at least one study indicates that those watching a lot of television before age 3, were significantly more likely to have attention problems by age 7. Part of the explanation may be the developing brain’s inability to process rapidly changing TV images, when it’s set to receive continuously flowing visual cues (e.g. turning the head to look from mommy to daddy).

    The drop in readership of newspapers and the ascendancy of TV news may be a cultural progenitor to the “Shuffle” craze. As many problems as Hollywood imposes on writers and actors, I fear that youtube (another possibility for shuffling) will also strip the ability of audiences to relate to characters, and feel what is the most important thing in watching a movie, empathy.

  • RobertPeel

    Ah! Sinjuko Station. I know it well.

    Remember Robert E Lee marched out of step as super of the miltiary college.

  • silvio.rabioso

    The ipod as example of canon formation:

    Here is the story: I select an immense amount of music, then put it together in a way that–in a sense–erases my act of selection, and finally I congratulate myself on the end product. (How many people have not had a self-congratulatory moment with the ipod: “Damn, I have good taste…”) The truth is that there is some music on my ipod that I have never listen to, but when it one such song comes up, it will fall within my musical constellation (being that it usually is a song stolen from a friend) and thus will always-already be inscribed with meaning.

    What the gigantic hard drive of the ipod allows its user to do is to create a personalized canon. No textbook manufacture or school district has proposed a student-based ‘create-your-own’ reading list for a high school world literature course, much less have they marketed such a list as personal and portable. In this sense, for better or for worse, the ipod is special. But who would be foolish enough to trust him/herself to conduct a self-guided musical education?

    And here is the thrust of Apple’s double move: with new technology (or rather, a commodity that utilizes recent technological advances), one can be free to create one’s own musical constellation. And the newest movement: give yourself over to the Random; that is, the randomness of selections from a set entirely constructed by you. In fact, the oft-praised random is really not random at all. I admit that I myself have been awestruck by the juxtapositions my little ipod makes. Through the supposed randomness of the shuffle feature, I have heard songs in sequence that I had never remotely considered related—I freely admit that this has led me to all kinds of new musical epiphanies. I once reached a point where I could only explain the ten songs I had heard as being ordered by an expert DJ and music critic intent on giving me a lesson in the development of ambient music from Satie to Wilco. And we’ve all played that game in which we list the first ten songs randomly chosen from our ipods and make all kinds of value judgments based on that list.

    After hearing that masterful ten-song meditation on sound vs. noise mentioned above, I had a second realization that only added to my self-congratulation: that master DJ and music critic was, and is, myself. The reason the songs I had selected sounded so amazing was the very fact that I had chosen them. My euphoria was narcissistic at best, and dangerous at worst. Nietzsche reminds us that language is a series of metaphors that have forgotten their status as such. In a similar act of forgetting, I had created a personal canon and taking it for the definitive narrative of musical development.

    The danger here is that even as we surround ourselves with more and more of our own choices, we sink deeper and deeper into an individualized and hermetically sealed universe. As many posters have mentioned above, we lose community and interaction every time we put on our headphones. And, as plnelson so rightly points out, we are celebrating a technology that is incredibly biased towards the 3-4 minute, self-contained pop song.

  • silvio.rabioso

    Now, I just said that the ipod is biased towards the pop song. But I do not mean to celebrate the pop album in its place. The album itself a recent development in the history of music; many would say the concept had its birth in the early 60s and wasn’t perfected until Pet Sounds or Sgt. Peppers.

    But that begs the question: if we truly are approaching the ‘post-album’ era, what will be the new gold standard for the commodity-unit of music? [remember: the length of a cassette tape and the size of a compact disc are both artifacts of the brute fact that one can fit about 60 minutes of music on a 12” double sided piece of vinyl that rotates at 33 1/3 rpm].

    Who will be the first musician to sell a 1gig ipod shuffle full of original music designed to be listened to in any order?

  • jazzman

    OCP / nother – OCP, anent your off topic in the Volunteer Thread: John Coltrane’s tenor/soprano heir and one of my all time favorite saxophonists (not Ravi – although he is a worthy musical heir as well as a scion and a favorite,) Michael Brecker (of The Brecker Brothers fame) died on Jan 13, 2007. I believe he was a legitimate heir as both McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones (along with Jimmy Garrison, 2 of JC’s most famous quartet) used him as their main Saxophonist whenever they could get him. McCoy used him on his Remembering John CD which was his tribute to John Coltrane. I was saddened by his passing.

  • nother

    Wow, that is sad jazzman. I was lucky enough to catch the tribute concert to Miles and Trane a few years ago with Hargrove, Herbie , Blade, and Patitucci. Brecker was on fire that night. To think that fire has been put out so early…

    Sonny is coming in a couple of months, hope you make it.

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    Thanks Jazzman for passing on this news. I had heard that Michael Brecker was very ill with MDS. I was heartened to see Sonny Rollins is still playing. I would love to see him, as he is one of my favorite musicians across any genre. For me, he is to music what Matisse was to visual expression. I just connect with what they do and don’t need to understand why. Thanks again.

  • Sir Otto

    Certainly not the “Perfect Thing”. To get near perfect, the cell phone, satellite radio and Ipod must be combined in one little thing half the size of the present Ipod with a 100Gig drive. It is turning into the perfect consumer manipulating machine. My wife got me the 80Gig for Christmas. It automatically connects to the ITunes site when you USB it to the computer. It’s real easy to load songs and videos purchased from ITunes, but try loading anything not bought from Apple. Like songs or videos downloaded via Limewire. They make you do all kinds of tricks to get it on Ipod. And Chris is no help. I hear Verdi’s Requiem, $16.99. Brahm’s 3rd symphony, $19.99. Schubert’s B-flat piano sonata, $16.99.

    But still. That smooth black plastic. That fingertip control. Black velour case. Kinda like the feel of a blue steel .44 in your hand. Hard to resist. I admit I’m in love.

  • jazzman

    nother Directions in Music is among my favorite CDs and Sonny Rollins is as good as it gets. I just bought Sonny, Please and highly recommend it. His “modern” sound belies his 76 years, he still plays mainstream in fresh and innovative ways. It’s just plain feel good jazz at its finest.

    OCP/nother I also recommend you catch Christian McBride at Sculler’s Mar. 7 & 8 if you can. I saw this band there last year and they were smokin’. His keyboardist Geoff Keezer is a modern phenomenon and Ron Blake on sax is no slouch either. Maybe I’ll see you there, I’ll be right behind the keyboards Wednesday (2nd Set – that set is always the best).

  • Pingback: People Over Process » Blog Archive » links for 2007-01-25()

  • chopperosborne

    Something that is missing from this discussion for me is the multiple functions of the ipod. In addition to having all of my music with me, podcasts allow me to listen to my favorite news sources whenever and wherever I please. Most importantly, I can listen to stories when I am in a mood to be more engaged with a given issue (e.g. when I’m in the mood for Open Soruce as opposed to stand-up comedy). For me the ipod has 2 very distinct functions: 1) A portable storage device for a collection of music for which the shuffle function is a very nice if somewhat novel addition 2) A research tool that allows me to gather news and entertainment. The second function is far important to me. When it comes using my ipod as a tool to gather news, I keep the shuffle turned off.

  • plnelson

    Sir Otto It’s real easy to load songs and videos purchased from ITunes, but try loading anything not bought from Apple.

    My wife and I are considering an 80G iPod as a possible solution to easy distribution of our music collection around the house.

    We have a 1200 CD collection that we’re in the process of digitizing, and the problem is what to do with the music after we’re done. We don’t want to have to leave a PC server running 24/7. None of the dedicated media servers (e.g., Sonos or Roku) work well with NAS devices, at least not without lots of geeky hacking. So we’re thinking of putting our music on an 80G iPod. That way we can play our collection in any room in the house and take it with us when we travel.

    We normally rip our CD’s into MP3 using separate software and import them into the iTunes software. This is easy and works well. We’ve never bought any music from iTunes because it’s only 128K, which is too low.

  • plnelson

    Could someone please parse this posting, which appeared above . . .

    # People Over Process » Blog Archive » links for 2007-01-25 Says:

    January 25th, 2007 at 3:42 am wrote

    […] 4 – Wikipedia Someone likes the phrase 😉 (tags: sysmgmt big4 little4 zenoss wikipedia) Open Source » The Age of Shuffle This one looks like it’d be interesting. (tags: podcas […]

    Especially, please explain tokens and syntactic elements such as “[…] 4” and “tags: podcas[…]”

    I’m a software engineer and I’m fluent in C++, C#, XML, javascript, as well as text-messaging conventions and emoticons, and I STILL don’t recongize the above.

  • Sir Otto


    Let me revise my comment. It’s also easy to rip CDs onto the Ipod. The problems come when one wants to put something on that was either purchased at another web site i.e. napster, or “gotten” from a file sharing program such as Limewire. That goes especially for videos. You have to use a third party conversion program to convert them to mpeg4.

  • plnelson

    Sir Otto says plnelson-

    Let me revise my comment. It’s also easy to rip CDs onto the Ipod. The problems come when one wants to put something on that was either purchased at another web site i.e. napster, or “gotten” from a file sharing program such as Limewire. That goes especially for videos. You have to use a third party conversion program to convert them to mpeg4.

    Why bother to transcode them to MP4? Why not just leave them as MP3? iTunes can play either one and transcoding MP3 to MP4 (i.e., one lossy format to another) will undermine already iffy audio quality of MP3 and MP4.

  • nother

    The impression I get from many on this thread is that the shuffle/randomness age is moving us away from our true selves. I contend the opposite; I see this technology as catching up with our consciousness – mirroring our quick-changing thoughts.

    Inspired by ROS I’ve been reading William James and his writing “The Stream of Consciousness” and I find the connections there striking. James writes, “Consciousness is in constant change”

    “Now we are seeing, now hearing; now reasoning, now willing; now recollecting, now expecting; now loving, now hating; and in a hundred other ways we know our minds to be alternately engaged.”

    James gives us –

    Four Characters in Consciousness. —

    1) Every ‘state’ tends to be part of a personal consciousness.

2) Within each personal consciousness states are always changing.

3) Each personal consciousness is sensibly continuous. 

    4) It is interested in some parts of its object to the exclusion of others, and welcomes or rejects — chooses from among them, in a word — all the while.

    I’d like to emphasize something, when I hit my shuffle button I almost never just sit back and listen, I stay active by pressing the “next” button periodically or hitting “shuffle” again. I work in tandem with the random – by actively welcoming or rejecting “all the while.”

    As James writes, “thought goes on.”

  • plnelson

    I see this technology as catching up with our consciousness – mirroring our quick-changing thoughts.

    No, I disagree.

    Because our thoughts really ARE “our” thoughts. I think of this thing, it reminds me of that thing, which makes me think of another thing, which makes me muse on my multiplicity of things, etc. One thought LEADS to another, in invokes another, it relates to another. Together they form an interrelated whole.

    The iPod shuffle algorithm, on the other hand, is random.

    I already made this point in the earlier discussion about Shinjuko – at a glance it may SEEM like random chaos but infact everything is there for a purpose, the pieces connect and interact, patterns emerge and change over the course of a day and week, there’s nothing at all random about it.

  • plnelson

    # ipod nano » Open Source » Blog Archive » The Age of Shuffle Says:

    January 28th, 2007 at 1:54 am


    December 31st, 1969 | Category: Array

    Original post by sagenet and software by Elliott Back


    AGAIN translation, please?

  • nother

    “No I disagree” “One thought LEADS to another, in invokes another, it relates to another.”

    No I disagree Pinelson. 🙂 At least I disagree with part of it. You write that one thought leads/invokes another. So tell me, if Willie Nelson’s “crazy” plays on the shuffle and I’m thinking of an x girlfriend and then the shuffle plays Nine inch Nails, and I start thinking about one of the shows I went too, wasn’t it the shuffle that “lead’ me to another thought.

    I do however agree that those different thoughts have a relation to each other. William James writes about hearing thunder outside:

    “for even into our awareness of the thunder the awareness of the previous silence creeps and continues; for what we hear when the thunder crashes is not thunder pure, but thunder-breaking-upon-silence-and-contrasting-with-it.” Our feeling of the same objective thunder, coming in this way, is quite different from what it would be were the thunder a continuation of previous thunder.”

  • nother

    Here is a beautiful sentence from James:

    “Every definite image in the mind is steeped and dyed in the free water that flows round it. With it goes the sense of its relations, near and remote, the dying echo of whence it came to us, the dawning sense of whither it is to lead.”

    Btw, in the second post on this thread, I referenced “celestial’ radio as opposed to terrestrial, duh.

  • nother

    So to conclude my point. If my shuffle plays Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” tomorrow, but this time it follows a Bob Dylan song, I might not think of that x girlfriend, I might think of the night I saw Willie open for Bob.

    That’s what I mean when I say we work in tandem with the random. We do the relating and the shuffle does the random. The key is to have a lot of content on the ipod because the smaller the pool of content the lesser the degree of randomness. It’s also important to always be adding to that pool of content.

    That’s why I’m a believer in freeing your ipod and sharing – open source your ipod with open source software like

  • PLNelson:

    These are both “pingbacks” — computer-generated posts that we get when another blog links to our page. Because of the way we’ve set up our site, they show up as undifferentiated comments. In a future redesign, and with the right plug-in, we might be able to have them display differently. Further complicating matters, the second one — which I’ve now deleted — wasn’t a real blog at all but instead a kind of advertising aggregator looking for any mention of the word Nano so it could send you a link to entice you into buying crap you didn’t need for that Nano.

  • plnelson

    David says: These are both “pingbacks” — computer-generated posts that we get when another blog links to our page.


  • rahbuhbuh

    I’m curious on how direct downloads, not just the ipod, will shuffle money and jobs around.

    Last year, I decided to solely purchase/license digital music from now on. It seems a bit more pure. No fancy packaging and extraneous glitz attempting to seduce me into buying crap music, not to mention being cheaper with less of an environmental footprint than CDs. However, I’ll sincerley miss giving my local record shops money. I like them. I thought of how my purchases over the years were dissected into paychecks for the various salaries and expenses of the shop clerk, manager, landlord, warehouse employee, delivery truck driver, disc manufacturer, janitor, pressman, graphic designer, photographer, more truckers, and everyone else involved in the CD’s trip to my store. Now, my money goes to Apple, then straight to the label and musicians. The line is much shorter (?). I’ve paid Apple a lot of money just for computers and other hardware and i’d prefer to spread it around a bit more. If I’m going to be skipping the local economy, I’d rather send it directly to the musicians without having to reroute it via California every time. Options for online distro are still too weak.

    Other effects of the Ipod swiped from authors I can’t remember:

    1. It used to be easy to read a person just by looking at their CD collection at a party or while they’re in the other room. It’s very impolite to ask to scroll through someone’s iPod.

    2. Pride in years of hunting and gathering a record collection (emphasizing the rare and out of print stuff) gets insulted when someone conversationally offers to trade whole music libraries, hard drive in hand. Along with wishing that person just a smidgeon of harm and respect for intellectual property, it feels demeaning to slough off something so personal. Music should be about reward as well, not just fast casual file sharing.

  • plnelson

    Sometimes randomness won’t do. When I go on long trips I load up my iPod with music appropriate to my trip or for my destination, or music to match my frame of mind or purpose, or just music with a good steady beat for driving.

    So with this in mind I think the news media is missing a major angle in the story about the astronaut who attempted to kidnap her romantic rival in Florida. She drove 1000 miles from Texas to Florida, disguised the whole time in a wig and trenchcoat and wearing diapers to avoid bathroom stops. Her missioon was to kidnap the other woman in the wee hours of the morning using an air gun and pepper spray. What kind of music goes with that? Romantic music? Suspense music like the soundtracks from James Bond or Mission Impossible movies? Music from the Twighlight Zone?

  • Almanch

    This smells of evolution & natural selection.

    We can gain a lot from allowing randomness to take us places we wouldn’t have gone on our own. Through natural selection it’s why we’re here at all. Our instinct is that random jumps in ANY direction and of ANY magnitude are uncomfortable at least (Edison & his light bulb took a lot of trial and error but it DID lead to A light bulb). Richard Dawkins illustrated these ideas wonderfully with the “random walk” in “The Blind Watchmaker”. We need “random” of memes coming in from the outskirts of our comfort zone, to beat away intellectual inbreeding (but not so random to be irritating or distracting).

    The perfect iPod would not randomly jump across a fixed set of options that I pre-selected (that confines the random walk to a VERY small box). However, it would adjust based on what is in the union of {my personal taste at a given time} . Exercise mode has a certain set of solutions that could evolve by walking a music space in small increments leading out from my known accepted music list (it would quickly get expensive if I had to buy every song, though).

    The same would happen with my podcasts, (sorry) I can’t listen to all 100 podcasts I think I like. At the same time, if I shortened my list, I would miss many “random” shows that I have really enjoyed. Further more, I know that there are podcasts out there that I would love to hear if only I knew about them.

    How do we do this, and not become isolated in the sphere of our own random walk? one which no one else can relate to?

    [Is this so disturbing? Everyone’s lives should be unique to themselves, and is it now finally extending to remove mass-produced “life experiences”? How does it help a society if the only memes around are distributed in a few 11:00 news casts? Is the fun, the intellectual stimulation relating our experiences to each other? In fact doesn’t every great artist walk a unique random walk in memespace?]

  • hobie75

    I’m not really a shuffler.

    I enjoy albums, sides and the enjoyment of listening to an entire message from an artist. Shuffling, to me, seems like you’re not getting the whole story. Like those best-of-your-favorite-sitcom shows that only show the punch-line and never the build-up.

    The fading harmonica of “Visions of Johanna” into the opening chords of “One of Us Must Know”… beautiful and perfect.

  • rahbuhbuh

    It should also be noted that there has been a backlash to the shuffle and scattershot 10-second Japanese commercial-ification of American media. Many musicians are returning to theme albums with narrative structure, supposedly. Some are tongue in cheek, others reverent. Long form instrumental music is gaining popularity. I’ve bought albums with only two songs on them, but each are 20 minutes long. In the mainstream, Madonna’s last album was intentionally engineered for clubs with seemless transitions between songs. Very non-iPod shuffle.

    Also, how much does the industry of Hollywood sound tracks (not commissioned scores) affect the situation? Sales were, and maybe still are, soaring. Listening to one of these in order is usually a sour mismatch of styles. The intent is to marry a song with a scene in cross promotion rather than function as a narrative whole. But our love of the story lead us to buy them anyway. Apple took our desire to be movie stars, curators, and editors then advertized the ability to make our OWN soundtrack to John Travolta strut to. Note that their promotion of Garageband, a proprietary piece of music authoring software (a much less whimsical activity of creating, not pretending) is so lackluster in comparison.

  • You’re right in saying that the iPod has recast the way we understand the data in it, but I don’t think it’s the “shuffle” feature that’s necessarily the most revolutionary part.

    Take the Open Source radio show: I’ve never heard it over the airwaves. I listen to the podcast. I just heard the foriegn correspondent show on Concourse A at Reagan National and winging over Pennsylvania to Minnesota.

    The standard the iPod has set uncouples content from media, geography, time, [mostly] intellectual property rights and a host of other features that have previously been bundled together as “music”.

    And much as you can fiddle with so many things in, for instance, Gnome, or SUSE, the iPod has teased apart the constituent parts of what used to slide in and out of a cardboard sleeve or come in the mail in a cassette case, to be twiddled with endlessly.

    “This” and “here” and “now” can be rearranged like a Rubik’s cube.

    I don’t exactly mean to say that it’s “opened” the source of audible interaction, but I think the features of the iPod and a critical mass of use has brought us very close to an irreducable core, to music or speeches or talk shows as commodity — although DJ Drama has certainly fallen through that small difference and right into jail.

    It’s not to say either that all audible data is indistinguishable or that you may as well listen to Ann Coulter as Christopher Lyden. But the opportunity cost of picking one over the other (remember looking over the album cover stamps in the Columbia House record club offers, trying to figure out which eight you wanted for ‘free’?) has been reduced to near zero.

  • I’m fairly likely to hit shuffle on the ipod as soon as I turn on my 40gb iPod. Why? Because there’s too many choices and without the ability to visually scan a shelf full of albums (and the emotions we’ve trained ourselves to trigger just by seeing the color scheme on the spine of the case) I find it overwhelming to decide based on a vast sea of digital text representing my record collection.

    I love collage. It’s important and we should be allowed and encouraged to create and recrate this culture. But I think the shuffle trend is bad. I’ve found my relationship with music to be lessening in its specialness as these innovations claw their way into my life. I now fight and resist it! I miss the album as an art form. I miss staring at cover art as I listen. I miss dedicating an entire afternoon to crafting the perfect mix tape (and then later mix cd). Now, with iTunes I can make a mix in 3 minutes. 6 minutes if you want it burned to a CD.

    The same ethos transfers to the download vs. buy-the-hard-copy-in-a-store argument. I will admit to downloading albums for free but if I enjoy the music I always buy the album. Some of my friends laugh at this rule I’ve made for myself as if I’m a fool for paying for music in this day and age.

    Think about the progression: Radio, Blank Tapes, CD-Rs, MP3’s, and now Sendspace/YSI-zipped-albums-with-one-click. Of course everyone freaks out over any new technology that allows this sort of thing (See the above list) and of course it’s not going to go away AT ALL ANYTIME SOON but if you look at that list do you see how we’ve lept miles in terms of ease and speed of availability? Maybe we’ve lept beyond what’s healthy in a human relationship with a piece of art?

    Think of it this way: People always cherish the courting period of a relationship. They retell it to their friends and family for years after it has transpired. Also, people say that food you catch and prepare yourself always tastes the best. And I’d argue that these analogies could swing over to music collecting. Are you more likely to have a special relationship with a song you heard on a radio station at 3 in the morning and requested it for 24 hours before they finally played it again and you were able to hit record on the cassette deck and the end of the song has the DJ talking over it but who cares OR “Hey this rules, click here.”

    As a music fan and someone who plays music (and dreams about one day doing so for a living) I find the whole situation complicated, sticky, and utterly depressing. And yet I’m convinced that music will triumph and will figure out a way to transcend this beautiful digital mess we’re in.

  • Sir Otto

    The mediated life vs the unmediated life. We don’t need the unmediated. We can download video podcasts of the parrots of San Francisco, US open highlights, golf lessons. Who needs the bother of hauling the clubs to the course and waiting an hour to tee off? All of our experience gradually seems to be mediated by one source or another. The Pod is another mediation tool. I love mine. Watching those cute little, small screen video podcasts. Headphones on. Nobody to interfere in my little private world. Warm and fuzzy. I can get whatever I need via my Pod.

  • Lumière

    ///…little private world. Warm and fuzzy. I can get whatever I need via my Pod.\\\

    Pod = womb? Shuffle = escapism supreme?

    ///…musicians are returning to theme albums…\\\

    Order focuses perception

  • Max

    The other day discussing politics and hollywood (the day after the

    Oscars was it?) one of the guests said in response to a question about what

    influence did Hollywood have on politics that the unreality of

    Hollywood infected politics or some such. Chris just let that go by without

    expansion. But it is a key idea:

    Reagan brought us “morning in America” or some such nonsense, while

    busting the budget. This is an Orwellian language problem, except it is

    done more with pictures or images than with language–although Karl

    Rove is very good at spinning language into fantasy land.

    This is the most dysfunctional thing about our politics. A country’s

    psychology in denial in exactly the same way an individual’s psyche can

    practice denial.

    So now the war in Iraq is a videogame war, we don’t show the bodies.

    It’s not really real. Candidates are judged on fluff rather than

    substance–how else would you evaluate a movie star?

    Anyway, you get the idea. The disconnect from reality. Important

    problem of our politics. Related to media being so irresponsible and bought

    and paid for.

  • Sopper14

    . . . and the flip side of the shuffle .. .

    Artists arrange their songs to create an album – at least they used to anyway. The songs selected, their order, their production – all part of what the artist is presenting for us to enjoy. I don’t see any crime in the shuffle and I use it a lot myself. However, once in a while, if we truly want to hear the artist’s complete message, and pay a little respect to their process, we should turn the shuffle off and listen to the album as the artist intended.

    Warning for other middle-aged Luddites like myself: Embarking on a long trip, I thought a book on cd loaded onto my mp3 player would be just the thing for a prolonged period of claustrophobic imprisonment on a plane. The characters were interesting, the writing was good in small bits, but I could not make heads or tails out of the story line. The author had me jumping back and forth in time and space – it was dizzying and disorienting. Think I might have even said “What the f**k?” a couple of times. I suffered through the whole first disc before realizing I had the mp3 on “shuffle”. Must say, the book was considerably better from that point on.

  • bsandmeyer

    This premise here is flawed. I’ve lived in a shuffle age my entire life. Only when I was younger the apparatus was called a radio and it had commercials.

  • siennaf1

    I paint toys 10 hours a day, and I use my ears+iPod to polish my French, German, Arabic and Spanish skills, catch up on world news not available on the radio, and hear the NPR programs (including yours) which air while I’m working.

    the shuffle aspect reminds me of high school when we had double periods and days off certain subject. yesterday my ipod fed me 4 straight german lessons, then some BBC comedy. I appreciate the possibility of using my ears to learn while my eyes and hands (and not brain) are busy, and i also appreciate the iPod’s sense of humor.


    Genevieve Shapiro

  • Lumière

    apophenia : making connections where none previously existed

  • At what point will commercial radio figure out that people want the shuffle in radio too. In other words, listeners don’t want a static playlist of the same 5 songs over and over. We want more variety not less. I love both talk and music radio but I find most commercial rock stations are nearly unlistenable. Give more artists a chance and I wouldn’t be surprised if more superstars bubbled to the top of the heap. The only stations that come close are college radio stations and freeform stations such as WFMU in New Jersey.

  • Lumière

    Bingo !

    Shuffle is for people who can’t make sense of the mass of songs except to say : MINE !

    ….this has me reading Baudrillard

  • It is very difficult to get a computer to behave completely random.

    In the end it always ends up relying on a set sequence.

    I still do not believe that iPod shuffle is truly as random as, say, if it was determined by a human rolling some dice.

  • paul d

    The sound of music delivered serendipitously becomes a passive pleasure and sometimes an epiphany masked as a coincidence. Shuffle on.

  • Lumière

    worth repeating:

    Jazzman says:

    I believe the shuffling urge is a form of ADD and the reason for the most of virtual epidemic of ADD/HD diagnoses (besides misdiagnosis, lack of appropriate analysis, and the rewards for drugging the patients) is: Most Americans today are bombarded by a 24/7 stream of eclectic secondary information and lack the ability to focus on a task or thought except for brief periods until they are interrupted by other stimuli and they’re off on a new tangent.

  • jazzman

    Thanks РLumi̬re

  • deuce

    Shuffle is a step above having to choose a CD and a step below a good radio station. I have about 350 CDs in my computer and no ipod. Why? Because I’m sick to death of all my music, and fast internet, which would allow me to choose by the song and download, isn’t here yet. The problem with an ipod is that it generally has your own music in it. A radio is great (especially a satellite radio) exactly because you don’t know what you’ll hear next. Shuffle is a cheap imitation of that element of surprise. It is just a much smaller index. Pandora sounds good to me, but again, no fast internet, no internet radio. By the way, I hear Open Source on satellite.

  • Lumière


    The guests seemed confused.

    Fetishism – Consumerism – Hyperreality

    Ps. I have 450 songs ordered in a narrative way, but I’m an artist, order matters to me

  • Nick

    I really liked this show. It’s a podcast-download-keeper. Thanks, nother.

    Just before the show aired, I opened my computer’s WinAmp music program and started up my longest playlist, set, of course, to “Shuffle”. (My computer and its speakers, btw, amount to the best stereo I’ve ever owned.) It got me to thinking…

    I very much like and appreciate Shuffle (the blues form too, jazzman :-)). Like most boomers, I grew up listening to full albums, learning quickly – and unforgettably – the ‘proper’ order of the songs. I appreciate that, but don’t worship it.

    Perhaps my veneration is tempered by having worked for two decades in a bar where we played albums – entire albums only – on cassettes over an excellent house stereo. We had thousands of albums to choose from, yet after a few years, even that uncommon selection began to lose its luster.

    I have no profundities to offer on “the meaning of shuffle”. To me, a music lover with tens of thousands of songs, it’s simply an optional randomizer whose output very much pleases my loving but somewhat jaded ears.

    Not all shuffles are equal however. Unable to afford an i-Pod, I own a Sony Walkman that plays proprietary ‘Atrac’ CD’s, each of which holds a bit more than 600 songs. I run and work out while wearing the Walkman (which also receives Seattle’s NPR station, which airs ROS), and though 600 songs is plenty of variety, even that can get old if I don’t change the CD fairly regularly.

    Here’s what doesn’t get old: 12,656 songs in my (currently) longest WinAmp playlist. The screen informs me that’s over 836 hours of music – with no repeats, were I to play it nonstop. It’s everything in my possession released (as new) between 1957 and 2007.

    That’s 34.83 days, says my calculator. Think about it. And I like most of the songs, love many of them too, and, well, wrinkle my nose at a few of the others.

    That playlist doesn’t include any of my classical, galant, baroque, or medieval music. Nor does it include any of my ambient stuff (great for writing fiction).

    Nor any of my burgeoning collection of classic jazz and Swing music – which, because it was ALL released as 78rpm singles, is completely perfect for ‘Shuffle’. For example, one of my favorite (and growing) playlists holds all of my tunes released between 1935 and 1945, and it’s nearing 3000 tracks. “Shuffle” is ideal for that era’s classic blues, jazz, big band blast, and pop vocals too.

    Some shuffles are better than others!

    Now, back to the album issue: Shuffle is an option. I can very easily reset to ‘All’ whenever wanting to hear an album in the classic order its musicians intended for it.

    But Shuffle is fine option. Here’s what I heard while settling in for our 9 PM PST airing of ROS, and then on throughout the hour of listening to Chris, Brendan and their guests:

    1. Detroit Cobras – “Hey Sailor” – from Life, Love, & Leaving, 2001

    2. Erykah Badu – “Apple Tree” – from Baduizm, 1997

    3. The Guess Who – “Truckin’ Off Across the Sky”, 1972

    4. The Sights – It’d Be Nice (To Have You Around) – from Got What We Want, 2002

    5. Little Feat – “Time Loves A Hero” – from Time Loves A Hero, 1977

    6. The Dirtbombs – “Fox Box” – from Horndog Fest, 1998

    7. The Challengers – “K-39”, 1964

    8. The Beatles – “I’ll Get You”, 1963

    9. Dire Straits – “The Bug” – from On Every Street, 1991

    10. Led Zeppelin – “D’yer Maker” from Houses of the Holy, 1973

    11. Johnny Winter – “Johnny B. Goode” from Second Winter, 1969

    12. Mark Knopfler – “Who’s Your Baby Now” – from Sailing to Philadelphia, 2000

    13. Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell (?)– “My Mistake (Was to Love You)”, 1974

    14. The Dirtbombs – “Start the Party” – from Dangerous Magical Noise, 2003

    15. The Sugarcubes – “Coldsweat” (remix) from Life’s Too Good, 1988

    16. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – “Yester Love”, 1968

    17. Eric Clapton – “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” – from There’s One In Every Crowd, 1975

    18. The Come-Ons – “Stars” from Stars, 2006

    19. Kristin Hersh – “Peggy Lee” from Learn to Sing Like A Star, 2007

    20. Junior Walker & The All-Stars – “These Eyes”, 1969

    21. Traffic – “Who Knows What Tomorrow Might Bring” – from Traffic, 1968

    22. Johnny Winter & Rick Derringer – “On The Limb” – from Johnny Winter And, 1970

    23. Bill Frisell – “Cold, Cold, Ground” – from Good Dog, Happy Man, 1999

    Since then, while writing this up, I’ve had the additional pleasure of (in order): Wilson Pickett, Toots & The Maytalls, Cat Stevens, L7, The Stones (“Shattered”), Blondie, The Clash, Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble, Count Basie (“Li’l Darlin’”), Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Pearl Jam, T. Rex, The Strokes (overrated!), Country Joe & The Fish (why, exactly, did we ever like these guys???), Lou Reed, Sheryl Crow, The Who, Thee Minks, Peter Green’s ‘Original’ Fleetwood Mac (the awesome blues band version), Elvis Presley, Mountain, Ron Wood & Ronnie Lane, 50 Foot Wave, Aerosmith, & The Allman Bros. Band.

    Some shuffles – particularly big, varied ones – are just plain better than the others.

    Lastly, big time congrats on your MacArthur grant!

  • Lumière

    Shuffle is merely another indication of the end of art

  • Nick

    Lumiere, with all due respect: fads come and go. I’m culturally isolated in the boonies of western WA, so perhaps I’m (blissfully) ignorant of a larger ‘threat’ posed by “Shuffle”. (Although the idea of it strikes me as about as imaginative as the garden-variety “monster” lurking under a child’s bed, I must confess.) If applying the randomizing “shuffle” notion to non-musical entities is a ‘dangerous fad’, I’d like to know of the evidence.

    Example: I’ve written two pieces of book length fiction. I can promise you that the notion of a “Shuffle” novel is oxymoronic. It would not be ‘art,’ it would a kind of video game comprised of words. It wouldn’t become a model for others to follow, but an example of faddishness at its silliest. It would endure in legacy as a flop, at best.

    Shuffle is the logical descendant of the ‘single’, and of singles played on radio. It’s great for popular music, but not for all music uniformly. As pln indicated, it turns multi-movement classical playlists into unlistenable gibberish – the musical counterpart of a “Shuffle” novel, I suppose.

    I guess I’m saying simply: relax. Let this new music-listening option run its faddish course and then ebb back into its only valid domain: allowing listeners to experience their popular music collections in fresh, unpredictable sequences.

    I don’t expect “shuffle” amounts to another sign of the Second Coming. Give it a couple of years. Don’t be surprised if a reaction emerges in the coming months: popular music arranged as suites – and listened to by its consumers as the musicians intend. See Sloan’s new album for evidence. It’s arranged like the awesome final sequence of Abbey Road. (It’s good, too.)

    Take a breath, buddy. The fad will ebb. Fads always do.

  • Nick

    PS to Lumiere and anyone else: I’ve already said and so have several others – “Shuffles” are only as fresh as their musical ingredients. If you’re 50, and your ‘shuffle’ is nothing more than your favorite 40 albums of 1968 to 1974, it will very quickly become just as drab as if you played those venerable old albums in their intended sequences.

    The key to enjoying – really enjoying – a shuffle is new music – or, at least, music new to you. If you can mix your 40 old faves with 40 fine albums from 1997 to 2007, the shuffled results will likely please the heck out of you.

    And to reiterate: I’m discovering the matchless joys of the Swing Era (1932 to 1946, more or less) via “Shuffle”. It’s perfect for that music, all of which was released as singles. (And it’s abominable for Bach, Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, & Schubert.)

  • Lumière

    Looking at that thread caused me to re-read some Baudrillard. I’m ‘low church’ – I don’t read the original text – but help yourself.

    Shuffle is like the Sinefeld show: much about nothing. Jobs is a genius. He will load all music on a thumbnail sized unit (SNL) and then… you are correct, the process will reverse and the reduction in quality of experience will have to be dealt with.

    It is all good, but I see too much of it first – didn’t buy a CD changer until it went back to 1x sampling.

    If you can get through Kupsit’s book (terribly written) End of Art, he sums up how popular culture is destroying art.

  • Lumière


    The End of Art: Donald Kuspit

  • Nick

    Lumiere: “…popular culture is destroying art.”

    Maybe it is. I’m unqualified to opine on that. But those five words stimulated my curiosity –

    Is art an independent entity that can be ‘destroyed’? Is ‘art’ a thing unto itself (think about the conversation regarding ‘evil’ in the Arendt thread), or simply a reflection of the culture it is indigenous to?

    If art is, “… that which is made with the intention of stimulating the human senses as well as the human mind or spirit”, are video games art?

    I really don’t know the best answer, but I suspect that video games are ‘art’ forms symptomatic of contemporary ‘digital’ culture. If that’s so, you and I would probably agree that our rapidly advancing technology is paradoxically debasing our culture. But then, ‘debase’ is a subjectively loaded term.

    Another tack: is popular culture destroying art, or, instead, is this culture’s ‘art’ simply and accurately reflecting its cultural milieu?

    Is it possible that our culture’s technology is advancing much more rapidly than our society can adapt to it? Isn’t it strange that the same technology allowing you and I to have this sort of heavy conversation, effectively anonymously and effectively instantaneously, without so much as leaving our homes, let alone bothering to engage the human service-system called ‘the Post’, is also enabling the creation of image-games that seem to offer hallucinations of violence and mayhem?

    Again, I’m not a deep thinker regarding art. I barely understand what that word means to me, let alone to others. I do, however, suspect that our culture is producing valid ‘representative art’. It’s not perhaps recognizable as ‘traditional’ art, and we can agree to decry this. But its function might be more or less the same as that of the arts whose apparent diminution—in quantity, quality, and impact—we agree to lament.

    I’m interested to read your thoughts, and those of any others. (Peggy Sue?)

  • Lumière

    Kuspit is a critic. Perl, Danto, and Kuspit are the critics I will read. A.C. Danto wrote ‘After the End of Art’, which is an excellent survey of art and why/how it ended. If you can read one book about art theory, history, and etc, this is it.

    Kuspit’s book is a rant and the questions you raise are precisely what he should have addressed in his book, but did not.

    Joseph Beuys defined art thusly: Everything is art and everyone is an artist.

    In order to define something you must exclude something. His answer is not really a definition.

    The problem for critics is that they are not leaders, they are followers. Someone has to do something and then they go to work. There is some unanimity between Perl, Danto ,and Kuspit that the NY art scene is corrupted by money – there is no merit. There are no critics like Clement Greenberg

    to tell people what is what. Nonetheless, he and modernism were ultimately corrupted by hubris.

    Charlie Rose had four Macarthur awardees on his show. One was woman who put potted plants in an abandoned psychiatric hospital. I think she said her theory was that people do not get flowers for mental illnesses. Charlie asked her what she would do with the money. She said: “Paint ! I am trained as a painter.”

    Her inflection was saying: “You don’t think I’m going to keep doing the same crap I did to get the grant ?”

    Kuspit writes in a very round-about-way, but he always gets to the point of saying: we are getting the art we deserve.

    Now you know why I speak against the inanity of shuffle – someone has to do it – I think we deserve better.

    Ps. I’ll try to propose an ROS on art – not sure I can top Sex Drugs and ….the religious right

  • What “art” or even what “Art” is… is quite the subject and may be easier to grasp in smaller chunks. There are plenty of cultures that have no word for art and yet we take artifacts from these cultures and put them in art museums. Duchamp took his “ready-mades” most famously, a toilet that he titled “fountain” and put it in an exhibit. It is still being debated whether that piece is art but it has made it into art history books so, is it context that makes it art? Then there is the debate regarding, is it “art” or is it “craft”. If you devide art from craft by materials, for example baskets or fabric pieces are craft, painting and sculpture are “art” you run into “art” that is cliche and poorly made and on the other hand “craft” that is highly exquisite and creative. If you use usefulness as criteria what happens when I take a carved marble Michelangelo head and use it as a bookend. Does it cease to be art? The glass artist Dale Chihuley has been called a craftsman instead of an artist because he works in glass. His response is that he doesn’t care what they call him he loves his work. Working artists can find art criticism very dry subject matter. Its the creating process it seems to me that holds the “juice” of the matter.

  • Nick

    Peggy Sue, thank you for the thoughts on art.

    Lumiere, I like the looks of your show suggestion and hope it’s a seed that sprouts a thread, and that the thread then bears fruit as a show. It seems ideal ROS material (although perhaps I ought not say that, since I myself can’t seem to suggest “ideal ROS material” to save my life.)

    Can we all agree that music is art?

    It’s peculiar art too, because only until the invention of the phonograph was it anything other than the most fleeting of art: in the air and then gone. The recording of music changed everything. Suddenly it became consumable without the necessity of the musicians presence within one’s earshot.

    After pondering this thread a bit longer, I’m increasingly inclined to argue hard that if “popular culture is destroying art”, “Shuffle” isn’t the culprit – or even a symptom.

    To best offer the argument without clogging this thread, I’ve made two off site posts:

    1. A Classic Era Jazz & Blues shuffle – 1917-1931 (more or less)

    2. A Swing Era shuffle – 1932–1946.

    At the bottom of this second list comes the main substance of my argument.

    Feel free to comment. (Especially you, jazzman – I expect the two lists will read like musical ‘erotica’ for you!)

  • Lumière


    Randy says: Dog, u da bomb, but I got to be real, right?

    How is shuffling teaching you anything?

    When I built a jazz collection, I studied Jazz from books.

    When I built a classical collection, I volunteered to be the treasurer of a chorale/orchestra.

  • Nick

    Lumiere: maybe it’s a case of “to each his own”.

    When I caught the 18th century music bug, I didn’t have a “shuffle” option, and, had it been available, wouldn’t have used it. I bought a couple of dozen books to deepen my understanding and appreciation of my growing collection of 18th century music-on-CD. It was informal, all on my own volition and curiosity. And it was all good.

    But I didn’t catch more than a touch of the Swing bug until I after realizing I could augment my couple of CDs with more from the local library. That first ‘shuffled’ playlist fired my enthusiasm and led to my purchases of dozens more CDs. Those bigger and bigger shuffles allowed me to compare the sounds and styles of the performers – and THAT led to my ordering of books byGunther Schuller, Scott Yanow, and the biggest beauty of all called Jazz: A History of America’s Music.

    And it’s all good too.

    To each his own. Shuffle helped my appreciation. It fired my enthusiasm.

    And again: it COULDN’T HAVE done so for my 18th century appreciation. But flatly to condemn it as execrable seems pretty short-sighted to me, in light of my own experiences.

    As for Lady Day: sure. Good choice. Wonderful choice. (I’ve no shortage of her songs in my hard drive.)

    But I’d nearly kill to hear Anita and Little Jazz live in ’42.


  • nother

    Just wanted to make this 100 posts! 🙂

    Heard the show today and really liked it. Michael Bull was really interesting – keep his name in the books.

    As Bob Marley says, “There’s one good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.”

  • houstonDave

    I find it funny that I heard that Shuffle was the essential feature of the iPod on a podcast! For me, it is podcasts that make the devices indispensable. However, if you were to make a show arguing my point, it would probably appear too self-congratulatory.

    There was also an amusing coincidence in the show. Chris suggested that iPod shuffling might logically lead to individuals making their own music, and actually used the phrase “garage band.” When we Mac users bought iLife that included iTunes (even though you can download it separately for free), we get an application called Garage Band that lets you make incredible music (and podcasts, as well.) It was a bit excruciating that the two uses of the phrase “garage band” were not explicitly connected.

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  • wildebeest

    The interesting thing about raising the issue of the ADHD epidemic in this way is that it suggests, FINALLY, that many of the diagnoses of ADHD are not, in fact, chemical problems, but learned behaviors. Taking this further, maybe exercises developed by cognitive scientists to stimulate the formation of new mental patterns might be a more savory approach to treating this disorder than medication has been.

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