iPod Shuffle is the Devil

As a way of exploring Amsterdam, our Roadtrip group was assigned a "mis-walk," where we navigate the city according to creative parameters. Susan and I threw ourselves on the mercy of iPod Shuffle. I’ve been fascinated by the “shuffle” feature since I became too lazy to choose my own music. It’s been a source of inspiration, frustration, and confusion. On occasion, Shuffle seems to be anything but random, choosing songs that are either perfect or perfectly inappropriate for the moment. We could only hope that Shuffle would be up to the challenge of guiding us through Amsterdam.
We started out at Leidseplein as it’s a central location and close to where we’re staying. If a song is happy or upbeat, we’d turn right, and if a song is sad or slow, we’d turn left, then walk in that direction until the song changed, at which point we’d go to the nearest corner and turn based on the next song. If there were strong thematic or lyrical cues in the song that related to our surroundings, we’d follow them no matter what the tempo of the song – such as the song “Heartbreak Hotel” would cause us to turn towards the nearest hotel. I’ll admit that we did try to stack the deck a bit – I added the song “Milkshake” by Kelis and “C is for Cookie” to Susan’s iPod just in case – but we were determined to acquiese to Shuffle’s demands.

It started out with some difficulty. Our fourth song ended while we were in the middle of a long block, where turning left would mean smashing into a building and turning right would mean jumping into a canal. We decided, instead, to turn and establish a neutral position (turning opposite to the direction you were walking) then continue as normal. This initially led us back the way we came, but as soon as we hit Leidseplein, Eve 6’s “Saturday Night” came on and we really started moving. We tried, as best we could, to walk in tempo with the music, so faster songs ended up taking us longer distances than slow ones and, because Shuffle is mean, or at least seems to play blocks of songs with similar tempos, we made three loops on our journey through Amsterdam, which ended at Dam Square at the "Roller Ghoster" carnival ride (pictured above).

For the most part, we relied on song tempo or mood to determine our direction, but we did have some interesting thematic cues that led us around: we followed the canals for “Pacific Theme,” went towards the warmer looking street for “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and followed the tram for “Chariot” by Aaron Copeland. While “Milkshake” didn’t play, Shuffle still compelled us to seek out dessert. After listening to “Forgive Me, My Little Flower Princess” and hearing Susan talk about how John Lennon cheated on Yoko, we were feeling pretty down. When the next song, “Girlfren” by Modern Lover, was even more depressing, one of us jokingly commented that we’d need a pint of Haagen Daas to get weepy over if the depressing songs continued, lo and behold – we found ourselves in front of an ice cream store. We took it as a sign, and two chocolate-almond Magnum bars later, we continued our journey. Sadly, not all of our thematic cues were as delicious. Later in our walk, we found ourselves on the edge of the red light district. We thought, please, Shuffle, be merciful. Please, please, please be a sad song...

Shuffle played Jimi Hendrix’s “Electric Ladyland.”

Thanks, Shuffle.

So we had no choice but to walk the gauntlet of scantily clad women in red-lit windows. Fortunately, we were far enough on the fringes that we were able to get out before Jimi stopped wailing.

We walked through Amsterdam for 26 songs, including two Bob Dylan songs, two by John Lennon, and a fourteen-minute Husker Du instrumental. It was definitely a new way to experience the city. I found myself listening much harder to the lyrics and paying close attention to my surroundings, trying to find meaningful connections. It’s interesting to contrast our iPod experience with that of a typical iPod listener. Usually, when you put your earbuds in, you’re trying to shut out the outside world, but we were trying to directly engage with it. Maybe if more people tried to connect what they were listening to with where they were, they too could find a personal soundtrack for the city and engage with it on an entirely different level.


Anonymous said…
What a friggin' kool way to do the gaga-walk. Will try that!


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