It really has been great fun blogging here this week. Thanks to everyone who has dropped in to read and to those who have taken the time to leave comments. Now, on my final day in the hot seat, I'm going to get somewhat evangelical.
Musically, we're living in an age of hugely increased options and unprecedented ease of access. It means more choice, but also a proportional increase in noise pollution. I'm not talking about the ephemeral stuff that forms the soundtrack to our daily existence: the TV themes, background muzak, computer doodles, and endless jingles that we filter out without even registering as "music" — usually with good reason. Over and above all that, and beyond the programmed conformity of radio, we are consistently colliding randomly with huge amounts of music leaking out from the rest of the population.
Like most of us, I suspect, I've always regarded this as a nuisance, something to be blocked out. But recently I embarked upon a bold experiment in sound. Instead of succumbing to the knee-jerk hostility with which I traditionally regard the uninvited music assailing me via ring tones, car stereos, headphone leakage and rogue laptops as I go about my business, I decided I was actually going to listen to some of it. And having done so, I'm starting to think there's something to be said for turning off your iPod and instead simply opening your ears as you bustle about.
The world turns to a fantastically diverse play-list. First up was "Always" by Bon Jovi, blasting from a parked car outside my open window. I wouldn't ever choose to play Bon Jovi, but I listened to all of it and I didn't break out in boils. A lingering visit to the corner shop brought the whole of "The Scientist" by Coldplay — a song I don't own but one to which I've always been rather partial — and Pink's "Family Portrait," which is unmitigated rubbish. The café around the corner was playing a rotating selection of Jeff Buckley, the James Taylor Quartet, Marvin Gaye, Blur, and Stan Getz. I put down the newspaper and listened — properly listened — for a fairly blissful forty minutes. It could happily have been more.
Later, I overheard a snatch of Frank Sinatra and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra playing "Fools Rush In" on a ringtone. Great. I've got that somewhere, but it would take me half an hour to dig it out and the thought probably wouldn't have occurred to me anytime this year. It has now. A car stuck at the light played "Waterfront" by Simple Minds. Fantastic. On the bus, "Apparently Nothin'" by the Young Disciples drifted out of a young girl's headphones. The Ting Tings hissed out of someone else's. On the street, almost impossibly, the KLF's "What Time Is Love?" blasted from a passing car; seconds later, a ringtone blared out Beyonce's "Crazy In Love." And that's just a small selection of the stuff I actually recognised. I also heard a lovely, anonymous Arabic tune spilling out of a window, lots of hip hop I couldn't immediately place, and a bagpipe lament.
Now, are you telling me that everything on your iPod is better than every one of those songs? I don't believe you. 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. If I hear "99 Problems" by Jay-Z, or "White Winter Hymnal" by Fleet Foxes, or "Unsatisfied" by the Replacements on my iPod, I might respond with glee, or misty-eyed nostalgia, or simply tolerate it in the knowledge that another song will be along shortly. In any case, I know the song is there because I put it there. And where's the excitement in that?
In an age when most of us store the majority of our music collection on iTunes or an iPod (including songs we haven't heard for years, many of which will, I'm sorry to say, be utter rubbish), listening to music over which we've exercised no choice is the logical extension of the modern ethos of random selection. Because in truth, we don't really want the laborious responsibility of choosing what we're going to hear next. In an industry stripped of most of its mystique, the element of surprise is almost all the music business has got left. On my listening spree, I got to hear stuff I'd never hear on the radio, and a lot of music I don't own, so why shouldn't overheard music be embraced as an opportunity rather than an invasion? After all, the whole world is an iPod these days. The strains of "I Kissed A Girl" heard over the din of traffic, shoppers, or a yacking schoolgirl at the bus stop is, in effect, just the next song on the playlist. Open your ears.
Here endeth the lesson. Thanks for listening.