The Uncanny Mr. iPod

Phil Ford

OK, what's up with the little elves in my iPod?

I was working out at the gym this morning and had my iPod on shuffle. So let's see, it played "Well You Needn't" (Thelonious Monk and the Thrice-Most-Awesome quintet with Coltrane), "Hockey Night in Canada" by the Shuffle Demons, "Searching," from Blackalicious's Nia (skipped that — it's a kind of pretentious version of the hiphop skit, though I love that album otherwise), and "The Wet Stranger," from the Ken Nordine reissue You're Getting Better: The Complete Word Jazz Dot Masters (which I've just written a review of for an upcoming issue of American Music).

And then (this is the uncanny part) Radiohead's "You and Whose Army?", from Amnesiac. And while I'm listening to that, I'm thinking, hey, I should fish the iPod out of my pocket when this is over and play "Atonement," a track on the new Roots album Game Theory, which I should write a separate blog post about some time. (Short version: buy it.) "Atonement" is based on a sample from "You and Whose Army?" and I thought it would be cool to play them back-to-back. But then Mr. iPod did it for me anyway, in shuffle mode. Weird. How did it know? I have more than 5000 separate items on my iPod, so the chances of it finding the exact one that contains the sample of the thing it just played are pretty remote. Is this just a strange co-incidence? Or is there some kind of tag in the files themselves that suggests groupings to the iPod brain? I've long puzzled on this, because there are times when Mr. iPod's selection seem just a little too apposite to be purely random. I feel like one of those stereotype tribesmen meeting a missionary with a radio and trying to figure out how they managed to fit all the people in that little box.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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