Do try this Cage-inspired listening experiment at home
‘As reported last year composers such as Hindemith, Henze, Honegger, Rihm, Penderecki, Sessions, Carter, Tippett & Milhaud continue to do poorly or are ignored altogether… Some British composers remained in the doldrums, Rubbra, Rawsthorne, Tippett, Simpson…’ - 2012 Survey of classical music broadcast on BBC Radio 3
‘…you can become open-minded, literally, by giving up your likes and dislikes and becoming interested in things’ – John Cage
‘So many riches in your photo detail! [see below] It makes one want to stay home for a week and do nothing but "blind" listen from one's own collection’ – comment by John McLaughlin Williams on the photo used in All we are saying is give chance a chance.
John McLaughlin Williams' point about “blind” listening from one’s own music collection is a very important one, but how to do it? As mentioned in an earlier post I have been experimenting with chance techniques to eliminate likes and dislikes from my home listening. The following is a description of a simple John Cage-inspired chance process to determine my home listening which has yielded stimulating results using the random number generator at random.org. Information in parentheses is an example of one chance selection from my own collection.
My CD collection is organised in alphabetical order. For first step use the substitution cipher of A=1, B=2… Z=26 - full list here. Enter range of 1 to 26 into random number generator at random.org. Selected number is cipher for first letter of selected composer’s name – if chosen letter does not correspond to composer repeat process. (Example selected random number is 20 which corresponds to T) Count number of single or CD sets of composer’s starting with that letter. (21 CDs/sets starting with T) Use that number as upper limit to select next random number. (Range for V is 1 to 21) Selected random number is chosen CD/set counting from first CD. (Chance number is 12, which is set of Tippett string quartets). If chosen CD has multiple discs (as is the case with the Tippett quartets) use number of discs as upper range limit for another random number selection (2 CDs in Tippett set, so range is 1 to 2). Selected number is disc to be played in set. (2 = quartets 4 & 5).
Variations on this chance selection process can be developed to suit CD collections organised in different ways. Compilation CDs present a problem, with Alia Vox albums presenting a particular challenge; my current workaround is to categorise by the intial letter of the conductor not composer. The random process does eliminate subjective judgement at point of selection, but clearly cannot eliminate the likes and dislikes which determine the music that makes up a personal CD collection. Extending this technique to randomly choose music from less selective online libraries such as Spotify and the Naxos music library would be a useful development (do these platforms have a random selection facility? - I am not familiar with them) while using the same chance technique to choose which internet radio station to listen to is another option. iPod’s offer a random ‘shuffle’ selection and I have experimented with this function to create radio programme playlists. But the selection is limited by the iPod capacity, and my experience also suggests the iPod algorithm is not totally random. This post is ‘work in progress’ and reader contributions are, as ever, very welcome.
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