Monday, November 13, 2006


Soundtrack for a Life

I forgot to mention Tony Myles' post Full Soundtrack in my two posts about playlists. It's probably the gentle push that got me moving in the direction that produced last Saturday's "lifetime playlist." People talk about music and memories, and it's easy for images and events from long-gone periods to come back into vibrant life with the just the starting notes of a song.

Even just in memory, "Blame It On the Bossa-Nova" conjures up the deep blue carpet of our big living room, the cool air I'd drop into as I came downstairs from my room. I'd also sneak over to the record player and change the order of the stack of records my sister had set up. I wanted to hear "Puff" before she did. My DJ roots showed early, I guess. Sometimes she caught me at it and was upset.

Given all that it's kind of odd how, when I first heard about portable music players and playlists it all seemed a solution in search of a problem. Who would want to take the time to copy CDs, convert them to MP3 and then set up playlists? Why not just put the CD into the player and spin it out?

Well, there are some CDs out there that have just one song I want to hear amid a bunch I'd rather do without. Eventually I learned that Itunes could both copy songs and play them back, and I used this capability to reduce a stack of one-song CDs to a 4-hour collection of singles. Even with this strong hint I still wasn't thinking about playlist design: the songs played simply in the order I copied them to the computer.

Now I know better. Take the same set of songs. Put them in one order, you have one kind of party. Put them in another order and you change the mood. Change a song or two and you have something else again. You can go for smooth transitions, or you can drop people off of cliffs. Music I wouldn't listen to by itself becomes a kind of spice in the larger mix, providing contrast rather as bits of ginger in the tom kah guy soup.

That's all a given. DJs have been playing with this forever. I recently found a Web site devoted to playlist design for aspiring DJs. I don't follow any of their principles. You're surprised, right?

What's not a given is what the DJ can add to things. A playlist can transcend mood design and go into deeper territory. Music reaches into people. Propagandists have used this for years. It's kind of frightening for me to know how music hooks people because I detest manipulation in any form and I'm not sure where the boundary is.

"It's kind of frightening for me to know how music hooks people because I detest manipulation in any form and I'm not sure where the boundary is."

I think as long as people don't start wearing purple and orange you're safe ;)
I have a deep passion for music and am a DJ extraordinaire (in my own mind). I have so many playlists on my itunes that I drive myself nuts. I think I am about ready for the one called "songs for falling asleep" which is mostly classical piano.
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