Thursday, April 23, 2009

On Mix CDs

I own a green third-generation iPod Nano.

It's cute, it's square, it's my favorite color, and it stays plugged into my car for my driving-listening pleasure. I like having my music in my car.

Before I got this iPod, what I did to get my own music in my car was burn CDs. I tend to discover new music in spurts, so when I've got a good number of them, I'll burn them onto a CD and mix them with some other songs that suit the "mood" of them. I usually put 18 songs to a CD, more if they would fit. I'd keep the CD in my car and listen to it over and over, on the way to school and back, back and forth, in shuffle, etc. until I found new songs a few months later and made a CD out of those.

My iPod hasn't been in my car for a while, mostly because I constantly forget to plug it back in, so I switched to my CD deck to check out what was there... and there was a mix CD. I distinctly remember having created it exactly a year ago, at least, during my sophomore spring semester. I remember listening to these songs as I stressed over my drawing assignments, as I took Alex back to his dorm after he walked me to my car, as I enthusiastically practiced French. 

Hearing all these songs together on that CD reminded me of all that, of a specific time when I did specific activities... but if I heard them by themselves, separated by hundreds of other shuffled songs on my iPod, they wouldn't have reminded me of these things. 
It was the context that reminded me.

At that moment I started to appreciate the fast-declining art of the mix CD.
I suppose you can always make playlists on your iPod—I do, and I guess I do it thanks to my mix-CD mentality—but it doesn't have the air of permanence associated with burning a CD. You're forced to pick the best of songs to create the best playlist for that CD, because if you don't, you'll regret it (and I have regretted CDs), you'll have wasted a CD, a physical CD that you can hold and write on and slide into CD players. The digital playlist is a different kind of creature; it is dynamic, you can add and delete songs freely without having to worry about ruining the playlist. You can change it before it leaves a lasting impression.

I consider mix CDs to be like journals of mine—and if you know me, you know how I am about journalling—when I listen to them again I'm taken back to the time I made them, to the concentration I put in placing exactly those songs together based on my tastes at the time, manifestations of how I was at the time. I'm changing every day, but it's nice to remember who I was. 

And when I play it again, I can appreciate it all over again. It's old, but it's refreshing, and it still makes me smile.

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