There's a thoughtful piece by Graeme Thomson in the current issue of Word magazine about what happens when you stop trying to block out all the music that comes to you unbidden as you make your way about a city and actually listen to it instead. The result, Thomson argues, is a form of 'playlist' that is more random, and has greater capacity to surprise, enchant and educate, than that on any iPod.
After a few hours spent soaking up Bon Jovi coming from a parked car, Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey on a ringtone, a café playing Jeff Buckley, Stan Getz and Marvin Gaye, a bagpipe lament drifting out of an apartment window and (very) miscellaneous others, he concludes,
I could have been listening to my own selections during this time and probably heard what I'd normally consider to be better songs, but most of it would have been music I already know intimately and which inspires a Pavlovian reaction… I'm getting a bit weary of anything that arrives "pre-approved", even if it's me who is doing the approving.
I like this. Firstly it's a counterbalance to various slightly questionable research suggesting that consumers place a premium on control over their media. We do like control much, or even most, of the time; but we also need to let go some of the time, to open ourselves to chance and spontaneity.
Second its suggestive of how the discovery process — finding music and media that is new to us — can be most vivid when it's feral and anarchic. More on this another day.