Friday, February 27, 2004
Michael reports on another Michael's assessment of the impact of iPods over at Mischievous Constructions. As the happy owner of a battered Walkman which never leaves my bag and rarely leaves my ears, I think they've got it wrong. I've never even seen an iPod, but all that they report about the 'changes' it's producing leaves me cold. 10,000 songs - now that's something. But apparently iPod listeners listen to the same half dozen songs every day for weeks on end. Michael himself confirms this, talking about the happy 90 minutes a day he spends with his iPod. I can't be the only one who things "90 minutes? That's a mix tape!" That's time for the full span, the arc, the beauty of a mix tape!
I can see how an iPod would be efficient. I imagine, the way technology's going, that it's something onto which music can be recorded and a selection of tracks set down in a matter of minutes. But where's the fun in that? Where's the nights spent up late, knowing there's work the next day, but not caring because you're engulfed in making something that's truly yours. So people like 'control of their journey', matching the music to its sections? There could be no more pure sense of control than marking the exact gaps between the tracks on your tape, running the cymbal beat of one straight into the bass guitar of another; or leaving some seconds for a pause, a change of tempo or just an awareness of keeping the time of the last track, so the next one comes in on the perfect upbeat...
It takes me three hours to make a mix tape, double the length of the tape itself. Three hours, every time. I've made hundreds of them and they've served every mood imaginable. They've often been full tapes of a single band or group, constructing the perfect album that never was. But more fun is the real DJ's touch; it's mixing the completely unlikely in such a way as to floor even the most doubting. Get them onto a track they love, have the intake of breath as we wait for the next, and then 'Wham!' - perhaps literally. This doesn't mean that I play my tapes to other people; but in my head there's always an audience other than myself, the audience which recognises the loving care I put into a tape. I play the audience too, of course, but it's not at all rare for me to be so distanced from the person who made the tape the night before, not knowing whether the arc in her head would come out right, that when I hear one song move into the next and then another, I'll just be shaking my head in disbelief, sometimes unable to contain a manic grin - to the great confusion of those around me.
But my music is as private as anyone's. I want to share it all the time, I want to make other people love the things I love and the mix tape is my evangelism, but when I've put it out on the line I want to grab it straight back, deny people what's there because, while I'm happy for them to hear the bands, the singers and the rhythm, the arc of the mix tape is still mine and everything in me goes into it. The journey is timed to perfection - I spent six months leaving the house to the same song - but more than that. It's timed so that every moment of every song is right. Some of the most wonderful experiences in my mundane life (as opposed to my other, exciting, life of espionage, obviously) have been when the music on my headphones matches exactly the world outside - Morrissey singing up and down at the end of Vicar In A Tutu, while the bus I'm on hits some bumps in time; the slow intro of U2's With or Without You on a coach riding into the German sunset on the worst night of my life; or Springsteen's State Trooper howling away on a dark country road. How can music become 'more personal' than that?
If I had 10,000 songs at my disposal, then I'd feel guilty if all I still listened to was the equivalent of a mix tape. There'd be a sense that I should be trying other things, like when I've left a CD in its wrapper since buying it months before, knowing that I should play it rather than the other music that's always there, but 'never finding the time'. The mix tape is perfect, because it's personal, it'd finite and the whole is infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. Plus, there's the thrill of turning it over at the end of the 90 minutes, knowing it's all about to start again...
Give me an old cassette over an iPod any day - when can you find an old iPod lying around and transport yourself back in time just by turning it on?
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