Thursday, 5 July 2007

Random Pleyel

It's quite annoying, I know, when people start droning on - as if it was some great revelation - about something you've known for ten years. So I will try not to (well not too much); instead let me just say that until I had my own MP3 player I didn't really understand quite how wonderful Random Play All was, and now I'm beginning to.

I'm a creature of habit and, left to my own devices, I might well tend to stick to a pretty limited repertoire of tunes, despite the zillions available. This behaviour was only reinforced by my previous portable music device, the late lamented minidisc player. Since its discs are more of less the same capacity as a CD, it's fiddly to change and so tended to push me towards a conservative approach, even among the relatively few discs I'd made.

Random Play All removes all this. It's no more or less easy to listen to Bleibt Alles Anders for the 8000000th time than it is to listen to something I put on yesterday or that I ripped six years ago at work and have long since forgotten.

So what does Random Play All do for me:?

  • It's brilliant having someone else make the decisions. I'm often astonished by the cleverness of the programming. Who'd have thought of going from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet to incidental music from Wings of Desire, via Maynard Ferguson's, er, "incomparable" Bridge Over Troubled Water, and finishing the sequence with Somebody's Watching Me by Rockwell? Well, not me for starters. It's like having in your pocket a miniature Late Junction (all rise, face Broadcasting House, and bow please) which has stayed up much too late then maxed out on coffee, dry roast peanuts and bacon sandwiches. The randomness makes for much whackier programming than I'd dare do by hand. I love it!
  • It amuses me by (sort of) holding the mirror up to my musical tastes.
  • The latter cuts both ways. It's great when something comes on and I think, "wow, this is great". It's a fair bit less so when I hear something and go, "good grief, what is this appalling hogwash? What kind of fool would have put it on here? ... Oh."
  • The surprises and unfamiliarity are great, but then it's fun when something I know and love shows up. It's like the DJ chose my favourite song.
  • It's good to be forced (encouraged?) to listen to non-favourite tracks from a favourite album. These are the ones I'd often skip for no good reason.
  • If an unfamiliar track comes on and you'd like to identify it, it's surprisingly easy.
  • Oh, so sorry, there's text omitted there - it should read: if an unfamiliar track comes on and you'd like to identify it, it's surprisingly easy to mess it up and be left without a clue as to what it was. It's probably fine if you were born since 1980 but for me it's only one quick butterfingered or confused moment before the fact I wanted is consigned to the binary shredder. I'd quite like it projected inside my specs when I press a button, please. Or read out over the audio track perhaps, preferably by Gwyneth Paltrow? Anyway.
  • The only other annoyance is when it's messed up by silly short tracks and/or bad, abrupt endings. These are problems confined largely to classical music, much of which was not, I fear, written for MP3 players, though I do sometimes feel the record companies could have done a little better even so. My recording of the Alpine Symphony is particularly bad in this respect - one moment you're nearing the end of some exquisite chunk of upland scenery then suddenly, before the end of a phrase and with no apparent logic to the placement, the Alps are gone and Kate Bush is tweetling in your ear. This can be a touch disconcerting. I think the track end positions were given to the Year 10 work experience kid to do on a hot Friday afternoon when they'd finished the photocopying - you know how it is...
  • It also makes you think about the weird way these collections get built up, which is what I meant about it “sort of” holding up the mirror. For example I am hearing a lot of the Comedian Harmonists in the random selection. This isn’t because I am really that fanatical about them, great though they are, but merely that the Salverdas loaned me a four-disc set and I ripped it all – so the Harmonists are particularly well-represented. It would, I think, be a touch too obsessive to start trying to fine-tune this and make it truly representative – and anyway it is more fun, and certainly more bizarre, this way.

Basically, it’s a wonderful feature and I love it. There you go!

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