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Music out of context: the serendipitous mix

Of all the changes technology has wrought to my listening habits and way of experiencing music, the biggest impact has come from the way my iPod destroys context.

The most obvious benefit of the iPod revoution is the convenience of having thousands -- even tens of thousands -- songs in your pocket. The days of getting up to change a CD, much less flip a record -- are long over, except for the Luddites, traditionalists and retro fanatics among us. And plenty has been written about the death of the album and the concurrent rise of the song as the base unit of musical currency. Add to those two things the brilliant concept of randomly shuffling your library and something special happens -- an emergent property of digital music I like to call the serendipitous mix.

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Like most hardcore music nerds, I used to live and die by the mix tape. And, while I still fashion the occasional mix or playlist for a friend, I rarely bother any more for myself. That's because I find that the ebst mixes tend to come out of the random shuffling of bits. Through the simple act of hitting shuffle I have discovered miracles of musical synchronicity.

There's no way I would have ever stumbled upon any of the strange and beautiful connections I've discovered this way on my own. What is the likelihood I would have discovered how well Willie Nelson went with Robyn Hitchcock? Or that the Cure and Can were so compatible? And yeah, the shuffle throws up as many duds as it does gems -- probably way more, honestly -- but those few moments of genius that appear in a day's listening, and the odd connections they suggest and way that they have helped me see music as one complex continuum make it my preferred way to listen to music.

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