Thursday, June 03, 2010


I know I said that I would never become a "pod person," but the travel-oriented practicality of a device (the smallest of the ipods) that weighs less than one of the batteries it takes to run my CD player won me over. I have always liked the idea of chance working in counterpoint with cycles, so the idea of the "shuffle" option on the ipod was kind of appealing to me: it offers the chance to get a relatively random musical experience on my daily walk (always the same route, it seems) while working within parameters that I can set myself.

I loaded it up with all the preludes and fugues from the first book of Bach's Well-tempered Clavier (played by Richter), all the Bach choral motets, all the Brahms Piano Quartets, a few Beethoven and Mozart Violin Sonatas, a whole CD of songs written and performed by Carlos Gardel, some Schumann piano music (played by Richter), music from recordings I'm currently reviewing for the ARG, and various and sundry other pieces I normally don't listen to for pleasure, like performances of music that I wrote.

For some odd and random reason (though I know that there must be some kind of numeric order to the shuffling process), a Prelude or a Fugue from the WTC or a Gardel song always seems to pop up between longer pieces. The Gardel songs (which I normally love) sound monochromatic next to Brahms (which I always love). The Bach preludes and fugues (which I love deeply) sound extremely busy next to a movement of Brahms, but Brahms sounds overblown next to a movement of Mozart. I find myself clicking through movements that I normally would enjoy in context, and that really bothers me. It compromises my mechanical listening experience, and though I think I have left the house with "more," I come home an hour later feeling like I have experienced "less."

The random listening experience really doesn't lend itself to music that requires the kind of concentration I normally give. It also forces me to make comparisons between composers and pieces that, in real time and space, would never even be on the same program together, especially since their movements are broken up and scattered about. For me it is kind of like having an Italian pasta dish with spicy Thai noodles at the same meal. I end up tasting nothing.

Thank goodness the device also lets you listen to music in order!


DAvid Wolfson said...

Elaine, I feel differently about the shuffle feature. Here's an excerpt from one of my blog entries:

I really love setting iTunes to shuffle my entire music collection. The breathless moment between tracks becomes the best part, when I wonder whether that Ravel piano trio is going to be followed by a Paul Simon track, perhaps the Elliott Carter Clarinet Concerto, or maybe some Celtic fiddle tunes? Could it be one of my favorite Pat Metheny albums, another wildly inventive piece from Bela Fleck, or one of the cabaret songs of Clark Gesner?

and here's the link to the whole post:

Elaine Fine said...

Perhaps your listening tastes are far more suited to the shuffle feature than mine are, David!

I do kind of like the "breathless moment" concept though. There are also breathless moments between songs in a Schubert or Schumann song cycle when they are played in order.