Suze left her iPod at work this weekend. Normally this isn’t a major disaster but we were having company over and needed to have music playing while we cleaned up the house, if not during company itself. So I was asked to bring my iPod out of it’s protective gym casing and allowed to set it into the docking station for the day.
Needless to say, my wife and I have different tastes in music. And just to be on the safe side (in case I didn’t realize it) she let me know we had different tastes in music this evening, which was her polite way of saying that she didn’t really like everything my pod was shuffling through. Funny how the fact that I don’t dig what her pod shuffles most of the time doesn’t matter, especially since she hogs the docking station. But I digress.
What I was reminded of tonight, and one of the first times I ever put an iPod in shuffle songs mode, was how well-matched the music seemed to be. Even when it shifted genres or decades or styles, somehow the pod knew how best to match things: when to bring the tempo up or down, how to match beats, matching closing and opening keys. Man, I thought, that’s one smart program they’ve written for a music player.
Except Apple didn’t write that program. I did. And I did it using the time-honored methods outlined by Dadaist artist Tristan Tzara back in the 1920s. And I didn’t even know it (which is really the only proper way to do it). Allow me to explain.
In 1924 little Sami Rosenstock, a.k.a. Tristan Tzara, as one of the founders of the Dada art movement published a book entitled Seven Dada Manifestos. Among the manifestos Tzara included instructions for writing a Dada poem. Here are the complete instructions:
To make a Dadaist poem:
Take a newspaper.
Take a pair of scissors.
Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag.
Shake it gently.
Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will be like you.
And here you are a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.
I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting the point of this little exercise. The poem will be like you because, in a sense, you have consciously chosen the elements to be included even if you had no real say in their order. In choosing the article and the length, in choosing the words, you have in essence subconsciously programmed all the possible meanings and permutations of your poem. In the end, only one order will emerge of all the possibilities, and it couldn’t possibly be otherwise.
You see where I’m going: my iPod is the bag, the songs I’ve loaded are the words, and the shuffle element randomly chooses songs. That the final playlist “works” is because in pre-selecting the songs to be included the final playback of those songs in whatever order “resembles me.” Where I find myself wishing to skip songs when the pod is in shuffle is when it’s playing back a song I loaded for reasons other than personal enjoyment — like songs I loaded in order to make mix discs for my girls, or for specific playlists (like the gym list) that have their own separate applications. Of course I’m going to think the iPod can read my mind, I’ve loaned it the building blocks of my own subconscious programming.
It’s nice to think of all these pod people walking around with a little bit of Dada filling their ears.