Shuffling with someone else’s mind

Thursday 22 February 2007

It had to happen by accident if it was going to happen at all. Every year I receive a shoebox containing several relatively high-end consumer knick-knacks from my dad, as he casts off his superseded technology and upgrades to the next generation of electronic gadgets. The box always arrives unexpectedly, the contents are always a surprise, and have a large degree of difference in usefulness. If you have unwanted battery-operated items lying around your house and cannot be bothered firing up eBay, I am considering expanding this service beyond members of my immediate family.
This year’s shoebox contained an iPod Nano so Dad, I hope you’re enjoying that new 80GB video iPod you’ve got yourself. I’ve never used a personal music player before, figuring that I’d always be switching it off every few minutes to hear something going on in the outside world. (The ancient Discman in the photo is patched into an amplifier, and in any case doesn’t like being moved. It’s another paternal cast-off.)
My Dad sent me his iPod with all his music still loaded on it, so before I do anything else with it I’m going to hit shuffle and report on the first ten tracks it plays. This experiment enables me to do simultaneously two things I’ve never done before: use an iPod, and take up a meme that has appeared on other blogs. Please note that I am using the latest definition of “meme”, which has now been extended to include “copying the Random Rules column in The Onion’s AV Club”.
Unlike other participants, who have prefaced their reports with disclaimers as to how the music on their iPod may not necessarily be representative of their actual tastes, I won’t resort to such a cop-out, and will boldly affirm that whatever tracks come up on this device are an unequivocal indicator of my dad’s personality.

1. “Ich Will (radio edit)” by Rammstein

OK, I wasn’t expecting that. Perhaps he’s given me my little sister’s iPod instead.

2. Symphony No.4, 3rd movement, by Ludwig van Beethoven. Nikolas Harnoncourt conducting somebody or other

Sorry, I don’t know who the orchestra is because I haven’t figured out yet how to get all the track details to display properly. That’s one problem with MP3 players: they’re overengineered in the way they present music. CDs, tapes, records: they don’t much care whether you fill them with symphonies, Buddhist rituals, lectures, or radio broadcasts. It’s all the same to them: stick a label on it somewhere and everyone can work it out for themselves. But iPods expect every track to be one complete unique song by a unique singer and get all grudging with the information when the real world doesn’t work out that way. Also, the little headphones keep falling out of my ears.

3. “Too Much To Ask” by Avril Lavigne

Uh, Dad, that picture is too small to be of any use to anyone.

4. “Now’s the Time” by Charlie Parker

I have a great big deaf spot when it comes to jazz. And I was too preoccupied with trying out different ways, none of them successful, of sticking the headphones in my ears without them falling out, to concentrate on the music.

5. “Longfellow’s Visit to Venice” by Sir John Betjeman

Now this is the stuff. For the sake of full disclosure, it should be noted that up until now I have been doing what I imagine everyone does when undertaking this exercise and skipping through each track instead of listening to it. I’m sorry if I sound terrible slow in coming to the party on this point, but I’ve truly just realised that the great benefit of iPods is that they enhance your ability to identify with your selection of music, without subjecting you to the inconvenience of having to hear it.
I was just reminded about the existence of these records last year (via The Rambler): eccentric hybrid recordings combining the then Poet Laureate reciting his verse over charmingly sympathetic musical accompaniments, specially composed by Jim Parker. I remember enjoying the LPs my parents had of this stuff when I was a kid, and apparently I wasn’t alone. “There’s this comic gravity that I’ve certainly found inspiring regarding my own work,” enthuses fellow fuddy-duddy Nick Cave in an article about the history of Betjeman’s records in The Guardian. Further investigation is required before I can verify the Guardian’s claim that there is indeed “dope bass action” and “fat, funky basslines” for DJs to dig on in these tracks. It’s better than Gerrard Kennedy’s efforts, at any rate.
Did my dad dub this from his vinyl, find it on CD, or is it for sale at iTunes? Or are the l33t w@r3z kids sharing Sir John B on teh bittorrentzz?

6. Bachianas Brasileiras No.9, 1st movement, by Heitor Villa Lobos. Orchestre National de la R..

One of these was bound to turn up. There are nine works in this series, each broken up into movements, so the odds are heavily stacked towards some fragment of them appearing near the front end of any shuffle. Again, the machine will not tell me the full name of who’s playing this, making the orchestra name look like that of a licentious marquess from a saucy 19th-century novel.

7. “Thrice Told Tale (Take 1)” by, uh, me.

Suddenly I’m listening to something I composed five years ago. I suspect he whacked this on just before shoving it in the jiffy bag just to impress me. Still, he would have ripped it from the audio CD I gave him, so there’s been some effort put into it, which is nice. Even though it’s unquestionably brilliant I’m skipping through it anyway, because it’s half an hour long.

8. “Horny” by Mousse T vs Hot’n’Juicy

Daddy, we hardly knew you.

9. “Undecided” by The Masters Apprentices

At last, something else I don’t want to skip through. Amazingly, this little garage nugget just keeps growing in stature over the decades: what began as a quickie bit of filler is now teaching us all an important lesson in how much Jet sucks. I suddenly feel very old. Not because I know this song, I mean because I remember Jet.

10. “You’re The Voice” by Johnny Farnham

This whole exercise – right from the invention of the iPod, down to the act of deciding to write this post – has been a cruel, elaborate trick played by fate at my expense.
Next five: “I’m the Lonesomest Gal in Town” by Ella Fitzgerald; “Yesterday When I Was Mad” by The Pet Shop Boys; “Kometenmelodie 1″ by Kraftwerk; “Tiger Feet” by Mud; and something by my ex-girlfriend – hang on! We split up before there were iPods, which means…. (throws iPod out window only for it to bounce back when headphones remain stuck in ears).