I had a rough day today. I was digging into some heavy, tearful stuff at my therapist appointment, and stirring around in all that stuff left me feeling unsettled for the rest of the day. This evening, Kimberly was away at class, and so I’m alone, feeling both fragile and tense.
I had a warm, choclatey IBP, which helped a little. There’s a lot to be said for the soothing properties of warm milk. I retreated to the bedroom, and changed into some comfortable clothes, and tried reading. Not the thing. Writing? I grabbed my laptop and opened a text file, which I proceeded to fill with not very coherent lines. It wasn’t working. What to do?
Hey, I thought, how about some music? I recently copied the contents of various CDs from my collection onto my computer, using the Apple iTunes music program. A few clicks, and I was still typing incoherent lines, but I was also listening to music.
But thinking about music, and CDs, and iTunes reminded me that I’d thought about trying to make a “playlist” for the party on Sunday. iTunes enables you to create and play lists of songs you have stored, becoming your own DJ. And while I’m sure every self-respecting person between 13 and 25 has done this, it’ll be a new creative outlet for yours truly.
But the list I’ve been imagining for days involves some music I don’t have, either on CD or computer. And that’s where I abandoned mangling prose, and stepped into the absorbing, and oddly soothing, world of modern media.
I took a few steps over to my home office, where I plugged in my Airport Express, a stylish white box a little larger than a pack of cigarettes that happens to be a no-fuss wireless router. As it wakes up, it sets up a wireless network throughout the house. Back in the bedroom, I tell the laptop to turn on its wireless functions. It automatically logs me into the network, happily displaying signal strength in the menu bar at the top of the screen.
Leaning back against the pillows in the bed, I click back over to the iTunes program where I’ve been playing music. I choose Music Store from the list on the left, and poof! I’m connected online to Apple’s own Music Store. Their home page features a bewildering assortment of new albums from musicians I’ve either never heard of, or recognize in the group “young pop stars I’ll never listen to.”
But that doesn’t matter. For reasons I’m not altogether clear on, I’ve been hankering to hear the 60s hit “I Say A Little Prayer For You.” So I type that phrase into the search box at the top of the window, and up pops a long list of all the different recordings of that song, by various artists on various albums. I learn that it’s been covered by everyone from Michael Bolton to Wes Montgomery, but also on the list are the classic Dionne Warwick version, and several by composer Burt Bachrach. But the best part is that I can double-click on each one and hear a 30-second sample, seamlessly streamed in real-time.
Which means that I can, and do, spend quite a while clicking on different versions, and hearing differing interpretations of the song. Along the way, I encounter musicians I’ve never heard of. If I like their sample, I can click on a button next to their name, and go to a page showing their albums. If I want, I can click on a button next to the name of their album, and go to a page displaying that album in detail, with its own list of songs for me to try out.
So, I end up wandering around, discovering artists that are new to me, and hearing a bit of what they do. And each page has links to other artists and albums. My only analogous experience is when I used to wander around record stores, but tonight I’m lounging in bed in my pajamas, and there’s an instant connection between the “Oh, what does that sound like?” and the answer, and the interconnections between albums and artists are all displayed in a way they never are in real-world stores. It’s pretty fun. It’s audio window shopping at its finest.
What makes it worthwhile for Apple to provide this experience is simple. Next to every song is a button that lets me buy it for 99 cents. Buying means it’s downloaded into my iTunes library on my computer, immediately.
Eventually I wander back to my list of versions of “I Say a Little Prayer.” There’s a EuroPop dance mix version attracts just because it’s funny that it exists, it isn’t all that good, actually. I end up deciding the Dionne Warwick version burned into my childhood memory is still the one I prefer. I pause a moment, then click.
Seconds later, I’m listening to the whole song, which in digital version sounds better than what I used to hear over the transistor radio from WABC in New York, even though it’s coming out of the two tiny 1-inch speakers in my iBook. Speakers are much better now, and there’s no static. Who knew there was tonal richness in that recording? Huh. And stereo separation. Nice.
I could get used to this, I think. It’s more comfortable and faster than a store, but the selection is better in the music I like, and I don’t have to listen to the adolescent clerk’s favorite new band while I shop.
So I type another song into the search box. A whole brand new list of versions. More wandering and sampling. In the end, I decide the best is the one I already have on a CD out in the car. But along the way, I discover a few iMixes. These are playlists other users have created, and uploaded, with their comments, for public view. Friends share these with each other, I guess, but Apple also will pop links to some on your screen, if they feature the song you’re looking for. Which means you get to see what other people think fits nicely with it, and compare your ideas for a playlist with theirs.
My mind takes note, recognizes a tremendous time-suck when it sees one, and backs away slowly. Maybe some other time.
But, by the time this is over, I find myself feeling better. I’ve been drawn into a thoroughly distracting and entertaining world long enough to relax. I’ve had fun, and heard lots of music. It was easy, cheap and free of possible interactions with my other medications. Not bad. Not bad at all.